Risk of Rain. Kind of a weird game name, don’t you think? Or maybe I just think that because I’m Dutch. After all, we don’t really understand the concept of ‘risk of rain’. Had this game been developed by a Dutch studio, it would have been called Absolute Goddamn Certainty Of Rain At Exactly The Most Inopportune Moment.
But Risk of Rain wasn’t developed by a Dutch studio: it was created by two-man team Hopoo Games and published by none other than Chucklefish, who, so hot on the heels of my Starbound review hold the semi-prestigious honour of Studio Referenced Most Often In The Shortest Amount Of Time. But don’t worry about any overlap between the two reviews! After all, Starbound is a 2D action-platformer about one or multiple intrepid space travelers exploring a large variety of procedurally generated pixelated worlds, fighting off semi-random monsters and powerful bosses to retrieve items and increase in power while attempting to unravel the mysteries of their surroundings. Whereas Risk of Rain is…
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low-ish. Mechanical, fairly high.)
You know, initially, Risk of Rain starts out looking pretty good! There’s a brief intro cutscene — that skips as soon as I touch any button, making screenshotting difficult — that sets the scene quite well: a massive transport spaceship, a tall fellow with a sword teleporting on board the spaceship, an explosion, and then a variety of monster containers and chests raining down on the planet below. And the menu, featuring interestingly esoteric music, even showcases a little orange pixel dude walking on the world’s tiniest planet. Everything’s looking good to me, is what I’m trying to say.
And then the Steam overlay pops up and I rapidly adjust my reading of the situation.
It turns out that Risk of Rain’s native resolution is, let’s say low. I don’t know exactly how low, because that’s the sort of information the options screen deigns unimportant, but suffice it say I’m pretty sure every monitor I’ve ever owned could’ve supported this game.
In contrast to the somewhat disappointing breadth of options, Risk of Rain features a very interesting-looking Item Log. And by that I mean it looks like this:
And look at this Scores and Unlockables list of cool things to do!
And this Monster Log!
Alright, enough faffing about.
Risk of Rain has no less than three starting options: solo, local co-op and online co-op. The relative prevalence of co-op makes me worried a little about this game’s intended experience: I only know five people currently who own this game, and trans-Atlantic time differences and conflicting schedules make it quite likely that I won’t be able to get any co-op in during the one-week period that precedes this review.
On the one hand, I usually feel bad about reviewing a game on a partial picture like this. On the other hand… solo players do exist. And we people who generally prefer to not get other people involved in their experience can like to have reviews catered to their play style too, you know.
Alright, tangent over. Starting a new solo game.
Risk of Rain seemingly presents me with ten classes from which to choose. I say ‘seemingly’, because nine of them are silhouetted out and unselectable. So I can be the Commando, be the Commando, be the Commando, or go fuck off. My choice.
I’m presented with three difficulty levels: Drizzle, Rainstorm, and Monsoon. Drizzle, the easy mode, prevents any sort of actual progress, so that’s right out. As for the other two… contrary to popular expectations, and largely because I’ve read Risk of Rain’s short description (including the word ‘roguelike’), I decide to go with the medium option for once. Maybe, in a game that seems to pattern itself after a genre where merciless, brutal difficulty is the norm, I should try something below the absolute hardest level of difficulty to start with? I’ll be honest, though: It feels wrong.
Risk of Rain, screen one.
Alright, let’s see. I’ll assume I’m the little orange planet-walker from the opening. I’m in a place called the Desolate Forest. What do I do?
Floating keys above my starting position inform me of the controls. Turns out Risk of Rain is strictly a two-hands-on-the-keyboard affair, no mouse of controller required. It’s simple, too: arrow keys move, space jumps, and the ZXCV buttons activate the four hotbar abilities.
Shit. What do any of them do again? I know there was an ability description list on the previous screen, but that’s way too ten seconds ago for me to be able to remember. Better hope no situations come up where I need these abilities, ever.
‘Find the teleporter’, the hotbar text tells me. So I guess I’ll be doing that.
I walk a little bit. Suddenly, the text ‘press ‘A’ to open container’ appears. I obey, and the grey container I couldn’t see in front of the grey escape pod I came in on opens up, spewing out golden coins and blue… balls of light, I guess. The coins increase the money total in the top left corner, while the balls increase a blue bar underneath my ability bar that I don’t know what it does. Still, I’m already seven dollars richer than I was just now. This is the best planet ever.
Suddenly, three purple bird people jump out from below the ground. I briefly hope that they’re here to congratulate me on my new-found wealth, but the first giant mouth icon biting a chunk out of my health puts the lie to that piece of wishful thinking.
I suppose there is no better trigger for learning my abilities on-the-fly. I learn that Z is a regular shot that I can just hammer for repeat fire, X pierces enemies in a line, C is a dodge roll that allows me to avoid more bites, and V is a bidirectional spray of fire that also stuns enemies for a while. A neat little package, all in all. Using them and my amazing movement skills, I handily finish off the bird monsters.
