Rollerdrome Preview

Rollerdrome Hands-On Preview – Aggressive Inline

She was a skater girl…

Picture in your mind the roller derby flick Whip It starring Elliot Page. Add to it some guns, insurrectionist undertones in a megacorporation hellscape, and acrobatic inline action. That’s the basic premise of Rollerdrome. It’s conceptual dynamite to someone like me who grew up on Aggressive Inline, rollerblading’s answer to extreme sports hits like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. 

Rollerdrome is the game’s eponymous bloodsport and Kara Hassan is the sport’s newest athlete. In this brutal near future, violence and bloodshed makes for compelling reality television that serves as smoke and mirrors for Matterhorn, the ultra powerful host corporation of the sport, and their nefarious doings. As unconventional as it is for a “sports” game to deliver a riveting narrative, Rollerdrome does so during intervals in the seasonal bracket where you, as Kara, explore the broadcast offices to see beyond the sport and expose the secrets lurking beneath its public image.

Rollerdrome Preview

Rollerdrome hits on all of the walking simulator staples during these moments of quiet as irresponsibly placed clipboards, post-it notes, and expository radio broadcasts serve to fill in all of the pertinent story beats. Curiosity has gotten the better of me after a handful of levels, and I’m eager to see just how far the game goes in exploring its concepts of anti-corporate activism and pushing back against the world’s big transnational superpowers.

Rollerdrome is a spectacle of acrobatics, combining all of the things that makes inline skating rad with a brutal, devil may care brand of high-octane combat that sees Kara brandish grenade launchers and shotguns over typical roller derby hip checks. Although the base level aim is to run the gauntlet and eliminate all of the House Players in any given round, there are up to ten objectives—very Tony Hawk’s of them—that players can seek to complete. These range from killing enemies with a particular weapon to topping high scores, although you’ll need to truly master all of the transitory skills like grinding and acid drops that can be combined with the sport’s balletic and addictive gunplay.

Rollerdrome Preview

House Players come in all shapes and sizes, beginning with entry level grunts who struggle to survive against a lead onslaught with only a baseball bat in hand. The game quickly ratchets up the chaos by pitting contestants against homing rockets and phase-shifters, and I expect things to get even crazier as you progress deeper into the bracket.

Bullet fodder and combo tokens aside, the game’s arenas aren’t complicated by things like ammo drops, due to the elegant mechanic implemented by the developer which sees shells restocked by airing and pulling off huge grabs. It forces you to strike a balance between tricking—which captures the essence of inline—and maiming, and it’s this balance that makes Rollerdrome rather unique.

Rollerdrome Preview

It’s like Tony Hawk’s meets The Running Man.

And just because I’ve been asked, no. The game isn’t a multiplayer rollerblading free-for-all, although I do believe that if they wanted to implement a competitive score attack mode in future it wouldn’t feel out of place. But as a single-player experience, I think Rollerdrome quite easily commands the attention it deserves.

Rollerdrome Preview

Rollerdrome’s gameplay is a thumping, unrelenting test of skill that is matched by its gorgeously cel-shaded art style. It reminds me a little bit of Sable with incredibly strong line art and rich colours that pop off of the screen. Electric Dragon’s accompaniment is appropriately synth-driven and proves to be a superb foil for the game’s classic cinema aesthetic. I’ve particularly enjoyed the variety in both the House Players and the battlegrounds I’ve seen so far, I hope Rollerdrome changes things up until its dying breath.

Based on the qualifying rounds in Rollerdrome’s tournament bracket, the game gets plenty right so far. It has an evocative comic book-like presentation that’s matched by its momentum-driven gameplay and it just might be the surprise package of the year.

Rollerdrome releases on August 16th for PS5, PS4 and PC.