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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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