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RAD (PS4) Review

October 13, 2019 | Posted by Genna Boyer
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RAD (PS4) Review  

Congratulations! You’ve volunteered yourself to enter the Fallow and possibly save the human race. Humanity has failed twice, and double the apocalypse means double the danger. Before you head out, the town’s Elder plays a gnarly note on his keytar and “remakes” you so you’re able to withstand the radiation-soaked fields of the Fallow. Thanks to being remade, every rad you take has the potential to mutate your body in strange, fun ways, giving you funky powers and odd makeovers. With nothing but a neon baseball bat and your potential powers, your RAD journey begins.

RAD is a 3D roguelike with 80s nostalgia pumped into every square inch of its color-saturated landscapes. Cassette tapes serve as money, floppy disks are keys, and Rubiks cubes are considered artifacts with their own special ability. RAD bumps up the 80s atmosphere even more with its music. Synth pop tracks, ominous power ballads, a few distinct cords from the song Take on Me, and, by the power of Bandai Namco, select samples of arcade music. I wasn’t even alive in the 80s and it takes me back.

Your default weapon is a heavy-duty baseball bat. The bat is an okay start, but the more mutants you bop off, the more interesting your character becomes. There are two types of mutations. Exo mutations visually appear on your character and can be used at the player’s discretion. Endo mutations act as passives, buffs, etc. I noticed that exo mutations are guaranteed once the rad (experience) meter is filled, but endo mutations are found by activating certain Respirators in the world or by buying them from a vendor.

Speaking of Respirators, that’s what you have to find and activate in order to unlock the boss arena in each level. Luckily, the environments you tread are visually popping, every color so vivacious that it’s a treat to explore. The downfall of these luscious landscapes is that it’s sometimes difficult to see item drops, specifically green cassette tapes in green grass or floppy disks anywhere. There were a number of times I just happened to pick up a key that I’d missed while running around areas I’d already explored.

RAD is labeled a roguelike, but it doesn’t quite abide by the same gameplay formulas I’ve come to expect from the genre. Games like Enter the Gungeon and Streets of Rogue bank on two components to make their gameplay engaging and addictive: urgency and agency. For example, Gungeon is a bullet-hell game and its explosive, snappy combat creates a sense of urgency within the player. Boss battles are absolute adrenaline rushes because of this. Player agency in Streets starts at choosing your character, all with unique abilities, and continues throughout a run by having the player pick traits at the end of levels.

The pacing of RAD is a slow, radioactive burn, completely opposite of Gungeon and Streets. Run progression requires the activation of Respirators, therefore forcing exploration. When maps include tunnel networks that could be hiding a Respirator, exploring becomes time consuming. Boss fights also have the tendency to feel sluggish, especially if you don’t have a decently offensive exo mutation. Many of my boss fights were a “smack, dodge, run around in circles” affair, an arduous attempt at nicking away a massive health bar.

The most interesting part of combat, the mutations, is at the mercy of RNG. After 6 hours of play time, I’ve had an exo mutation that gives you bat wings about five times now. With so many mutations to discover, it’s disappointing to repeat mutations run after run, particularly when that mutation is more utility than offensive. It’s a grave upset when that long-awaited mutation doesn’t help in a boss fight. During one of my runs, I had an exo mutation that forced enemies to ally with me, except it didn’t work on bosses. So it was just me and my trusty bat at the end of the level, as if I hadn’t progressed at all. Offering some player agency here, like allowing players to choose from three random mutations, might alleviate the staleness of a repeated mutation or help you completely avoid a utility power as your first mutation of a run.

All of my complaints aside, RAD has fun potential. If I had started this without prior experience with roguelikes, I think the slow exploratory nature of RAD wouldn’t have bothered me as much. In fact, it would likely mesh well with players who prefer gradual build up in their games, and RAD’s save and exit feature adds to that preference. Ultimately, RAD is a unique roguelike with an identity all its own.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Is RAD, well, rad? As long as you push some expectations aside, it’s rad enough. The game boasts quite the catalogue of mutations to discover, as well as items, artifacts, and lore. Exploration is fun, despite its time consuming nature. The mutation RNG is kind of a drag, but the 80s inspired atmosphere of RAD is tubular and the soundtrack sells it.

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RAD, Genna Boyer