I roller skate at maximum speed and still have a sniper’s laser sight pinned to my torso. I wait for the last minute, just as they’re about to pull the trigger, to dodge the incoming bullet and fire my shotgun—right for the brute swinging a pointed mace at my forehead. After running to the nearest halfpipe, I spin a nosegrab in the air to replenish my pistol ammo and land on a gravel rail – right at the shooters.
Now all I have to do is shoot a few target missiles from the sky, engage slow motion, and unload my dual pistols – all before making my way to safety. I feel like a martial artist on wheels. I look like a super fast jumpsuit of death. And I’m having an incredible amount of fun.
This is Rollerdrome, an upcoming single player arena shooter from Roll7 that enrolls you in the titular fictional blood sport. Rollerdrome consists of a series of deathmatches that come together in a complete single-player story campaign, challenging you to fight waves of enemies in battle arenas dotted with skatepark paraphernalia. With nothing but a sleek arsenal of weapons in hand and a pair of roller skates at your feet, pump up combos, tick off challenges and perform a whole host of sick tricks worthy of the most extreme sports games.
While lead producer Drew Jones succinctly describes Rollerdrome as “a shooter on roller skates,” studio fans may recognize it more as a mash-up of two of Roll7’s previous releases. Combining Olli Olli’s fluid, cel-shaded skating with Laser League’s frenetic arena survival, the game has taken a strikingly strange premise towards what could be its zenith.
“The goal was not just to make a game that is a mix of genres, but rather to make a game that is its own genre,” said head of QA David Jenkins. “And not to have a game that’s just, ‘Oh, it’s a skate game and you can shoot people in it’, or ‘Oh, it’s a shooter game and you happen to be wearing roller skates’. It is a very unique kind of system.”
After a few hours of playing the first six levels of the game, it’s the skating half that really grabbed me. Rollerdrome is robust enough to give you a range of tricks to perform – spins, grabs and grinds – and intuitive enough to make even the most advanced techniques a breeze – like acid falling through a quarterpipe or extending your airtime . It’s all buttery smooth too, with a fluidity that sells the splendor of your violent performance.
Gunplay is also not excluded from that equation. With proximity mines to dodge, laser sights to shake off, homing missiles to avoid, and flaming beams of ionizing energy to ponder, Rollerdrome’s hectic pace is made manageable by a generous lock-on aiming system and handy bullet time. Your reticle will automatically shift towards enemies when you’re in close proximity, and slow motion can be turned on to let you rain hell on your opponents as you zip around at furious speeds.
“It’s a kind of gung-ho; throw caution to the wind,” Jones says. “These enemies are out to get you and you have to get them. If you try to play it a little more conservative, you won’t get much [from the game] as you would if you were just going into battle with the enemies.”
A slick ammo and health system further fuels that aggression, as you must send enemies to replenish your vulnerable health bar, while performing various tricks to refuel your limited ammo stash. Starting off with a few pistols, I quickly unlocked a shotgun and a grenade launcher to engage in combat, and was impressed with the miles the game could squeeze out of even this small range. You have to think carefully about your weapons and quickly switch between them to evade the defenses of each enemy.
It’s simple yet elegant. Rollerdrome’s gunfight seemed like a rudimentary imitation of Doom Eternal, as you dance between enemies, swap weapons and walk forward to keep your health and ammo afloat. Add to that the array of skill challenges associated with each level – ranging from performing a particular trick, to grinding a specific object on the wall, to beating a set score – and the possibilities for mastery are vast.
Where Rollerdrome starts to fluff its performance, however, is outside of the deathmatches. Set in a retro-futuristic dystopia, marred by monopolistic corporations quelling civil unrest by broadcasting hypnotic blood sports on television, Rollerdrome punctuates its levels with fragments of world-building. Between each set, you walk through empty locker rooms and gymnasiums, read newspaper clippings or listen to radio clips to get a taste of the world beyond.
“There’s such a clear source of inspiration in the 1970s genre films like Rollerball and Running Man,” Jones says. “So once we had the blood sport element, a lot of the setting, theme and time fell into place.”
Not that it impressed me much. The main plot is given to you so sporadically and with so little fanfare that I have largely zoned out of the story. I found myself more intrigued by my latest high score than by the fate of this fictional world. A series of roller skate deathmatches might be fertile ground to tell a story of corporate moral depravity, but with that story so separated from the game’s main events, it was little more than a forgettable aside. Hopefully, Rollerdrome’s narrative promise will come to fruition in a full playthrough.
The most surprising thing about Rollerdrome is the single player exclusivity. The idea of a roller-skating, cell-shaded arena shooter sounds like the perfect jumping-off point for the next hit battle royale or left field competitive phenomenon in Rocket League’s mode. Since Roll7 already had some experience in multiplayer development in it, why did it approach Rollerdrome as a single player experience?
“The trap we really didn’t want to fall into was to go too big into a new subgenre of video games,” Jones says. “We had plenty on our board, and enough to figure out with the core idea of the game and the single player idea we started with. We really wanted to pick a focused experience and push that as far as we could.”
For the most part, it seems that Roll7 has done just that. Rollerdrome may stumble across the tricky launch ramp of sprinkled stories, but it offers such a balanced mix of skating and shooting that you’ll be engrossed either way. It might be time to dust off those skates that have been in the garage, because by the time Rollerdrome comes out on August 16, you’ll want to hit the skatepark.