Combining addictive roguelike gameplay with a rocking 80s aesthetic and an assortment of flesh altering power-ups, RAD more than lives up to its name. Throwing you into a world clinging to life after not one, but two apocalypses, your character is tasked with purifying the desolate land. By locating respirator machines, you’ll eventually reach and destroy gargantuan mutant bosses, clearing each stage while trying to progress as far as possible. Through your goal of environmental sanitisation, you’ll inevitably end up consuming some of the dodgy atmosphere by ingesting ‘rads’; radiation that slowly transforms you into a horrifying mutant, albeit with the helpful side effect of granting you some epic powers.
These powers come in two forms; exo mutations, which are your primary combat power ups, and endo mutations, which are passive. These transformations are the lynch pin of what makes RAD so enjoyably addictive; the combinations and options afforded are a joy to experiment with. From gaining the high ground by growing bat wings to shooting deadly regenerating spikes, the exo mutations give the game endless personality and replay value. They also give your character a gnarly visual makeover. The simultaneous horror and ecstasy of watching your cartoonish avatar’s head morph into a giant cobra is an experience not easily forgotten.
Of course, hideous genetic alterations aren’t your only method of attacking. From the get-go you channel your inner Steve Harrington by striking monsters with a satisfying melee attack from your trusty bat. The semi-top down perspective sacrifices realistic character models for fluid combat, allowing you to juggle many different methods of damage dealing without input delay; a worthy sacrifice. The ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ art style, though basic, is incredibly charming, and it complements the fast-paced, unrealistic gameplay. As you progress and incorporate items, mutations, and collectibles to bolster your arsenal you’ll find yourself seamlessly swapping between them, working out what works best for each enemy. It’s simple, but thoroughly effective.
That said, it isn’t a walk in the post-apocalyptic park. RAD is hard. You can be the veritable king of the wasteland, with full hearts and a battery full of power-ups ready to kick some mutant behind, but one surprise ambush and you’ll find yourself back at the main menu. That, of course, is both the pain and joy of the roguelike genre. What’s great is that the stages, power-ups, and enemies are all randomised. So, despite your tears at the loss of your beloved ‘Batty’ upgrade, you’ll at least see variety in the scenery.
The levels themselves boast an attention to detail that cleverly weaves in lore, even before the annoyingly omniscient narrator finishes their frequent exposition dump. Pac-Man arcade machines, mohawks, and floppy discs all give the game a nostalgic vibe that blends the neon tech of the 80s with the forsaken wasteland aesthetic, inhabited by creatures that are just as colourful. The design of the beasts themselves are one of the few areas of complaint. Though there’s great variety among them, they aren’t hugely inspired, especially when compared to the garish, eclectic, and unique looks that the mutations can afford your character.
The world building on the whole, however, is fantastic. The bizarre premise is a joy to unfold, and though it won’t be winning any Oscars, the surreal tone and amusing dialogue offers an appealing, if uncomplicated narrative. The Elder in particular makes for a joyously weird voice of god, declaring you ‘not rad’ with varying levels of sympathy after each death. Be prepared to hear that a lot. He also announces the pause and loading screens, the latter of which is a bit on the long side, especially considering the fairly rudimentary nature of each stage.
What would a loving 80s throwback aesthetic be without a banging score? A tad bland, presumably. Luckily, RAD brings the goods in spades with its music, which is filled with synth tracks aplenty. At times they’re also remarkably bass heavy, which certainly isn’t a bad thing to get you into the killstreak groove. The most horrendous sound of all comes as you’re one hit from oblivion. Your character model limps around, desperately looking for a steak to heal themselves, as the frantic, high pitched sound of the ‘death music’ crafts unbearable tension with an expert finesse.
Overall, RAD is a great time. A simplistic roguelike with a humble, yet ingenious mechanic. Its biggest downfall is a lack of multiplayer, which is disappointing, as teams of different mutants roaming the Fallow would’ve provided a new level of fun and extended replay value. That said, for what it is, it’s well done. The variety in its power-ups, map generation, and character selection keep things fresh, and the gameplay evolves alongside the mutating characters to remain entertaining and addictive. Throw in witty dialogue, a super-looking dystopia, and a wonderfully thought out soundtrack, and you have a roguelike that is truly rad.