From the unlikely pairing of Double Fine and Bandai Namco, RAD is a Rogue-like adventure that sees you mutate your way through an apocalyptic wasteland.
And, as “Rogue-like” may already suggest to you, it isn’t a walk in the park.
RAD doesn’t waste time giving you unnecessary pointers or tutorials; it throws you straight into the action. Tooltips on its loading screens give you some basics: how to dodge-roll, for example, or how to ground-stomp. But for the most part, you’re going to have to figure out what’s happening all for yourself.
Set in an 80s-inspired world, RAD’s levels are an absolute delight to explore. Wrecked cars and building ruins set the scene of an Earth we almost recognise; but mutated creatures, foreign plant life and mysterious structures set it apart from any world we’re familiar with. A top-down 3D perspective rules, giving you a good overview of everything around you. You’ll need it, in order to spot enemies before they have time to attack. A pumping electro-synth soundtrack sets the scene and gives rhythm to your adventures, while an over-the-top voiceover offers a humorous occasional commentary to your actions. It all works together to provide a delightfully absurd package.
Killing enemies grants you radiation and, like experience points, once your radiation bar is filled you’ll gain a new mutation. For the most part mutations are good, and come in both active and passive forms. Active mutations will do things like give you wings, allowing you to hover over distances and glide through the air to avoid enemies. Your arm could turn into a flaming projectile, or perhaps your head will become an explosive bomb you can lob at foes. Passive mutations grant you helpful perks, such as the ability to hold an extra item, or immunity to ground fires. Mutations are absolutely key to your survival in RAD. The only problem is, which ones you’ll get is entirely down to luck.
Every new run of RAD starts out exactly the same: you’ll begin in a hub world, with no mutations, no cash and no items. There’s a bank, which lets you carry over money between games – but only if you manage to bank it before you die. You’ll also gain experience after every run, which unlocks new pick-ups and gradually makes new weapons available to you. The weapons can be picked up in the hub before entering into a level, and you can withdraw some cash if you have any banked, but otherwise it’s back to square one.
The most frustrating thing about RAD’s Rogue-like nature is the fact that you’ll always start out with just three hearts. You’ll quickly pick up a mutation or two, and if you’re lucky you’ll get decent ones, allowing you to blast through enemies with no trouble. But end up with a couple of semi-useless passive mutations, and your three hearts likely won’t get you very far. Regular enemies don’t pose much of a threat, but facing a level’s boss without a ranged upgrade is quite the challenge. If you’re not a Dark Souls-level pro at the attack-dodge combination, then it’s unlikely you’re going to see the second level.
Get lucky with your first couple of mutations, however, and you’ll be able to breeze through enemies with no problem. One of the best allows you to throw your head as an explosive ranged weapon; and a further upgrade to this allows it to home into an enemy. If you’re lucky enough to get this in your arsenal, you’re laughing; stay out of the way of danger and fling your head willy-nilly.
But that’s the key word here: luck. Your success depends heavily on the RNG gods, and which mutations you’ll be granted. RAD‘s world is fantastic; killing enemies and exploring its restricted but oh-so-interesting maps is such a thrill. Seeing what upgrades await you and the weird and wonderful mutations that can be applied to your character is exhilarating; coming across a machine that’ll grant you a mutation, or levelling up, is genuinely exciting. But get a poor RNG roll and it’s unlikely you’ll get to experience much of that. Playing the first level over and over soon gets tedious, and if you are lucky enough to make it through a few levels, you’ll be so worried about dying that you won’t be able to truly enjoy your adventure.
Perhaps that’s the entire intention of Double Fine; the post-apocalypse is dangerous, after all, and we should feel the threat of death at every turn. And well, if that’s the case, the developers have truly succeeded. But it also means that many players, who don’t have the resolve to keep on trying, won’t get to experience much of what makes RAD so wonderful. That’s a shame, because there’s so much.
I can’t help but think that RAD would be an infinitely better experience had it been designed as a straight-up action-adventure game. I want to be able to enjoy exploring without worrying a stray projectile is going to completely end me; and I want to be able to make progress without having to first have half a dozen unsuccessful runs through the first level or two. Still, there is something to be said for the random nature of what upgrades you’ll receive; getting a specific mutation for the first time is a joy – it’s just a shame it can be the difference between success and failure.
However you feel about Rogue-like games though, there’s no denying how intoxicating RAD can be. Even if you’re unlucky enough to die in the first few minutes, you’ll want to dust yourself off and jump straight back into the fray. Daily challenges and leaderboards add another element to the game if you’re into chasing high scores, but for me the real draw is just seeing how far I can get. With multiple endings to uncover, there are plenty of reasons to keep jumping back in, too. Dying frequently may be frustrating, but RAD‘s mutation system and trippy 80s vibe make it a unique adventure that’s well worth taking.