Rollerdrome review – Extreme (blood) sports

Sam Comrie
An image of the game Rollerdrome by Roll7

Rollerdrome is the brilliant love child of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the Max Payne franchise, as Roll7’s kinetic triumph defies genre boundaries while raising the bar for third-person shooters.

After crafting skateboarding gold with the Olli Olli franchise, developers Roll7 have harnessed their knack for sensational movement and world design into Rollerdrome. At a time when the future of the extreme sports genre still remains uncertain, Roll7’s balletic genre-mashing concoction is a much-needed injection of life.

Adorned with a simple premise of eliminating foes while pulling off an array of roller-skating tricks, somehow the devs have pulled off the impossible by merging two otherwise incompatible playstyles.

Not only is Rollerdrome successful at the latter, but it may just be one of the finest third-person shooters of the decade.

Rollerdrome: Key Details

  • Developer: Roll7
  • Price: $29.99 USD / £24.99 GBP (Release Day: $19.79 / £16.49)
  • Release Date: August 16, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC

Rollerdrome trailer

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Initially, I was skeptical about Rollerdrome’s premise and worried if it would drum up to nothing more than a misfire riding the coattails of the greats ala the obvious comparison, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. But no, Rollerdrome is supremely confident with its approach, leaving a lasting impression for both skaters and shooter fans alike. Apart from the action though, what exactly is Rollerdrome?

Pulling from cult classics like The Running Man and yes, the late James Caan starring Rollerball, players are put into the roller-skates of Kara Hassan as she competes in the annual Rollerdrome games. In exchange for clearing outlandish debts in a dystopian future, each brutal match is a step closer to uncovering the true secrets behind Rollerdrome’s hosts, Matterhorn. As fortune and fame become easier to grasp, its up to you to defy the public and assume the mantle of a Rollerdrome champion.

An image of Rollerdrome on PlayStation 5
Players can find a bevy of clues in various locations across the game’s story.

While the meat and potatoes of Rollerdrome’s gameplay is a dizzying dose of dynamical violence, its story is pleasingly peppered with secrets to unravel between the chaos. Each tier of the game’s stages begins with a new area to explore in first-person, with items, notes, and more to interact with as you put the story together. You won’t meet any of the other competitors in person, but their whereabouts will lead to a seemingly bleak fate covered up by the nefarious Matterhorn. Touches like this allow Rollerdrome to achieve depth without condescending the player’s interaction with the story.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Shooter

Of course, for many, the story will take a backseat as they turn up for Rollerdrome’s addictive gameplay. Roll7 ascend to the heights of the once glorious Neversoft, as their retrofit of the classic THPS formula defies any doubts of being derivative. The bones of the THPS franchise are finely tweaked and adjusted, leaning into the satisfying movement of underrated gems like Airblade and Jet Set Radio. Utilizing the DualShock 5’s haptics, every bump and bounce across the game’s varied arenas packs a punch as our urethane wheels hit halfpipes and kickers.

Players can pull off grabs, grinds, rotations, and flips as they eagerly strive to literally survive, as doing so will replenish your ammo. Each stage of the Rollerdrome championship requires the player to complete several objectives, each of them more challenging than the last. It’s here where the game truly asks you to step up your game. To bring it all together, you’ll be armed with four weapon types to send your enemies packing — and damn, they feel incredible to use.

The DualShock 5 speaker is often underwhelming in most titles but Roll7 doesn’t miss the opportunity to enhance the experience. The dual pistols, which you’ll start with, are grin-inducingly great to cause havoc with. The adaptive triggers snap with palpable tension before the weapon’s slide locks back on an empty magazine, prompting the speaker to release a mechanical noise. You’ll eventually graduate up to shotguns, grenade launchers, and a crossbow too.

Your bullets will find their home in a range of enemy types, from melee-focused grunts to hard-as-nails enforcers. If their might isn’t enough to take you down, then the barrage of missiles, gases, and laser beams from tank-like operators will undoubtedly cause a few frustrating deaths. One stage ups the ante with a boss enemy that not even Elden Ring could dream of.

Accompanying your quest for victory is a vigorous soundtrack of synth-wave bangers and electronica anthems. Rather than pander to the up-rise of 80s nostalgia that the genre can fall into, Electric Dragon’s compositions are the stuff of sci-fi dreams. The composer himself has explained that he felt like he had to “create a new genre” to effectively represent the game’s dystopian landscapes. Fingers crossed for a vinyl release on this one.

Electric Dragon’s score dresses the game’s world to a tee too. Rollerdrome is vibrant but not in terms of saturation, but in part to its gorgeous line art aesthetic. Textures ebb and flow around you, introducing new shadows and detail, evoking the experience of reading a graphic novel as your eyes trace each panel. This craft translates into the character models too, with each enemy offering a brutal stare followed by a Hong Kong-style zoom should you meet a grizzly fate.

An image of Rollerdrome gunplay
Arenas range from sprawling malls to military compounds.

However gameplay wise it almost feels wrong in a sense. These two styles shouldn’t work in theory, yet it all blends together seamlessly. Launching into flips or grabs as you unleash a barrage of bullets never gets old, especially as you trigger the Max Payne-esque bullet time feature for extra accuracy. There has been a large void left by the perfect gunplay of Max Payne 3 since 2012, and it pleases me to say that Rollerdrome comes close to having some of the best third-person shooter gunplay since then.

Live alone, die alone

After completing the game’s main stages, you’ll be granted access to ‘Out For Blood’ mode, which is a merciless version of each level with a remixed soundtrack. Masters of Rollerdrome’s gameplay will certainly get a kick out of this.

Your bloody battles will earn also earn the chance to place yourself on a global leaderboard, in the main game and its extra mode. Tallying up your performance within the stage, this element does add an extra incentive to re-tackle stages, though its appeal might be limited to hardcore players. That being said, it did feel amazing to reign at the top of them for a brief time — at least until launch.

Nonetheless, it does feel like a shame that Rollerdrome is missing any true multiplayer components. Granted that the game’s mechanics could be seemingly difficult to deploy effectively with others, the option to at least free skate and trick out with friends would breathe further life into Rollerdrome’s arenas.

The Verdict – 8.5/10

Despite its lack of cooperative or PVP gameplay, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that this is an essential game for 2022. Blending two opposing styles into an expertly executed bullet ballet, Rollerdrome’s future is anything but dystopian.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5.

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