Review: RAD Game

The 80s are all the rage. Rightly so. The era of neon colors and wild hair will always remain totally excellent. RAD is bursting with the 80s and references are everywhere. But is RAD really as rad as the title makes you believe?

Developer Double Fine was founded by Tim Schafer, the man behind Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and co-founder of Monkey Island. Their games are often not for everyone, but they do have three things in common: unique gameplay, their own style and quirky humor, and RAD also ticks all the boxes.
RAD is a Roguelike set in a post-post-apocalyptic world. So this world has had bad luck not once, but even twice. The kids that remain have to enter this dangerous landscape to keep the lights on, as it were. You can choose from some of these stereotypical kids when you start a run. You can play several of these freely, but as far as I have experienced there is no difference between these kids outside of appearance.



You are dropped into a world that is randomly generated. Everything is mutated because of all the RADIoactive radiation. You are not told what to do and there is no tedious comprehensive tutorial. You fight some enemies and see an XP-like bar filling up slowly. You will also find cassette tapes everywhere and sometimes a five-and-a-quarter floppy. There are several types of monsters, but not many yet. You'll find some sort of statue here and there, some shoot a laser beam in a specific direction. Of course you follow this and you will find a large door that you have to open, but you still have to turn on a laser. Once you have done this, you can enter the dungeon. No specifics per se.

Mutations

Mutations are the real gameplay gimmick in RAD. You earn RADs for things like killing enemies. Think of it as a kind of XP. When you fill your bar, you get a random mutation. Each so-called Exo-mutation looks like it doesn't feel good to the player but does give you a big advantage afterwards. For example, you get a large purple arm that you can use as a boomerang, a flaming head that you can throw at your enemy as a bomb, or you can throw a trail of blubber behind you that does damage to monsters. You can fire all ranged "weapons" as you would with a twin-stick shooter , which greatly improves the gameplay.
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You can also find or buy a mountain of Endo mutations. These are the passive modification that, for example, ensure that you get an elemental resistance, do more damage or can see secrets. For both types there is a laundry list of mutations that you can unlock, making the combinations almost unlimited. Where you can only use four of the Exo mutations at a time, the number of Endo mutations is unlimited.

roguelike

RAD is a roguelike. That is, each run is essentially a new game. The levels are completely random, so you never know what to expect. At least that's the intention. When you die you can start over. If you're dead, you're dead. Everything you have earned is lost. You can deposit your cassette tapes, or your money, for subsequent games between each level. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of these genres. While some see it as improving on your previous run, to me it feels more like you can just start all over again.
That doesn't mean I can't enjoy these kinds of games. I especially like roguelikes where your games generally don't last longer than ten to fifteen minutes. Games where the jars last more than an hour often lead to the same problem, starting a new run is very tedious. You already have to find your first items or upgrades while you are already quite proficient in the game. For impatient people like me, this quickly causes me to put my controller or mouse down again when I die. Where roguelikes mainly rely on the "oh, one more pot" idea, this works against RAD.
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There are options to start runs with some mutations already active and more hearts. This is what Double Fine clumsily calls "tools", which I translate as "easy mode". RAD is quite a difficult game and these tools mainly ensure that the start of a run is a little easier and smoother. Whether this is a useful and desirable addition is purely up to the player.

Gameplay and presentation

Style clearly trumps graphics here. Which in itself is not bad, but the game could have apparently run on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Nevertheless, RAD has heavy system requirements and does not run as well on a standard Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Switch as it should. Even your PC needs at least a GTX 970, and Double Fine recommends GTX 980/1060. To be clear: These requirements are higher than those of Battlefield V.
This will be a result of all the (neon) effects that the game has, but still I find it strange. Graphically, it's not as attractive as it could have been.
The gameplay is again a case of just-not. Fighting monsters isn't as satisfying as I'd like to see. It's nice that the RAD uses the twin stick controls, but combat is boring and attacking an enemy isn't as satisfying as it should be. Despite quickly figuring out the patterns of the monsters, the game feels very unfair later in a run. It doesn't look like an increasing difficulty and more like the game saying "it's enough now".
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Verdict

Despite the nice gimmick of all the mutations, the game never really captivates me, really grabs me. With every run I think half way through "this is pretty okay", only to die after an hour or so in a very unfair feeling. If I start again I can grind for half an hour to an hour before it becomes fun again. So for every half hour of fun I spend an hour not having fun. The humorous 80s style is equally fun, but it quickly adds nothing and even bothered me here and there.
Ultimately, RAD leads to the net-not syndrome. There's nothing about the game that I can say is really bad, but there's also nothing that really grabs me. It seems that Double Fine started with a gimmick and only put a game around it. If you're really a fan of roguelikes, 80s style and silly humor, then you'll have quite a few hours of fun with the game and two bucks isn't a bad entrance fee. For all other gamers, I don't think the game will leave an impression.
RAD is available for PC , Xbox One , PlayStation 4 and Switch .


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