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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Risk of Rain Review: It's quietly spectacular.

I am a glutton for digital punishment. I just can't seem to get enough of dem' rouge-likes. The way I see it, it's a slightly cheaper way to mainline my risk-reward endorphins than video poker. The genre has absolutely busted out on the indie scene these last few years. From Dungeons of Dredmor's ability to make every single line of text at least kind of funny (seriously, their listed system requirements used to demand you duct tape tin foil around your processor and pray to your chosen higher power. Steam used to be cool about that.), to The Binding of Issac's artistic fine line of being simultaneously adorable as well as creepy as all f#4k. There is so much more to RLs these days than simply perma-death and procedural generation. In other words, even in the indie scene, you'd really have to raise your game to stand out.

Confused? Good. Now read the difficulty setting in the top corner.

A two man student dev team (Paul Morse and Duncan Drummond) should not be able to raise that game. But I'm here to say that not only did they raise it right, that sucker graduated with honors. But to be fair, it takes a good while to see what makes RoR so special, not to mention at least 2 dozen deaths. The game play first appears to be a jumbled mess. You find power ups, enemies pop in, you shoot them, boss fight. There doesn't seem to be much to it. And if that's the opinion you walk away with from this game, you just weren't playing it right. There's a lot more depth to running and gunning then it seems.

You have 4 abilities with which to kill. Some are evasive, some are for crowd control, some don't seem to have much use at all. But the trick to figuring out the right moments to use them, is the trick to how the whole game works. Because once RoR clicks? It. Clicks. Hard. You will fall as madly in love with it as I have. Figured out how the commando works? Well you just unlocked 3 different characters on your last run and you are going to spend hours getting to know those characters just as well.

The depth of the character classes is mirrored by it's loot and bestiary. Where the Binding of Issac's power ups were unbalanced or pointless, all the loot in RoR feels at least like a small step forward. Because everything you come across, a vial that gives you an permanent extra hit point for every enemy you kill, or a can of gasoline that leaves a trail of fire behind you, or a ukelele that gives your bullets electric damage, stacks. If you find that power up again, that effect gets stronger. Suffice it to say, the only feeling better than finding your favorite power up, is finding it twice.

The monsters you mow down seem dull at first. Small, pixel-y, and repetitive. But when you start breaking out of the first couple of levels, the wide world of RoR's monsters opens up, and it is sub-stantial.  I also started to notice more nuance in the pixel art and more personality in the animation the longer I spent mowing them down. But this sure as hell isn't an art show, they are trying to kill you... and they are very, very, good at it.

I haven't even brought up the soundtrack yet. I godamn love it. I bought it off of band camp after only playing for 2 hours. It's a killer pot sweetener in a deal that already had me where it wanted me. It strikes a sense of mood and foreboding without sacrificing theme construction or sick nasty base solos.

Mr. Christodoulou? I'm sorry for copy/pasting your name.

So Risk of Rain is my new fix. If you love peeling back layer after layer of a hostile alien world with a "I just died and lost everything, but I'm totally going back in there" can-do spirit, Risk of Rain will send you over the moon.

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