RAD (Switch) Review
Dungeon crawlers haven’t really been my thing, and less am I likely to pay much attention to their announcements. The only isometric dungeon crawler I’ve played this decade is Diablo III, and even that took months of finding the motivation to finish it. When Double Fine’s RAD was announced earlier this year, I didn’t really take notice. But after getting my hands on it for this review, I’m surprised to say I had a good time. Dare I say, it was pretty rad–at least, most of the time.
RAD is set in a post-post-apocalypse, after a second armageddon, but stuck in a retro-future aesthetic that’s recently becoming more mainstream in sci-fi. Environments are radioactively toxic, with all sorts of mutant critters (or “muties”) out to get you. But contrasting against the smoggy, drab, decrepit locales, are the neon highlights and synthwave soundtrack delivering a cheeky tone with which to play in.
Mixing dungeon crawling with roguelike permadeath, RAD is all about exploring procedurally-generated levels for respirators; machines that aim to restore wastelands into habitable places for surviving humans to restore civilisation. Most of the game will be spent trawling wastelands and fighting muties, only to happen upon entrances to underground pathways which house bigger (in number and size) monsters, or unlock new mutations.
RAD’s gameplay gimmick is the ability to absorb radiation after killing muties. Absorb enough radiation, and the player earns up to three concurrent exo mutations, or an unlimited amount of endo mutations. Endo mutations are passive buffs, such as absorbing enemy health with each hit, or being able to see hidden collectibles. Exo mutations, on the other hand, bestow new attacks, like an armarang which turns the left arm into a boomerang and can be thrown for ranged attacks, or giant bat wings that can knock back enemies and let you glide over short distances. Exos are also cosmetic, altering an unassuming-looking person’s appearance by turning them into a grotesque abomination. It’s pretty awesome.
Double Fine’s humour is all over RAD, from the aforementioned mutations and overall aesthetic, to the dialogue littered with ‘80s pop culture references. Even the game’s currency, cassette tapes and floppy disks, seem silly and exist only knuckle down on the colourful, whacky apocalypse. Sometimes it got a chuckle out of me, other times I couldn’t help do an eye roll.
While I enjoyed my time with RAD, I have to admit the roguelike hook really bothered me. I appreciate many people enjoying the permadeath nature of the genre, where you venture out, die, and restart anew with the aim of inching further than your past attempt. The permadeath aspect means you lose all mutations earned in the previous playthrough, including collectibles and money–unless you deposited it in the bank during a recent visit to the home base.
What might have helped would be the availability of more health pickups, as a few levels in, I felt like I was constantly on the back foot, constantly reduced to minimal life unless I was lucky enough to randomly receive the health-absorbing endo mutation. Adding insult to injury were the expensive health items at shops, which would only restore small amounts anyway. Muties will only sometimes drop these helpful items, but with bigger and tougher enemies crop on later in the game, in larger numbers even, it felt like the game was pushing back a little too much that it felt a little imbalance. Some people will love this type of challenge, but for me the idea of putting so much effort into developing a character, only to lose it all and return to the beginning to do it all again isn’t so enjoyable. A matter of personal taste.
Overall, I was surprised by how much fun I had with RAD. Levels might feel a little formulaic, but I didn’t mind as it meant I was able to quickly figure out what my goals were. Some enemy types make for good fodder, and the randomised combinations of exo mutations make each playthrough unique. The ‘80s pop culture tropes and visuals are becoming cliched at this point, but in this case, they mostly work and the music often riffs on popular classics like Michael Jackson’s Thriller. If you’re looking for a single-player, dungeon-crawling roguelike with the added bonus of fighting mutants, while becoming one yourself, look no further than RAD.
+ Fun combinations of randomised mutations
+ Tongue-in-cheek references and ‘80s neon art
+ Combat is varied in each playthrough, adding replayability
- Permadeath can be annoying
- Health management felt imbalanced
- Visuals are noticeably underpowered on Switch