I just want to make it clear from the outset that this is going to be an overwhelmingly positive review. I bloody loved Rollerdrome, so if you’re looking for a sassy, cynical takedown designed to generate clicks, then this isn’t it. I’m sure somebody out there will dislike Rollerdrome, but that person is no friend of mine.
Anyway, to business. Rollerdrome is from the same developer/publisher combo (Roll7 and Private Division, respectively) as the very well received OlliOlli World. Aside from the fact that both games feature competitive skating and a comic-book aesthetic, they are really quite different to one another.
It’s not hard to trace Rollerdrome’s primary influences: the Tony Hawk franchise, and the 1975 dystopian action movie Rollerball. You are cast as protagonist Kara Hassan. You’re a rookie entrant in this year’s Rollerdrome championship; a sport which sees participants compete in gladiatorial combat on roller-skates, for what I’m sure are completely rational reasons.
Competitors enter a skate arena armed with a small selection of firearms to battle ‘house players’, who teleport in to try and eliminate you. The main catch, aside from being heavily outnumbered, is that the only way to gain ammunition and reload your weapons is to perform skate tricks. The more elaborate the trick, the more points are scored and the more ammo is awarded.
One advantage that you do have is ‘Reflex Time’, which is Rollerdrome’s take on Bullet Time. You can periodically slow down time in order to line up shots, or just take a look around to check what’s happening where. Checking your surroundings is doubly important, as your combo count is driven by killing enemies in quick succession. Game progress is driven by clearing stages and completing challenges (more on those shortly), but you’re also awarded a score for each run. Those scores are entered into global leader boards, and combos are the difference between a sold C and a personally unobtainable S rank.
Rollerdrome is one of those ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ kind of games. The controls are pretty straightforward, the tutorial is solid and the first couple of stages aren’t very taxing. What makes it tough is just the amount of stuff that happens all at once. Shooting enemies, dodging attacks, performing tricks, weapon selection, and maintaining combos. Oh, also sometimes you’ll have to avoid skating into an abyss. On the plus side, at least you’ll always land on your feet – you can’t faceplant off a botched flip. You can get hit by a rocket though, so pros and cons.
In short, it’s pretty hectic. Fortunately, Roll7 seems to have anticipated that people might struggle and, rather than leaving players to ‘git gud’, they’ve made a selection of assists available. These include infinite ammo, slower game speed and even invincibility. There’s enough variety and flexibility to allow you to tailor your experience to one that you personally find challenging, but achievable.
That said, I found the default difficulty curve to be pretty fair. I often found the first couple of runs at a level to be short and brutal. However, I generally adapted to each level’s increase in ‘stuff occurring’ quite quickly. It was telling that when I went back to earlier levels after clearing later stages, I found them remarkably easy.
Backtracking through earlier stages will probably be required too, as you’ll need to complete a certain number of level challenges in order to progress to later phases of the competition. These vary from achieving a certain score, to using or not using certain weapons, to performing certain tricks, etc. It adds to the replayability, as well as giving something for completionists to work on.
Aside from the action, there are narrative breaks before each competition phase. These are small, self-contained first-person scenes, which allow you to interact with objects in order to get a feel for the world that Kara inhabits. In summary, it’s looking awfully dystopian outside. It seems like there are some shadowy government and/or corporate figures who have a vested interest in making sure this year’s championships go a certain way… These segments aren’t particularly extensive, but it adds a welcome layer of depth to proceedings.
Although society may look bleak, Rollerdrome itself looks anything but. I love the comic book art-style and clear, bold colours. What’s most impressive though is how the design is both stylish and easy to parse; despite the amount of activity on screen, I was still able to distinguish all the individual elements. I could make out the various threats, bonuses and environments without too much trouble.
The soundtrack by Electric Dragon is a dark, funky, synth banger, too. The game sounds great in general, even if I personally prefer a bit more crunch in my shotgun noises. However, the rapid-fire crack of Kara’s dual pistols over the top of that soundtrack just sounds very, very cool.
I honestly struggle to think of negatives. The fact that some levels are set in quite similar environments is maybe a little disappointing. They’re different layouts, but aesthetically similar. It’s not an egregious flaw, but entirely unique levels would’ve been good, especially as you’ll have to replay them a few times anyway.
There is a lot of replayability though! Once you’ve completed the main campaign, you unlock ‘Out For Blood’, which is essentially a New Game+ mode. The same levels but with harder challenges, tougher opponents and a snazzy black jumpsuit for Kara. Given the achievement for completing the first of these stages is called “Welcome to Rollerdrome”, one suspects that this is the experience the developers really intended.
I said at the start I can’t imagine anyone disliking Rollerdrome. That’s not strictly true, as I can understand why someone might find it too challenging. Even after practice, it can sometimes be a struggle to find your rhythm, or get frustrated with it. Once you find you your flow, however, Rollerdrome is irresistible. You find yourself chaining combos and stringing tricks together in an absurd bullet-time ballet. It’s very stylish, very fun and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Rollerdrome was developed by Roll7 and published by Private Division, and it’s available on PC, PS4 and PS5. We played the PC version.