Streets of Rogue has one hell of an elevator pitch. In fact, it had us salivating at the prospect of a game that blends immersive sims like Deus Ex with a top-down pixel-art style that borrows a few ideas from the likes of Hotline Miami. Now, after spending a couple of years adding new gameplay systems, developer Matt Dabrowski and tinyBuild have just kicked the game out of Early Access on PC (it has also just launched on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One) and so, after a lengthy period of open development, the game is finished and players can experience its enticing concoction of ideas for themselves.
We played a little on PC but spent most of our time on the Nintendo Switch version. In some ways, it's the perfect fit for gaming on the go, with a number of roguelike-features (including permadeath and procedurally-generated levels) making it ideal for quick bursts of action. That said, the UI is rather small when you're playing on the Switch's pint-sized screen, and it can be particularly hard to utilise the mini-map effectively. Of course, you'll see more if you're on a bigger screen, but playing it on the way to work (or, as in our case, while the big TV is being monopolised by someone else) is a perfectly acceptable way to experience this quirky top-down adventure.
Streets of Rogue is set in a dystopian future where a ruthless mayor is ruling over the city with an iron fist. While this might sound like something out of Robocop, the developer has tried to be funny throughout, not only with his script but also with his choice of character classes. Comedy is often down to personal taste, and we have to say a fair few jokes didn't really land for us. It's quirky at the very least, however, and we certainly wouldn't go so far as to call it cringe-worthy or anything like that.
Fighting for 'The Resistance' against this ghastly mayor more often than not means killing people, but it's around this point that the narrative becomes largely irrelevant and we're tasked with indiscriminately murdering people or hitting switches for reasons that are either non-existent or beyond our mortal comprehension. We slaughtered doctors for reasons unbeknownst to us, punched a series of buttons in quick succession for some unfathomable higher purpose, and stole a few pointless-looking items that apparently The Resistance urgently needs in order to wrestle control of the city from the mayor.
You progress through the various, increasingly-challenging levels of the city, completing various tasks along the way. Once you've done your main objectives for a level, you advance to the next floor and start again. With disparate and frankly odd mission objectives, at times it can be hard to work out exactly why you should be bothered, and while we concede that there might be story beats that we've not witnessed just yet (mostly because we keep on dying), the hours we've spent with the game so far don't seem to suggest that something really interesting is going on under the surface. In short, don't play this one if you're after a gripping narrative.
To mix things up, there are specific missions that sit alongside the main story campaign. To that end, there are a bunch of different characters to choose from, and who you pick will determine how you interact with any given level. Newcomers may well gravitate towards 'the soldier' due to their handiness with weapons, but after a while, we started to play with 'the thief' because it let us sneak around the place much more capably. There are a few more starting options, such as 'the hacker', but there are several more that can be unlocked by doing certain tasks within a level. One example was 'the gorilla', who we released from captivity during one run, and later - once unlocked and under our control - we discovered that this class has a natural aversion to scientists. Another unlockable class, 'the cannibal', was unlocked by killing 20 people during one level - an act that felt strangely horrible and that we were glad to see the back of.
Each class starts with different items, and more can be found around the world, either in chests or prised from the fingers of fallen enemies. Gameplay variance comes from the clever use of the tools at your disposal, but the missions themselves felt a little underwhelming and the levels that you're constantly moving through don't feel very rich or engaging, although there's a fair amount of reactivity from the NPCs that exist in them. It's all a bit throwaway, and instead of exploring a deep world and meeting interesting people, more often than not you're entering a building, killing some people, and then moving onto the next objective, pushing forwards until your death.