I’m skating at full speed and yet a sniper’s laser sight is attached to my torso. I wait for the final moment, just as they’re about to pull the trigger, to dodge the bullet and fire my shotgun – right at the brute swinging a club stuck in my forehead. After heading straight for the nearest half-pipe, I spin a nose grip in the air to refill my pistol ammo and land on a grinding rail – heading straight for the snipers.
Now it’s just a case of firing a few homing rockets into the air, engaging in slow motion and unloading my dual pistols – all before sharpening the wall to safety. I feel like a martial artist armed on wheels. I look like a high speed death suit. And I’m having an incredible amount of fun.
This is Rollerdrome, an upcoming single-player arena shooter by Roll7 that enlists you in the titular fictional blood sport. Comprised of a series of deathmatches that come together in a full narrative single-player campaign, Rollerdrome challenges you to battle waves of enemies in combat arenas filled with skatepark paraphernalia. With nothing but a small arsenal of weapons in hand and a pair of skates on your feet, you’ll be pumping out combos, taking on challenges and pulling off a bunch of sick tricks worthy of the most extreme sports games.
While head producer Drew Jones describes the Rollerdrome as “a roller-skate shooter”, studio fans may recognize it more as a mash-up of two of Roll7’s previous releases. Combining the fluidity of Olli Olli’s cell-shadowed skating with the frenetic arena survival of Laser League, the game took on a surprisingly strange premise for what could be its heyday.
“The goal was not just to create a game that was a mix of genres, but to create a game that was its own genre,” says head of QA David Jenkins. “And not having a game that’s just ‘Oh, it’s a roller-skating game and you can shoot people in it’, or ‘Oh, it’s a shooting game and you’re wearing roller-skates.’ It’s very much its own kind of separate system.”
After spending several hours playing the first six levels of the game, it’s the half of the skateboard that really got me. The Rollerdrome is robust enough to give you a variety of tricks to perform – spins, grabs and grinds – and intuitive enough to make more advanced techniques easy to pull off – such as dropping acid into a quarter tube or extending your time. up in the air. It’s all buttery too, with a fluidity that sells the magnificence of his violent performance.
Gunplay is also not left out of this equation. With proximity mines to dodge, laser sights to dodge, homing missiles to avoid, and flaming beams of ionizing energy to think about, Rollerdrome’s frenzy is manageable by a generous lock-on aiming system and great bullet time. Your reticle will automatically switch to enemies when you’re close, and slow motion can be activated to let you rain down hell on your opponents while pinching at furious speeds.
“It’s a kind of enthusiasm; throw caution to the wind,” says Jones. “These enemies are after you and you have to face them. If you try to play a little more conservatively, you won’t get as much. [from the game] like you would if you just took the fight to the enemies.”
A good ammo and health system further encourages this aggression, as you’ll need to dispatch enemies to replenish your fragile health bar, while performing a variety of tricks to replenish your limited ammo supply. Starting with a pair of pistols, I soon unlocked a shotgun and a grenade launcher to get into fights, and I was amazed at the mileage the game was able to extract from even this small set. You’ll need to think carefully about your weapons, switching between them in rhythm to get around each enemy’s defenses.
It’s simple but elegant. Rollerdrome’s gunfight felt to me like a rudimentary imitation of Doom Eternal, as you dance between enemies, switch weapons on the fly, and dash forward to keep your health and ammo afloat. Add to that the set of skill challenges that come with each level – which range from performing a specific trick, sharpening a specific object on the wall, to hitting a set score – and the scope for mastery is huge.
Where Rollerdrome starts to improve its performance, however, is outside deathmatches. Set in a retro-futuristic dystopia marked by monopoly corporations quelling civil unrest by broadcasting hypnotic sports on television, Rollerdrome punctuates its levels with world-building snippets. Between each set, you’ll walk through empty changing rooms and sports halls, reading newspaper clippings or listening to radio segments to get a whiff of the world beyond.
“There’s such an obvious source of inspiration in ’70s genre films like Rollerball and Running Man,” says Jones. “So once we had the bloodsport element, a lot of the setting, theme and timing fell into place.”
Not that it made much of an impression on me. The main plot is fed to you so sporadically and with so little fanfare that I largely walked out of the narrative altogether. I was more intrigued by my last high score than the fate of this fictional world. A series of roller-skating deathmatches might well be fertile ground for telling a story of corporate moral turpitude, but with that story so divorced from the game’s main events, it was little more than a forgettable aside. I hope Rollerdrome’s narrative promise blossoms into a full playthrough.
The most surprising thing about Rollerdrome is its single-player exclusivity. The idea of a skate-shaded arena shooter seems like the perfect starting point for the next hit battle royale or competitive left-field phenomenon in Rocket League mode. With Roll7 already packing some multiplayer development experience, why did he approach Rollerdrome as a single player experience?
“The trap we really didn’t want to fall into was going too far into a new video game subgenre,” says Jones. “We had enough on our plates and enough to figure out the core idea of the game and the player idea that we started with. We really wanted to choose a focused experience and take it as far as we could.”
For the most part, it looks like Roll7 did just that. Rollerdrome might stumble on the tricky launch pad of storytelling, but it offers such a well-balanced mix of skating and shooting that you’ll feel engrossed either way. Maybe it’s time to dust off the skates in the garage, because when Rollerdrome launches on August 16, you’ll want to head to the skatepark.