Risk Of Rain might look a little rough’n’ready, but it’s got it where it counts. Smart, challenging and tactical, but with all the instant cheer of a 90s run’n’gun game.
A superficial glance at last year’s gaming headlines might suggest 2013 was the year of new consoles. Not a bit of it – the big gaming shift last year was a resurgence of roguelikes and their offspring – games based around the concept (and join terror/thrill) of permanent character death. The sudden and total loss of all your progress and items, leaving you only with whatever you’ve learned from the experience.
Spelunky’s perhaps the poster boy, enjoying acclaim on most of the major platforms over the last couple of years, but while that’s more about the avoidance of danger, Risk of Rain applies a similar concept and ethos to run’n’gun games like Metal Slug and Contra.
You play as a little dude (optionally joined by up to three other little dudes in co-op mode) who’s crashed landed on an exceptionally hostile alien world, trying to find and activate a series of teleporters in order to escape.
The more you tarry in this – and thanks to fiendish, platform’n’ropeladder-based level layouts, tarrying is inevitable – the more monsters will arrive and try to take your life. Once the timer hits certain points, the number and frequency of enemies will rise sharply, to the point that this becomes a bullet-hell affair, your wee chap almost drowned by foes, rather than the nonchalant jumping and occasionally pot-shotting the level began as.
Your primary means of dealing with this rapid escalation of monsters – most of which require subtly or significantly different tactics to defeat – is a lasergun, but quickly Risk of Rain wanders into Diablo-with-guns territory.
A raft of upgradeable skills with very specific tactical purposes and a random smattering of better weapons to find and buy is necessary to keep on top of deluge of threat, and if you can just stay alive for long enough you’ll suddenly realise you’re now able to deal with quantities of enemies that would have spelled instant doom not so long ago.
It’s enormously stressful, but peppered with these moments of incredibly clarity and zen-like skill. Find the game’s rhythm and everything changes. Fall off that rhythm and you’ll be dead within moments. Having friends join you changes the dynamic quite a bit – more a party of carnage than a devout test of your own ability, but it’s great that both modes are equally viable.
Despite its apparent random levels, Risk of Rain has a partially fixed structure and can be completed, and in a surprisingly short space of time at that. Getting to the point where you can achieve that necessarily involves an awful lot of failure and repetition.
That’s OK! That’s part of the fun! Humiliating defeats can cause as many cackles as they do obscenities, and most important you’re ambiently learning from each one. How that enemy moves, how to dodge that massive worm thing, what that gun does, and most of all the delicate balance of getting a wriggle on or playing for time so you can hoover up as much cash and experience as possible.
Sadly it’s a rickety-feeling and sometimes looking game. The slickness of its mechanics aren’t quite matched by its appearance or controls, and it’s perhaps a little too aloof when it comes to explaining how it works. You’ll figure it out quickly enough, but first encounters will feel cold and confusing. Despite rudimentary mouse and keyboard controls, and the determination of the menu system that that’s the way to play Risk of Rain, a gamepad is all but a necessity if you’re to even begin to master the game, so keep that in mind.
Risk of Rain: Specs
- OS: Windows XP / Vista / 7 Processor: 2.5 GHz Memory: 1 GB RAM Graphics: Direct X9.0c Compatible Card DirectX: Version 9.0 Hard Drive: 130 MB available space Additional Notes: Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller or Direct Input compatible controller