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RAD Review: Functionally Radical

Double Fine Games, the developers behind titles like Broken Age, Psychonauts, and Brütal Legend have created RAD. It's 3D action game that takes some elements from dungeon crawlers like Rogue. The game is a mix of color, synth music and stress.

It’s The End Of The World

RAD is set in a world where humanity has faced not one, but two world-ending events. There are barely any habitable places left on Earth and your small village, unsurprisingly, is on the brink of more strife. In the face of these post-apocalyptic struggles, you play as a teenage protagonist that’s been given an important task to help with the survival. The power went out in town and you’ve stepped forward to try and find a way to get it back and thus have a better chance of survival. Your character must tread through the monster-infested radioactive wastelands called The Fallows for an answer to your problems.

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As a teen, the body of your character is able to somewhat handle a large array of toxins and radiation. Somewhat because as you’re exposed to contamination, your body mutates and can reconstruct into forms that are a little less than human.

Start Small 

You’d think since you’ve been given such a crucial task that you’d be stacked to the nines with weapons - you’d be wrong. RAD starts you off with nothing more than a bat and three hearts. There isn’t any real tutorial either, so you’re left to figure things out on your own. The game doesn’t have a lot of story or character development so the focus is on the exploration of the map and abilities.

The goal of every run is to find numerous totems that need to be activated in order to enter new stage areas and ultimately restore power. Every map you land on is randomly generated every time, keeping the struggles fresh. As your character defeats the various creatures that roam the land, you eventually fill a quota that allows you to mutate and gain a new ability. These abilities are extremely out the ordinary with mutations ranging from getting a snakehead to scare off enemies to throwing your arm as an attack. There are also more passive abilities that allow players to avoid things like flame or electrical damage.

In the game, you can find items like floppy disks or cassette tapes. The disks can be used to open chests and the tapes are used as a form of currency. The cassettes can be used at shops or ATMs set up throughout maps. When you return to town between runs, you can use this currency to purchase more things which is definitely recommended since you never know what a venture to the Fallows might bring. As you continue to play, you can also gain experience points that can unlock items in the shop or get other perks.

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Back To The Future

Overall, the game looks amazing. You don’t really expect a destroyed world to be filled with neon pinks and greens but RAD delivers just that. It’s set in the 80s and you can definitely tell. From the look of the characters to the soundtrack to the UI and even the optional CRT filter - the game looks and feels cohesive and entertaining. For younger players, the technology can make the game seem a little foreign. For older players, the call back to the 80s can make the game feel nostalgic but is a reminder of how behind the world in RAD is.

 You're Gonna Have A Tough Time

The game gets frustrating quick - especially since once you die, that’s it. You have to start over the entire level and you lose any items, currency or progress you've made. The stakes seem a bit too high for a game that more on the casual side. A checkpoint would help with that but for now, players will really feel every death.

Because of the randomness of what abilities you get and the maps, many of the runs border on hopeless. There are some runs that turned up little to no cash or items to restore hearts. That isn’t too fun when you’ve got half a heart left right before a big fight. Most of the mutations were helpful but, once again, the random nature of the abilities you get can feel like a setback. You have to learn to adapt to every mutation earned because they won’t always mesh well with your play style. RAD is harder than it seems to say the least. However, that challenge makes it all the more satisfying to successfully make it through a run.

Some other noticeable problems are the very long loading times and the inability to toggle your perspective. In one of my runs, the view shifted to basically only showing the character. It made it impossible to get anything done and I was forced to restart the run entirely.

It's Does What It Needs To

A bit of repetitiveness is to be expected of rouguelike games and RAD kind of falls into the trap of just having too much of the same. While the abilities and maps are switched up, the constant running in and dying gets tiring fast. The mechanics and resets rely less on experience and more on luck. Some levels will be a breeze, while others will take multiple attempts to get through. Despite all that, the large variety of abilities players can get is a good thing. It's entertaining and seeing the vast results alone makes the game worth playing.

All in all, the game achieves what it sets out to do:  make an immersive post-apocalyptic world where the stakes are high and failure can leave you helpless. You’ll be stuck between wanting to throw this game and not being able to put it down.

3.5 Out Of 5 Stars

A copy of RAD was purchased by The Gamer for this review. The game is currently available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.

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