Welcome! This column is part of a regular series in which we share what members of the Tom’s Guide staff are playing and enjoying right now, with an eye towards helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talk about Kingdom Hearts III.
The new action arcade game Rollerdrome may be about to earn some well-deserved attention. The last few months have seen a real drought of major video game releases. While this has frustrated some gamers, the lack of big-budget games has allowed smaller titles a chance to enjoy the spotlight. Case in point: last month Stray took over social media. Now, there’s Rollerdrome.
Launched earlier this week (Aug. 16) for the PS5, PS4 and PC, Rollerdrome is a frenetic and highly engaging experience. What the title lacks in narrative depth, it makes up for with consistently compelling gameplay and a simple-but-stylish aesthetic. The game’s focus on playing the same levels over and over to earn the highest score possible is also sure to appeal to gamers of a certain age.
Just days after its launch, Rollerdrome already looks like a prime candidate to be one of the best PS5 games of 2022. That’s no small feat, considering that flagship titles such as Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7 have already launched this year, and the long-anticipated God of War Ragnarök is only a few months away.
Having been fortunate enough to get my hands on Rollerdrome a little bit ahead of launch, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks completely enamored with this delightful little game. Even better: If you’re a PlayStation Plus member, you can currently try the game for free.
Welcome to the Rollerdrome
Rollerdrome is set in the near future, where the titular blood sport has become a global phenomenon. You play as Kara Hassan, a participant in the deadly televised game, which sees constants enter an arena on roller-skates. There, they attempt to defeat hordes of enemies known as “house players,” using an assortment of weaponry.
The concept feels rather reminiscent of the cult-classic movie The Running Man, which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a falsely accused man forced to compete in a lethal game show. The game also takes clear inspiration from 1975’s Rollerball. That movie takes place in a future society, where a violent sport played on roller-skates has risen to prominence.
Even with its cinematic inspirations, the focus of Rollerdrome is very much its gameplay. But in between its blood-pumping levels, there are a handful of first-person sections. These allow you to explore small areas filled with trinkets and collectibles, which flesh out the game’s world and allude to Kara’s backstory. These narrative segments are intriguing, if a little half-baked (and the game does allow you to skip them when replaying levels).
Fun on four wheels
Rollerdrome shines thanks to its extremely fluid gameplay. From the very first time you skate into a colorful arena packed with enemies, all armed to the teeth, the adrenaline rush is almost palpable.
But Kara isn’t defenseless in this fight; she comes packing weapons. You start with a basic pistol, but over the course of the game, you can unlock more powerful armaments, including a rocket launcher and a gun that shoots electricity. Plus, in a genius twist, you reload your weapons by performing tricks, spins flips and grinds. This results in Rollerdrome playing like a wonderful hybrid between Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Doom.
Successfully aiming at enemies while roller-skating at breakneck speeds, performing all manner of dazzling maneuvers, would be borderline impossible. Instead, the game wisely includes generous auto-targeting and the ability to temporarily slow down time to line up precise headshots.
Even after hours of play, launching off a ramp, activating your Reflex ability to slow time and then unloading a full clip of bullets into an armored enemy feels almost indescribably satisfying — even more so when you do so while performing a double backflip.
I should also note that Rollerdrome is no pushover. While early levels start off fairly manageable, within a short time time you’ll face dozens of enemies attacking you simultaneously. More powerful house players also join the mix, including spider-like tanks and flying soldiers who sprinkle toxic acid onto the arena floor.
You’ll likely need to restart at least a few times to complete some of the latter stages, especially if you want to compete for the highest scores. And if you’re really up for the challenge, after beating the base campaign, you’ll unlock the Out For Blood mode. This remixes each of the game’s 11 levels to make them even more challenging.
Lacking a little substance
Perhaps my biggest disappointment with Rollerdrome came after beating the core campaign and getting my butt kicked by the Out For Blood mode. There are simply not many unlockables.
You earn your entire arsenal of weapons less than halfway through the game, and you can’t upgrade them in any way. There aren’t any unlockable costumes for Kara, either. She spends the entire game in the same red-and-white jumpsuit. This feels like a huge missed opportunity. I’d have loved the ability to make the character feel unique.
The game still find ways to incentivize replaying levels, though. You can earn bragging rights for a high score, but each stage also offers 10 unique challenges to complete. These range from finishing a stage using only one weapon, to performing specific tricks in a set location. Unlocking new levels is tied to these challenges as well, so you have a good reason for trying to complete as many as possible.
Looks as good as it plays
Rollerdrome adopts a cel-shaded visual style, which feels appropriate for its setting and gameplay loop. The comic book-inspired graphics add to the over-the-top feel of the game, and also help to make the chaos on screen a lot easier to track.
While Rollerdrome may not a graphical showcase for the PS5, it’s still a good-looking game. Favoring a stylized look over hyperrealistic visuals feels sensible. The game also sounds fantastic, thanks to a synth-heavy soundtrack that perfectly scores the carnage.
You can try Rollerdrome right now
Last month, the cat-simulator game Stray launched as part of Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription service. While Rollerdrome hasn’t gone down that same route, PlayStation Plus members on the Premium plan currently have access to an exclusive Rollerdrome trial.
If this demo convinces you to purchase the full game, PlayStation Plus subscribers of any tier level (Essential, Extra or Premium) get a special introductory price of $19.79 until September 30. The game usually retails for $30, so this discount is sizable. For less than $20, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck with Rollerdrome.