Double Fine makes some very odd, intriguing games. Titles like the strange but extremely entertaining cult classic Psychonauts come to mind. Part of the atmosphere that Double Fine is known for is present in Rad as well, but at the same time, Rad also feels painfully ordinary.
Rad is a so-called roguelike game with a post-post-apocalyptic '80s setting. The world has ended multiple times and it's up to a gang of teens with attitude to go out into the barren world and bash monsters with baseball bats and other such weapons. For you roguelike fans out there, the gameplay will feel familiar. For those of you who aren't as familiar with the genre, Rad sports a pretty steep learning curve.
When you've picked your character you can simply head on out through a portal and get to ass-kicking instantly. Rad's gameplay is incredibly simple and almost exclusively focused on melee battles. The way it's played reminded us of Dark Souls. You minimise the space between you and your enemy, swing your weapon at it, roll to avoid attacks and repeat that over and over again until your enemy falls down dead. Your reach is relatively limited, at least the reach of the early weapons, which makes finding the right rhythm integral early on. While we don't want to admit it, this took a long time for us to get right and considering the fact that small mistakes can result in impending doom heading your way faster than you'd planned it to, the learning process was frustrating at times.
Sure, we understand that roguelikes are designed to be somewhat challenging. It's a genre for people who like a challenge and you're meant to get a grasp on some of the mechanics the 'learn by doing' way, rather than the game teaching you all of its secrets. This is all well and fine, and difficulty also differs from person to person. What one person thinks is brutally hard, another will find easy as pie. For what it's worth, we found Rad to be hard and even unfair at times. The difficulty doesn't feel balanced and we were never encouraged to take risks since the healing items were close to non-existent. This makes the pace of the game suffer, with us constantly trying to cheat our way through some of the game's enemies, even more so during the boss fights. These fights often take place in tiny arenas where multiple monsters appear at once, chasing the player around. Getting up close and personal to a huge, sticky monster and hitting him once before rolling straight into the jaws of another monster gets old really fast and raises frustration levels up quite a bit.
The battles aren't all about close combat though. As you slaughter more and more enemies you'll add to a meter that, when filled, rewards you with one of many mutations that gives you various different powers. These powers can be new attacks, passive abilities or defence against specific enemy attacks. The mutation mechanic is Rad's absolute highlight as the mutations don't just alter your play-style but they also change your appearance. One mutation gave our character a dinosaur tail that we could use to plop eggs out of our rear, which brought a lot of laughs at the office. The issue lies in the fact that even if a mutation grants you the ability to shoot projectiles, you still have to roll around and wait for the perfect time to attack, so it doesn't change the pace for the better. In true roguelike fashion, the mutations are random, meaning that you'll occasionally get blessed with abilities you don't need for your play style.
You can collect cassette tapes to grab a quick in-game buck in between the many combat encounters and this does lighten the load a little. One thing we found fun regarding the mutations was the fact that they can evolve depending on which ones you collect, making something that was already pretty hilarious even more so. Another area in which Rad excels is in its design. The game is enveloped in a lovely '80s atmosphere with neon colour schemes, baseball bats, mohawks and synth music, and this post-post-apocalypse and its '80s theme work so well together.
We want to like Rad more than we actually do. From time to time it's incredibly engaging and when we, for example, managed to dodge a massive, fire-breathing monster's attacks and drop-kicked another monster while using a mutation on a third one, we felt on top of the world. When we, seconds later, moved on into a boss arena and were met by three aggressive bastards who sliced our health down instantly, we swore we'd never play the game again (which, of course, wasn't true at all, but still). Rad is aimed at genre fans and if you're one of those it's a stronger recommendation, but we would have liked to have seen more healing items in the game as it would have given us more opportunities to progress. Then again, maybe we just suck, and maybe our failures are on us. Who knows?