If there’s one thing I’m looking forward to over the next few decades, it’s the rapid rise of the ultra-dangerous and brutal blood sports that will surpass the popularity of tennis, football, NFL*, Formula 1** and UFC***. There’s Speed Ball to take over from NFL, the barbarity of Rollerball is already a few years overdue, and once we finally get those anti-grav racers? Well, the explosive crashes of Wipeout are just around the corner. Rollerdrome is the latest game to riff on this idea.
The year is 2030, a retro-futuristic version of our near-immediate future, and the hottest new way to accrue and then try to pay off vast amounts of debt is to enter the Rollerdrome and skate your way to victory, all while blasting away at a variety of House Players being thrown your way by the International Rollerdrome Federation and trying to rack up a high score.
You get to roam freely around the arena, and the first foundational elements that Rollerdrome teaches you are how to skate and trick from the various ramps and rails – does it surprise you that the studio behind OlliOlli is putting more extreme sports in their games? Tricking is really very simple compared to OlliOlli, simply tapping to jump and then performing varying grabs and spins while you’re in the air. The game will naturally limit how many rotations you can pull off so that you won’t face plant (too often), and to let you focus on others things.
Because the next element you need to worry about are the enemies that will spawn in the arena. Your task is to take them out as quickly and efficiently as possible, and that’s ably helped by being able to lock on and fire away with high accuracy. The problem is that you only have a small pool of ammo available, more of which is awarded to you for pulling tricks and performing perfect dodge rolls to evade.
Oh, and then there’s also the slow motion ‘Reflex’ bullet time that you can dip in and out of for when you want to take direct manual control. It doesn’t last all that long, but the auto-aim only has a relatively limited range, and you’ll need precision and timing to get past certain enemy shields and pull of trick shots.
Put all of that together, and Rollerdrome’s inspirations feel pretty clear to see. It’s Rollerball fused together with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and a healthy helping of Max Payne on the side. Oh, and the art style seems to draw from the same school of Belgian and French comics that inspired the look and feel of Sable – I loved the style then, and I love it here, the game coming with higher frame rate animations to fit the higher paced action,
Those THPS credentials are really furthered by how the levels are designed – you can smash your way through glass windows to reach new areas, for one – and the handful of floating collectables that you can try to grab as you’re battling. There’s also an end of level report card that reveals the various bonus missions and tasks you can take on and high scores of legends of the Rollerdrome that you can chase.
There’s a heady blend of all-time classic inspirations within Rollerdrome, drawing upon some of the all-time greats of gaming in the early 2000s for the core gameplay, and then blending it with retrofuturism and barbarity that infused pop culture decades prior. I’m looking forward to playing more when Rollerdrome comes out on 16th August.
*NFL’s sketchy position on head trauma is very, very slowly improving, but could be better.
** Formula 1 has made leaps and bounds over the past few decades to try and ensure driver safety and survivability in high-speed crashes, but we’re all too frequently reminded of just how dangerous this sport already is.
*** UFC’s probably a good barometer for how popular full-on blood sports could be…