I blame Stranger Things for this resurgence of 80’s inspired media. The Netflix Original show kicked things off, followed by games like Crossing Souls, and now, RAD. RAD takes place in a world ravaged by two nuclear annihilations. Just when civilization began to rebuild, things go to hell again, and what’s left of civilization has to start again.
RAD is a rogue-like game. Players should never expect to have the same run twice, and even though RAD is on the shorter side, there are plenty of powerups and character altering abilities to make jumping in over and over again worthwhile. Even for a rogulite, RAD runs a little short, and can be finished in a couple of hours.
Granted, it is also quite challenging. Even a really good run with great powerups can be thwarted by one or two enemies, something I learned numerous times. There were a few times where I had gotten to the fourth or fifth area, and tried to move into a new room to give myself a quick breather from a fight, just to get caught up with more enemies. A lot of titles in the genre, Dead Cells is one that quickly comes to mind, often reward quick movements, but not RAD.
RAD almost begs to be played methodically and slowly. Again, any enemy can quickly defeat your character if you aren’t careful, even with powerful abilities. There are a lot of different enemy types to be wary of as well. Some bombard players from above with slime, while others can quickly dash along the ground. There is always a threat nearby, and they can attack up close or from far away.
With the randomness of rogue-likes, some runs quickly become more favorable than others. As players explore they come across nodes that give them new mutations. Some have passive perks, like not being hurt by toxic sludge or fire, while others are active attacks. My favorite was the Warhead perk, which basically turned my mohawk character into Ghost Rider and he could throw his head at enemies like a grenade.
RAD doesn’t take itself very seriously, and these mutations are easily the most anticipated part of each run. One mutation gave my guy spider legs to beat enemies with, and I audibly laughed when I was awarded it. Players can have three different active mutations at once, which can be re-mapped to be on the appropriate button if you find yourself using one more than another.
Of course, these can be re-rolled at special locations too. Although I wish I had gotten a bit more of a tutorial here, because I accidentally used one and got a subpar ability when I liked the one I had because I didn’t know what it was. Combat is pretty simple, and is mostly mapped to a couple of buttons. There are some extra moves that can be used, but in the heat of battle none of them come very naturally.
RAD is double moniker here, and is fitting both for the aesthetic style of the game, as well as the radiation soaked world. As players defeat enemies there is a radiation gauge that slowly fills up. Once it is filled, players earn an additional powerup for their run. This makes fighting as many enemies as you can worthwhile, even if the risks are often high.
Dying means starting over, but that doesn’t mean even dying isn’t worthwhile. Every time you die in RAD, there is another XP bar that fills up. Levelling this up means new abilities and items will be unlocked and appear in the world while exploring. Additionally, spending money in shops in the hub can yield better items once players hit a threshold of money spent. Currency in RAD fits with the aesthetics, and you’ll end up spending cassette tapes on items, and using floppy disks to open chests. Players can even bank cassette tapes in the hub area between levels, making purchasable items in later runs more attainable.
While I did enjoy a majority of my time in RAD, there were a few issues that I had while playing. First and foremost were the loading times. Moving between each area requires a lengthy loading screen. Each screen has helpful tips, but after a certain point I got tired of looking at them. This became more of an issue when I was going back to the hub area between areas to bank my cassettes. I would be there for literally thirty seconds and then sit through a loading screen that took just as long (at least) to get back. Each world isn’t very large, so I’m surprised loading times were that big of an issue throughout.
I also had some framerate issues while playing on Xbox One. RAD generally ran pretty well, but on some weird occasions even when there wasn’t a lot going on, my framerate would drop significantly. It honestly wasn’t too big of an issue, as it would spike back up pretty quickly, but without the chaos of battle occurring when it happened, it was weird.
RAD doesn’t reinvent the rogue-like genre, but it doesn’t need to. It does a lot right, from the 80’s neon aesthetic, to the mutations that players can earn there is a lot to love. I didn’t hate dying either, because it meant new unlockable mutations and items for me to earn when I jumped back in. Despite being shorter, RAD will encourage players to jump back in very quickly, even when frustrated from a recent death, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay it.