Double Fine’s RAD is a Simplistic Roguelike that Boasts the Studio’s Unique Charm
RAD's commitment to lore and world-building make it stand out in the ever-growing roguelike market.
In a lot of ways, the roguelike genre’s core elements are almost the antithesis of what Double Fine’s past games have been known for. A focus on storytelling, memorable characters, and meticulously designed levels above all else is what has made titles like Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, and Grim Fandango Remastered beloved by so many fans. Roguelikes, on the other hand, tend to boast randomized worlds and are gameplay-driven more than anything. With RAD, Double Fine’s first foray into the roguelike scene, the studio has found a way to incorporate these pillars of past titles into the roguelike genre structure in really unique ways.
I played about thirty minutes of RAD recently at PAX East 2019 and found it to be, for the most part, pretty straightforward yet very enjoyable. RAD places you in a post-post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters and those looking to survive. Your main character that you choose to play as comes armed with a baseball bat as their primary weapon that you utilize for most of your basic attacks. As you progress through the world of RAD and begin to kill monsters, your character will level up and mutate, giving you your more specialized ways to take down foes or navigate the land.
Some of the handful of mutations that I acquired in my runs of RAD included wings that allowed me to fly and also shove back enemies, a tail that let me lay eggs which then hatched into minions that would fight for me, and spikes that I could use to extend outwards and stab monsters if they got too close to my character. Each mutation that I acquired was completely random. You can also have up to three of these mutations equipped at a time, with each new mutation being added once you level up.
Even though I only saw a couple of the different mutations that will be available in RAD, I found them all to be quite fun to utilize. While I’m sure in the full game you’ll end up finding that some mutations are more helpful than others–the wings specifically were quite useful for me–I think each one that I ran into in my demo was fun in its own way.
The simple gameplay loop found in RAD seems enjoyable as it is, but when I really started to see it as more than just another roguelike was when I found some of the lore and storytelling happening in its world. In a genre that usually doesn’t place emphasis on narrative, Double Fine has tried to include as much backstory in RAD as possible to flesh things out further. Some of this is done through simple dialogue with other characters in the game; at other times, you will find more specific objects in the environment that detail the past.
There are also plenty of items that you can find spread across RAD that continue to give the world you’re in a bit more character. For example, currency and keys in RAD take the form of cassette tapes and floppy disks respectively. In fact, much of what you see visually in the game is meant to be taken straight out of the 1980s since many of the characters in RAD believe that this decade is somehow sacred. The narrator in the game specifically uses jargon from the era because, as Double Fine’s director Lee Petty told me, they believe words from this time period contain a sort of power. This apocalyptic world meshed with the 80s vibe leads makes RAD feel like a Double Fine game more than anything else.
There’s a lot I still have yet to see about RAD that I wasn’t able to check out in my demo but has me intrigued. Petty told me there will be a town of sorts in the game that will serve as your home base. It is here that you’ll be able to upgrade things such as your bat to make you more powerful for subsequent runs. While I was only able to see a couple of instances of what bosses will look like in RAD, I really like the designs of each. Petty also gave me an idea of the other biomes that you’ll be able to explore in RAD after the first and they each sound cool.
RAD doesn’t seem like it’s going to set the world on fire or drastically change the roguelike genre when it releases this summer, but it doesn’t really have to. Double Fine games have always been a sort of comfort food for me and what I’ve played of RAD so far seems to sit alongside the studio’s past ventures in this same way. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the final product will be but RAD has quickly become one of my most anticipated titles in the coming months.
RAD will release at an undetermined date this summer for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.