I’ve got a love-hate relationship with Double Fine. We can blame the Kickstarter fad on their Double Fine adventure, for instance, and the all-encompassing greed that stemmed from that probably owns a significant portion of the blame for the sorry state of gaming culture today. It’s hard to stay that upset, however, when they churn out perfectly enjoyable games every year or so. Massive Chalice was good, Headlander was good, Spacebase DF-9 was…okay.
With that in mind, let’s just talk about RAD. RAD’s pretty good.
The world’s ended. Then it ended again. And then it ended again. Now you’re facing a crisis on a much smaller scale: the technology your small community needs to survive in the post-post-post-apocalypse world is failing and someone has to go find a replacement. That’s going to be you, which means going out to explore the irradiated wastelands…and the emphasis is on the “irradiated” part, since spending too much time out there is going to result in some interesting changes.
Those changes are RAD’s biggest selling point. Initially your character has a baseball bat, which they can swing around, and some legs, which are excellent for jumping. Killing enough baddies and cleansing enough irradiated land will accumulate RADs, though, which eventually leads to an Exo Mutation. These are your “active” abilities, changing the appearance of your character and giving you a new cooldown-based combat option. Collecting more of these is the most obvious way to power up your character and will also result in your hero looking pretty bizarre by the end of the game. You can also collect passive Endo Mutations that offer boosts like resistance to fire and improved critical hit chance, but these don’t affect your character visually. Finally, items can offer a little boost here and there, such as collectible health potions and buffs.
You’ll use your bat and mutations to progress through numerous randomly-generated maps full of shops, treasure and mutants to defeat. Your goal typically revolves around finding machines called Respirators that repair the ruined land and open the gate to each map’s boss arena. You’ll find them all, defeat the boss and move on. It’s all good fun, though RAD falls into one of the common traps for this kind of game: your basic bat attacks are pretty weak, so if you don’t get any decent offensive mutations or items then things are going to take a long time to kill, and the longer you spend killing something the more likely you are to make mistakes and take hits. It’s a vicious circle, so you’d better hope your first mutation or two is worthwhile.
Are you really playing RAD for its gameplay, though, or are you playing for the charm? This is a Double Fine game, after all, so there’s loads of charm to go around. I’m kind of crazy for flavor text and lore, so the fact that RAD is absolutely bursting with both scores it a couple points in my book. RAD absolutely drips with 80s aesthetic as well, including not one, but two dramatic narrators. Take that, Bastion!
On the other hand, the sheer amount of 80s love going on means that RAD’s presentation can edge a little more toward style and a little less toward substance as it becomes near impossible to tell what’s going on. Expect to take some cheap hits as you get used to this.
Cheap hits aside, though, if you’re patient then RAD is a pretty decent action-RPG experience. It seems like the roguelite formula is here to stay, so if it’s not going to leave at least we’ve got some games that are worth playing coming out of it. RAD is a pretty rad game, another notch in the belt for learning to love Double Fine all over again. Toss on your Miami Vice shades, grow a scorpion tail and get to bat-smashing. The post-post-post-apocalypse won’t survive itself, after all.