I’m stranded in the middle of hell’s planet and I’m scared. All because a couple of pixelated monsters are here with me. There are 12 of them. Now 13, 14, 20 of them. Why won’t they stop? One of them can teleport, another snipes from a distance. All my weapons are offline for another 4 seconds. This is it. I can feel it.
Yup, it’s over. All because there was a Risk of Rain.
Cinematic intro aside, let’s start with a more general one shall we? It’s probably unfair to attribute all the recent surge of roguelike games to the success of The Binding of Isaac, but it sure feels like a lot more of them have come since Edmund McMillen’s game launched all those years ago. Now, every roguelike is upping the ante in terms of gameplay fusion and difficulty and Risk of Rain, a crowd-funded, space odyssey, is no different. Scratch that, it’s plenty different for a roguelike but it aims to be the most difficult one on the market.
Genre fusion is a difficult, alchemic process. One needs to take the aspects of different genres and combine them into, not only a game that works, but a game that works well and Risk of Rain grabbed a fistful from many genres and managed an amazing experience.
The first class available to you is the common soldier. He lands on a planet in space and the goal is to ultimately reach the teleporter hidden somewhere in the level. As a roguelike it means the levels change each playthrough and that’s why that damned teleporter eludes me each time. He begins with 4 special skills linked to hot keys. These even have cooldown times just for that extra difficulty and stress. Throughout the vast levels enemies spawn, and continue spawning as the seconds tick down. A difficulty meter keeps track of how hard the game will end up being if you don’t kill some of these enemies. But as they will spawn indefinitely until you reach the teleporter, you have to make the decision of whether or not you should spend your time finding the exit or making sure the endgame is manageable. I say endgame but I mean the end of the level because once you find the teleporter two things will happen. First, a boss will appear, second, enemies will rapidly spawn. It’s your duty to stay alive for a certain amount of time after which enemies will cease spawning and you will be in charge of getting rid of all of them.
So in a sense, each level is divided up into 3 stages: Exploration, survival, and elimination. The longer you take to reach the teleporter, the more difficult the last two stages of the level become. It’s really ingenious actually if the difficulty curve wasn’t so damn high. I can barely manage to get past the 3rd level on regular playthroughs let alone the hurdle of the 2nd. This is a difficult game and while sometimes I feel things get unfair, it’s mostly up to you to use your attacks and items sparingly.
Oh did I mention the items? Items are divided into two categories: Passive and active. Passive items that allow you to heal or get damage bonus remain active so long as you’re alive in your playthrough and can stack. Meaning you can keep collecting these items and receive all their benefits. Active items take up an item slot and you can only have one of these at a time. Most of the time they’re weapons that deal considerable amounts of damage and help immensely. Other things such as chests, sentries, and other aids you can find on the battlefield and you pay for their services through cash you earn by killing monsters.
The one big problem I’d like to mention is the control scheme. As I mentioned before special attacks are hot key’d to your keyboard but the hectic gameplay causes these keys to become tricky to manage or remember in the heat of the moment. It’s not much better on the gamepad with the four skills mapped to the bumpers and triggers. It takes some adjusting on your end in the options and some practice to get the controls to work exactly the way you want them to.
I’d like to say however, that Risk of Rain is one of the lovelier games I’ve played recently. The pixel-work is simple but outstanding, and its muted blue-gray color palette scored with its ambient soundtrack really creates an environment that is both threatening and beautiful.
Risk of Rain is a fantastically deep roguelike that excels at offering you opportunities for success but only if you’re willing to take them for yourself. It’s really amazing how balanced this game feels despite its difficulty. And did I mention the soundtrack? Gorgeous ambient-techno makes this game more akin to Metroid Prime crossed with Binding of Isaac and if that doesn’t sound like the best thing ever, I don’t know what else to tell you.
[+Difficult and challenging][+Compelling gameplay][+Goregous artwork and sound design][-Sometimes seems unfair][-Controls are a bit cluttered and confusing]