I’m not sure what leveling up actually does in this game? I don’t think I get stat or skill points to distribute, or anything traditionally associated with the concept like that. Does it… does it just increase my health? I’m going to assume it makes me more dangerous in other ways, too, but there appears to be no way to tell.
‘Find the teleporter’, the hotbar still displays, gratefully omitting any references to either wiping away debts or suffering curses. I move to the right, since the left appears to be a pretty long drop. And I’m not sure that’s something I’m supposed to be able to survive?
Ooh, a chest! I can unlock it for twenty-five in-game dollars!
The chest contains… ooh, a piggy-bank that provides me with infinite gold over time! This is the best chest I’ve ever opened!
As I attempt to climb my way out of the pit, electric, wall-clipping jellyfish fly in from the left. I can’t shoot them while climbing a vine, so I jump back down. This causes more purple bird-men to appear. Using a pulsing jumping platform to get away from them, I run into another rock robot. I flee back into the pit, where a larger group of bird men have gathered… of many different colours, no less. They have larger health bars, armored health bars by the look of things, and I’m pretty sure their palette-swapped colours mean nothing good for me.
I run up and down my pit for a little while, but the procession of bird people and jellyfish get the better of me.
This is my score:
Okay… I don’t know enough about Risk of Rain to fully interpret this run yet, but that seemed pathetic. Did I even get to the teleporter? Let’s try again. Second verse, same as the first?
I find myself in a different place that’s still called Desolate Forest. I’m starting to understand this place’s naming committee.
Desolate Forest.2 looks similar to Desolate Forest.1, and it plays host to the same purple birds and zappy jellyfish. It does have several interesting statues, ‘shrines’, that I can offer money to for the chance of a reward. Gambling, basically, except the prize is less ‘more money’ and more ‘a chance to survive on this hell-planet for a little longer’.
Another shrine spawns five tiny imps, that immediately run off in all directions. ‘Kill them within fifteen seconds for a reward’, the game goes. ‘They just jumped down like twenty goddamn stories’, I reply.
I even find some more items! Unlike the Piggy Bank I got earlier, which passively gave me more money, this Gold-plated Bomb actively — by pressing G, no less — requires me to turn my gold into death-dealing.
I also find a delayed-activation medkit, an exploding fire shield, and heavy-fall boots, all passive. This is starting to turn into something! Maybe, better-equipped like this, I’ll actually be able to find the teleporter.
Oh yeah, look, there it is!
Activating the teleporter causes a massive golem to materialize.
‘Stay alive for 90 seconds’ is my next task. Unfortunately, the Colossus isn’t my only worry: a steady stream of enemies is teleporting into and on my position. And I mean a steady stream: previous enemy spawning seemed a little stop-and-go, but activating the teleporter seems to have opened the floodgates.
Worse, combat difficulty actually increases over time: it starts off at ‘Very Easy’, but now, nine minutes in, we’re actually at ‘Medium’. Put those two together, and it’s no wonder I managed to get myself killed with only two seconds left on the clock.
Third run, go!
I do a lot better in the third run: I find way more items, including healing providers, attack speed boosters, armor, and debuff effects. I even manage to find a banner that deploys every time I level up, which (as far as I can tell) massively increases my attack speed in a certain radius.
Alas, the outcome of run three is the same: activating the teleporter summons a great host of enemies, spearheaded by the biggest electric jellyfish I’ve ever seen.
It’s not until the fourth run that I have the requisite combination of luck and speed that allows me to get to the teleporter soon enough to avoid Medium difficulty. Also, I’m getting a little better at this game, I guess. Activating the teleporter summons the giant rock golem again, but this time, it is I who stands the victor today.
It turns out that the teleporter’s countdown isn’t as vital as it seems: letting the timer run its course stops the eternal flow of enemies, but present enemies still need to be killed before I can continue. Still, the giant golem beaten, I manage to do this quite handily. The teleporter takes a moment to convert my hard-earned money into a meager trickle of experience before teleporting me into a cave filled with fungi.
Hey, you know what’s even more fun than a shrine you can gamble away money at for a small chance of rewards? A shrine that does the same thing, except you sacrifice your hit points instead!
Run six actually turns out to be the best of the lot today: not only do I beat the giant rock golem in the Desolate Forest, I also take down the giant magma worm that ended run five — which was boring otherwise — and the jellyfish that stopped run three from succeeding. I die to a toxic boar inside a zerg hive soon after, but reaching this milestone actually unlocks two new classes!
I’m glad about this, because the Commando was getting a bit stale. I can already see that the Enforcer and the Bandit both have a vastly different skill set, so that ought to be fun. Be back after I tried them out for a spin!