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‘Rollerdrome’ preview: Twitchy dystopian bloodsport is my new favorite genre

Rollerdrome is essentially the video game version of Rollerball, the fabulous 1975 sci-fi film starring James Caan. In Rollerball, monolithic corporations control society and the least powerful citizens are compelled to compete in lethal roller-skating competitions, in the name of entertainment and classism. (Yes, dystopian fiction existed far before The Hunger Games.) The movie is a slow burn of brutality, odd human rituals and shirts with huge collars, and it’s a brilliant time capsule whose themes remain relevant today.

Rollerdrome builds a similarly rich, unsettling world through set pieces, costuming and audio cues, pulling a 1970s aesthetic firmly into the 21st century in the process. It takes place in 2030, in a world controlled by massive companies — the Matterhorn corporation is at the center of a new bloodsport called rollerdrome, where participants are challenged to shoot their way through enemies while completing ridiculous roller-skating tricks. Rollerdrome comes from Roll7, the studio behind the skateboarding series OlliOlli — it just has four more wheels and a lot more guns than those games.

I played a preview of Rollerdrome on Steam, using a controller as recommended. The entire game features bold, comic book-style visuals, with the main character wearing a red jumpsuit and striped white helmet, skates on their feet and a handful of firearms at their disposal. It’s a third-person, single-player shooter with environments ranging from abandoned malls to desert canyons, each one lined with ramps, walls, gaps and breakable windows, offering plenty of opportunities for tricks.

Rollerdrome

Roll7

Tricks are essential to Rollerdrome, and not just because they look and feel super cool. Completing tricks is how you refill ammo, so it’s critical to keep the moves coming. The game supports the classics, like ollies, grinding, flips and grabs, allowing you to spin every which way mid-air to change things up. Roll7’s expertise with fast-moving action is on full display here — it’s fun enough to simply skate along the ramps, building up speed and trying out new tricks, but this is just one aspect of gameplay.

While rolling and flipping through the maps, you have to dodge incoming shots from enemies, manage your health and ammo, and murder every character you see. Killing enemies leaves behind gems of health, there’s a lock-on option for all firearms, and you’re able to slow down time in bursts. All of these factors combine to turn each level into an action movie with a hand-drawn ’70s filter: The main character flips in slow-motion high above the battlefield, shooting down a sniper before landing back in real time, dodging missiles and rolling at full speed into another jump. Dramatic scenes like this play out again and again, as the time-slowing ability refills rapidly and completing tricks quickly becomes second nature, in the name of collecting ammo.

Rollerdrome

Roll7

Enemies have a range of weapons, including sniper rifles, bats, handguns and rockets, while the main character gets firearms like dual-wielded pistols, a shotgun and a grenade launcher. There are tokens hovering around the maps indicating trick challenges, but otherwise each environment is an open, dangerous playground. It’s possible to skate off the edge of platforms and mountainsides, and this results in a 10 percent health penalty, but it doesn’t stop the round. For the completionists of the world, there are specific time- and skill-based challenges in each level, and these are critical to unlocking new levels.

Once you start moving in Rollerdrome, there’s no need to continually press forward to accelerate, freeing up the mechanics for turning, dropping, flipping and shooting. Dodging is one of the coolest parts of the game, especially when multiple enemies have you in their sights — incoming fire is displayed by a blue line that turns white when the shot goes off, and timing a dodge perfectly results in a satisfying sound effect and the opportunity for a temporary damage boost. It’s a thrill to dodge, dodge, dodge and then leap into the air, slow down time and take out the people shooting at you, refilling ammo and collecting health in the process. And all the while, an original synth-forward soundtrack keeps the energy high.

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Elden Ring Plot Synopsis Sets the Stage for a Genre Change

The Dark Souls series and other Souls-like games, such as Bloodborne and Sekiro, are constantly praised by fans for the way narrative is hidden throughout the worlds. Hidden is the key word here; players can go through an entire Souls game without ever really understanding its story. For the most part, the mythology is largely optional in the genre, placed in between the cracks and crevices of the world. Item descriptions, environmental designs, architectural aesthetics, and building blocks are packed with lore and can often leave less-observant players oblivious.

Of course, that’s not a negative for many fans; it’s become one of the more grand and series-defining features of FromSoftware’s little genre. There are tons of fans who come to the series simply to play through with their created characters and craft their own stories, whether to enjoy alone or share with a community of players that do the same.

The newest Souls game, Elden Ring, may shake up that storytelling method, bringing some unique changes to the genre. The main difference is that it has a designated story lead. George R. R. Martin, the novelist responsible for Game of Thrones, is crafting the story of the game’s universe. The latest trailer for the game and newly released details tease a new approach to storytelling that only amplifies the series’ strengths instead of getting rid of them altogether.

Adding story to Souls

It’s speculated that Elden Ring may be a more authored, narrative experience instead of the passive variety that we’ve seen lead players to YouTube lore explanations in the past. That doesn’t mean that the days of reading item descriptions will be left in the past. In an interview with Dualshockers, FromSoftware’s Hidetaka Miyazaki confirmed that Elden Ring will still share Dark Souls’ traditional storytelling and world-building methods.

Miyazaki went on to tell PC Gamer that the collaboration was built around Miyazaki explaining his vision to Martin. Using Miyazaki’s idea, Martin created a world full of “interesting characters and drama along with a plethora of mystical and mysterious elements as well.”

This means that Martin isn’t necessarily responsible the in-game storytelling so much as the lore behind everything. That could add even more depth to Miyazaki’s more subtle storytelling style, pumping Elden Ring up into a narrative juggernaut that the Dark Souls series wishes it were.

The new trailer for the game showed off a bit of the story concerning a world tied to the laws of a force or object called the “Elden Ring.” This story is delved into even more on the official site in classic vague FromSoftware fashion:

The Golden Order has been broken. Rise, Tarnished, and be guided by grace to brandish the power of the Elden Ring and become an Elden Lord in the Lands Between. In the Lands Between ruled by Queen Marika the Eternal, the Elden Ring, the source of the Erdtree, has been shattered. Marika’s offspring, demigods all, claimed the shards of the Elden Ring known as the Great Runes, and the mad taint of their newfound strength triggered a war: The Shattering. A war that meant abandonment by the Greater Will. And now the guidance of grace will be brought to the Tarnished who were spurned by the grace of gold and exiled from the Lands Between. Ye dead who yet live, your grace long lost, follow the path to the Lands Between beyond the foggy sea to stand before the Elden Ring. And become the Elden Lord.

After reading many fans shared a similar reaction: “Yeah, that’s Dark Souls alright.”

elden-ring-release-date-trailer-gameplay-story-news

That’s exactly what fans of Souls games want, but Martin’s role could set the stage for a narratively richer game than those of the past. Martin is a critically acclaimed master world builder, after all. That leads to a potentially exciting interplay between Martin and Miyazaki. The former will beef up the world and history, while the latter can focus on building out the explicit story players experience during the game. That’ll give both distinct storytelling methods plenty of room to be their own complete thing, while still giving fans tons to analyze and dig into.

There’s one other piece of news that sets the stage for the game’s narrative potential. In an official press release, Bandai Namco’s CEO, Yasuo Miyakawa, stated that Elden Ring will be pushed beyond the boundaries of video games. With companies like Netflix around, constantly adapting video games into spinoff animated series and films, Elden Ring could take the Souls-like to unexpected territory.

Those background details we’re so used to reading in Souls games via random items could soon become full-length stories that expand Elden Ring into a media giant.

Editors’ Choice




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