rollerdrome review

Rollerdrome Review – These Violent Delights

Skate and die!

As rookie sensation Kara Hassan, a relative newcomer to the near future reality-bloodsport Rollerdrome, you’re set to take the 2030 season by storm. It’s a spectacle that’s as deadly as it is acrobatic, it’s also far more Running Man on skates than it is Disney on ice. Rollerdrome pushes inline action to its most violent extremes, transforming roller derby from a bruising pastime into a snuff sport that serves as a misdirection for corporate misdeeds. It’s a stark glimpse at a near future—or grim present in some examples—where propaganda is king and civilisation grows increasingly uncivil.

Rollerdrome wrings its story out through walking simulator vignettes that bookend the tournament’s qualifying rounds. As Kara, you explore offices and locker rooms in an effort to uncover whatever it is Matterhorn is hiding in drawing public eyes to their grisly murder sport. It’s all surface level to the point where I’d call it window dressing, declaring its anti-capitalist undertones through newspaper clippings and notes found in ajar lockers. Other characters are only heard through radio broadcasts, closed doors and snarky audio logs. As cool as the setting is, it feels like kind of an afterthought—it seems aware of what it’s trying to say, but not wholly interested in saying it in a meaningful way.

rollerdrome review

The meat and bones of Rollerdrome blends the acrobatic inline action of Aggressive Inline with balletic, reflexive bullet time shooting. Movement in the game should feel swift and nimble and it does, provided you’re moving in straight lines. Turning is almost akin to a shopping trolley and the game’s less than ideal camera quite often obscures your field of vision. On the flip side, the management of the few available weapons you’ve got and your ammo stocks is probably the game’s strength mechanically. I particularly admire the mechanic that ties tricking and dodging to ammo replenishment, it keeps the field clear of pick-ups and keeps the objective simple—empty your clip, catch air for a top-up.

It does set up stakes loud and clear. Skate or die. Or skate and die, in a lot of cases. 

As far as objectives go, your most pressing is to live to fight another day against the Matterhorn’s House Players, the admittedly rad name given to the enemies populating the arenas.

rollerdrome review

It’s in these arenas that the game is somewhat let down, as the same areas present themselves multiple times throughout your twelve-hour journey. Things like varying objectives and enemy variants will keep you on your toes, but for it to be the same handful of backdrops in a game with only about a dozen levels is a shame. That’s not to say they don’t look super nice, I really like the game’s distinct, cel-shaded art style that feels a lot like Sable without that game’s distinct, stylised, choppy frame rate.

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In an homage to games like Tony Hawk’s, each of Rollerdrome’s rounds comes with a laundry list of objectives that aren’t essential to progressing through the game but certainly add to the challenges that present as you advance throughout the bracket. Whether it’s topping the reigning champion’s best run or killing all of the House Players in one single, spectacular combo, there’s enough reason to revisit the levels to mop up without factoring in the competitive endgame of leaderboard one upmanship that’s prevalent in score attack games like this. 

rollerdrome review

‘Out for Blood’ is a tough as nails ‘hard mode’ that unlocks after the credits roll on the main campaign and presents Kara’s sophomore season as defending Rollerdrome champion. With a target painted squarely on her back, making it to the season’s end alive is a job for masochists. I found the main campaign to be hard enough once in the late stages, but Rollerdrome does offer some great accessibility options, like an invincibility toggle, for those who might struggle. 

Rollerdrome is a damn cool video game. 

The concept of a leech-like megacorporation playing host to a vicious bloodsport while lacking any basic humanity isn’t a new one. But what Rollerdrome does is it applies to it such style and flair that it’s easy to ignore its shortcomings, like a story that is more framework than character study, and a lack of variety in arenas and those who occupy them that would otherwise be hard to forgive.

rollerdrome review
Conclusion
In what is effectively Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater meets The Running Man in a war of attrition, full of guns and vibrant colour, Rollerdrome is a well-crafted arena combat-survival game set atop jam skates. Though as solid as the core loop is, the game is let down by a narrative that fails to measure up to the game’s pulsating setting as well as a disappointingly sparse range of arenas that you’ll see far too often.
Positives
Really cool, cel-shaded presentation
The core loop is satisfying and tight enough
The concept of Rollerdrome as a futuristic blood sport rules
Negatives
Controls and camera can be clunky
The story feels like an afterthought
Not an enormous range of arenas to slay in
7.5