It all started with a twinge. A thumb bent inwards towards the palm. Movements made a thousand times a day turned excruciating. A hand ensnaring a plastic shell of crosses and triangles far tighter than needed.
Then came the dreams of blistering parquet floors, sharp cracks and sulfurous whiffs. Splintered mounds disrupting the smooth topography of that burnished wood. Looping, slow-mo digital death. Dreams where you wake up feeling wired, convulsive waves of unconsciousness cresting and ebbing, barely delivering their restorative function.
Rollerdrome is self-inflicted pain and obsession, part delight, part Sisyphean repeat in search of slow-mo combos and laboriously nudging a digital counter into the millions. Such went my time reviewing Roll7’s latest murderous flow state bloodsport, arriving to players a handful of months after the acclaimed OlliOlli World. Hands hurt, eyes are bagged, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Blood to Conceal Blood
Rollerdrome is loosely cut from the same cloth as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, swapping boards for skates and chucking in guns and goons but retaining the directness of a level littered with ramps, challenges, and high scores. Jump in, cause havoc, rinse and repeat.
It’s 2030, an austere, retro future steeped in 70’s kitsch and gnarly synths navigated as silent protagonist, Kara Hassan, a fresh newcomer to the Rollerdrome Championship. Watched by millions, this brutal yearly roller disco is a thinly-veiled sportswashing front for Matterhorn, a megacorp with fingers in more than a few dodgy pies. With roller skates strapped to their feet and guns in hand, contenders jump into fenced-off arenas to fend off pay-rolled thugs. Blood to conceal blood.
You’ll go up against snipers trying to knock you off your skates from afar, meatheads hurtling barrages of homing missiles, and stave off bat-swinging grunts vying to dent your decaled helmet. These jumpsuit-clad House Players pepper sharply designed arenas tinged with the usual skate park fare of ramps, modules, and gaps.
It’s pure balletic chaos, pulling off perfect dodges, slow-mo executions, each kill – not trick – adding to your combo chain. Careening across the boards feels superb and responsive. Kara twists, turns, and vaults exactly as you’d expect. And who knew roller skating housed such an expansive repertoire of grabs, flips, and grinds?
The story is told through the disgruntled blathering of a waning champion, crackly radio broadcasts, curt proto-emails read on wall-mounted consoles, and alarmist headlines inked across broadsheets abandoned in drab locker rooms. These narrative pauses, explorable before jumping into a handful of arenas, offer a well-portioned peek at what goes on outside the televised glitz of the championship cocoon, leaving you to fill in the gaps.
The Joy of Repetition
Rollerdrome is tough, not least because your stock of ammo reloads at the judges’ discretion, awarded for pulling off tricks, and you can only top up your health by killing. The duality of gunning down House Players and pulling off daring tricks is where Rollerdrone truly shines. It forces you to meld death and style to stay alive and progress. Grace and violence balanced. There’s a visceral pleasure to lodging lead into flesh while in the midst of a vertiginous, slow-motion flip. And, slow-mo you will, courtesy of Max Payne-inspired Reflex Time, activated at the tap of a trigger, suspending time to unleash even more chaos.
Roll7’s straightforward introductory arenas are a deceptive primer that give way to later stages where you’ll be happy to make it out alive. Ravines, hulking spider mechs, and seemingly unreachable high scores are there to cramp your style. But, unchecked challenges will lure you back, taunting you to carve out better routes, slaughter more efficiently, and pull off bigger combos.
Focused, you’ll enter a flow state before long, cadenced to the broody, jagged synths of composer Electric Dragon’s noteworthy soundtrack. Rollerdrome’s repetitive nature draws you in. Evening escapism turns to late-night score hunting. Rollerdrome bounces around the mind when the controller isn’t in your hands. An itch that needs scratching, leading, in my case, to the sharp pangs of looming RSI and wild reveries. But, my is it fun.
Out For Blood
It’s hard to muster up any meaningful complaints and make them stick. The arena backdrops and layouts could have more variety, and Rollerdrome is over far too quickly, especially for those not fussed by creeping up the leaderboards. The narrative interludes are also a highlight but too few and far between. Sober, suggestive, and steeped in atmosphere. A meatier bit of the politics beyond the bearings and acrobatics wouldn’t have been out of place.
But, there’s a sense that doing so might have gnawed away at the tight and assured experience we already have. Sometimes, less is more. There’s also a post-campaign score-junky mode dubbed Out For Blood, stacked with even loftier challenges and high scores to set for those not quite ready to part ways with Rollerdrome.
Rollerdrome is emblematic of Roll7 as masters of their craft but also the courage to inject an original twist that plays, looks, and sounds fantastic. Tweaking a proven formula always comes with the risk of diluting what makes it so appealing, but here the execution lands. Familiarity bonds with novelty to sharp effect dispensing a flow state marvel. Rollerdrome is one of this year’s best surprises, whether or not you’re partial to lavish helpings of bullet time and the loose freedom of early 2000s trick-heavy skateboarding sims.