Streets of Rogue isn’t the Dungeons and Dragons-themed brawler I was expecting but after punching three hoodlums through a brick wall I’m willing to forgive its misleading title.
Entertaining as introducing bad guys to the brickwork is, however, it’s a fraction of what makes Streets of Rogue such a riot.
This top-down actioner may resemble the original Grand Theft Auto minus the cars but, despite its use of procedurally-generated levels, it’s more complex than Rockstar’s offering ever was.
The game’s store blurb describes it as “Nuclear Throne meets Deus Ex, mixed with the anarchy of GTA” but Streets of Rogue is more than just a mash-up. This is a game where you can meticulously arm yourself then watch your intended target get taken out by a falling bomb, or enter a level only to discover it’s under siege from the dead. Or turn a corner and run into an unscripted face-off between two rival gangs, leaving you to pick over the dead and dying.
You’re charged with making your way through through multiple themed city zones, each with their own buildings, undertaking missions that will unlock the elevator to the next area. Streets of Rogue’s biggest failing is how generic these missions are (which typically involving killing an NPC or stealing a particular object) but the sheer freedom you have to tackle them is breathtaking.
Violence is one option; a gloriously gruesome, over-the-top option. Bullets hurl your enemies backwards an absurd distance, nearby objects explode and, unlike their more passive GTA counterparts, NPCs aren’t beyond wading into the fray. Streets of Rogue is forgiving enough that you can take multiple shotgun blasts before the game’s permadeath mechanic kicks in but it’s possible to avoid combat entirely, and that’s where it really comes into its own.
Experimentation pays dividends and it’s such a joy to discover that your odd, spur-of-the-moment idea actually works. Tasked with stealing an object from a shop, I stepped inside, fully prepared to divorce the shopkeeper’s head from his shoulders. But then, an idea popped into my head. I ducked out, banged on the window furthest away from the item I’d come to collect and, when he went to investigate, I ran in and stole it.
I half expected the shopkeeper to be magically aware of my theft but he was none the wiser and I went on my way without a drop of blood spilled. It’s exhilarating how few restrictions Streets of Rogue puts on you. Yes, you can seek out the key you need to enter a building or, at the risk of alerting everyone inside, you can kick the door in. Likewise, you could spend your cash at an item shop, but why not hire someone to help do the fighting for you?
You can upgrade your character’s abilities as you accrue more experience, but that’s only part of the story. There are 20+ unlockable characters in Streets of Rogue, all with their own abilities that range from semi-useful to completely game-changing. Literally, in fact; pick some of these characters and it’s such a huge shift that it feels like you’re playing a different game.
Step into the mouldering shoes of a zombie and those you kill will rise from the dead to attack the living who will, in turn, rise from the dead; Streets of Rogue becomes your very own apocalypse simulator. Play as the Shapeshifter and you can possess the living, turning Streets of Rogue into a pixellated version of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Coupled with Streets of Rogue’s procedural generation, this gives you a game with near limitless replayability.
Streets of Rogue isn’t entirely flawless, though. For the most part combat is a blast, thanks to the game’s action movie aesthetic and ludicrous array of weapons. But there are times that combat feels imprecise, particularly when you’re dealing with multiple foes. And while there are ways of reducing the impact of permadeath, I would have welcomed an option to disable it entirely.
Still, Streets of Rogue is an odd yet hugely entertaining outing, one that rewards the time you put into it and never says no to even your most ridiculous ideas. It’s far more than the sum of its inspirations and even if you find permadeath an obstacle, there’s so much to love about this deceptively complex gem.