RAD Review — A Fun, RADioactive Adventure in a Roguelike Wasteland
Double Fine's latest title, RAD, provides a unique, imaginative take on the roguelike genre that can't be missed.
Ever since its founding in the early 2000s, Double Fine Productions has provided unique, fun experiences that range from RPGs, 3D platformers, and virtual reality games. Some of my favorite games from the studio include Costume Quest and Brutal Legend, which were among the first games from Double Fine that I ever played. With its recent addition to Xbox’s stable of first-party developers, it’s safe to say Double Fine will continue to experiment with different genres and gameplay styles. For now, with RAD, the developer takes on the roguelike subgenre and provides its own creative, stylistic spin on things.
RAD takes place in a world where the apocalypse happened twice and it’s up to your teenage bat-wielding character to restore the world to humanity. The only catch is players have to enter the Fallow, an ever-changing radioactive wasteland that’s filled with a wide variety of enemies. As you explore each level, you leave behind a trail of grass and flowers which help bring nature back to the wasteland. Additionally, the trail your character leaves behind can help you remember where you’ve explored before.
With each level, you’re tasked with finding these different objects that help restore each map to how it was before the radiation took over. Rather than traditional dungeons, each map is vast and there’s plenty to see while you’re exploring. From a storytelling perspective, RAD provides an interesting world filled with lore that players will uncover along the way and spins a narrative where both the younger and older generations in the Fallow are working together to restore civilization.
Right from the title screen, I fell in love with RAD’s art style and presentation. From the logos to the character’s style, you can tell that Double Fine was inspired by the 1980s when choosing how the game looks. When you start the game, you have the option of choosing between eight different characters. Some of these can be unlocked at a later time. Each character has their own unique style that’s different from one another.
Additionally, RAD’s music is 80s-inspired and keeps the action going and makes each fight entertaining. The game also features cassette tapes and floppy disks as its in-game currency. The cassette tapes are used for buying items at shops while the floppy disks are RAD’s version of keys that can open chests along the way.
Another aspect of RAD that I loved is how everything is procedurally generated. As this is a roguelike, once you die, you’re sent back to the beginning of the game. With each time you die and go back into the Fallow, the area where you spawn changes and the map as a whole is different. The time of day, enemy types, and the boss battles change each time you die and go back to the beginning.
While it can be frustrating to do this every time you die, having the game be procedurally generated helps keep things from getting stale. As you’re exploring each map, you’ll find hidden areas filled with items, shops where you can buy more health or power-ups, and other people that provide mini side quests where you have to defeat a certain enemy for them. Additionally, there are underground areas that can be accessed that feature winding corridors and tight spaces with enemies to fight. Some of these underground tunnels have mini-bosses and all of them have hidden shops and a permanent modification to your character tucked away.
Where things get interesting is with RAD’s combat and gameplay. As someone who doesn’t play many roguelikes, the idea of going back to the beginning upon each death took some getting used to. But after doing this a few times, I started to experiment and play smarter than I had before.
While this may not be the best comparison, the feeling of dying and restarting reminded me of playing a game like Bloodborne where once I died, I had to redo a certain area of the game and do the boss battle all over again. While the enemies in RAD aren’t FromSoftware-esque in their difficulty, they can definitely be tough and keep players on their toes. Certain enemy encounters would have me against three or four bigger enemies that would corner me and I couldn’t do much to defeat them all. While this may frustrate some, I found the challenge enjoyable over time and it taught me to pay more attention to each enemy’s attack pattern, figure out when to dodge, and when to get some attacks in.
As you defeat more enemies, you have a meter at the top of the screen that fills. Once it is full, you’ll acquire a new power. Much like the procedural generation of the world, these new powers are random. You might get a radiation power where you can attack enemies with fireballs or summon a minion to help you out. Another time, you can acquire a radiation ability that lets you mind control an enemy or have spikes come out of you. Regardless of what power you get, each one is fun in their own way and makes combat more enjoyable.
Once you defeat the boss and mini-bosses in the game, players have the option to proceed to the next area or go back to the game’s town area. The town has different citizens that you can talk to and they react to your character in different ways as you acquire more radiation powers. Additionally, you can store your in-game money and save it for later in case you die again. Overall, the town serves as a nice place to relax before you go back into the Fallow to proceed forward and fight more enemies.
Despite being pretty difficult, RAD is a great game with a fantastic sense of style and fun gameplay that helped make me less frustrated every time I was sent back to the start upon death. RAD’s procedurally generated environments and radiation powers, among other things, makes each level interesting and unlike the previous encounter. Along with daily challenges that test your speedrunning skills or provide certain power-ups, there are even more reasons to keep coming back to the game.
For those that love roguelikes or for those that have been looking to give the genre a try, you can’t go wrong with RAD and experiencing yet another imaginative title from Double Fine.