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Risk of Rain (PC) artwork

Risk of Rain (PC) review

"...extremely addicting and will have you playing over and over and over again and having new experiences the whole time."

Is it a coincidence that I played Risk of Rain quite often while it was raining? I love it when there are connections like that, so thematic...

Risk of Rain is a 2d rogue-lite (read: a game that borrows many elements of the roguelike genre) platformer. It features permadeath, random generation of enemies and some elements of levels, and powerups, regenerating health, and a feature that motivates you to keep pressing forward as fast as you can. You play as the survivor of a spaceship crash. You work on a transportation ship that is attacked out of the blue by a mysterious figure. He causes the ship to crash with one blow from his mighty sword after he teleports aboard. Once on the mysterious planet, your only hope for survival is locating cargo from the ship that scattered all over the planet as the ship broke up on her way down and using it to survive the many deadly, aggressive creatures that populate the planet and begin attack you immediately.

The game's story is actually really, really cool and extremely well done. It is told almost exclusively through the opening and ending cutscene, item and monster descriptions, and a few subtle clues here and there while playing the game, such as the intriguing titles the game's bosses bear and the names of the levels. In many games, things like monster and item descriptions can be quite tedious. Here, they add so much flavor and help to explain so much of what you are seeing. These descriptions that you read from the title menu as you discover items and monster logs are the main exposition. Monster descriptions often describe the survivor's first contact with a creature and details about what it does when it isn't attacking you. Item descriptions are interesting. The items on board the ship range from normal weapons and items to the really bizarre and strange. Item descriptions tell you where the item is headed and often come with a little message from the sender to the receiver. These offer more clues about the story and world of the game and also mesh perfectly with game's tone, which is often bleak and bizarre but is occasionally goofy. By the end of your time with the game, you'll know a lot about what is going on despite being given very little direct exposition. The fact that you can discover the details through the subtle hints the game gives you is a great achievement on the part of the developers.

When you fire up the game, you first pick a character class. You start with one and unlock more as you go by completing certain achievements. There are 12 classes in total, and each one plays almost completely differently. Each character has 4 skills assigned to the four shoulder buttons (assuming you are using a controller). RT is the character's main attack which can be used over and over. The other 3 skills typically feature a cooldown period, usually 5-10 seconds with some exceptions. LB is usually some kind of movement or dodge skill, although some classes don't really have this type of skill. Here are a few examples: The first character you start with is the commando, who can fire a machine gun, dodge roll, fire a blast that pierces through enemies, and rapid-fire in all directions. Contrast that with the engineer class, who has no dodge move, and attacks by dropping turrets and land mines. Contrast that with the loader, who can punch, use a grappling hook, and turn invincible for short periods of time. Contrast that with the sniper, who can send out a drone to spot enemies, making his shots always critical, and then spend time aiming to do extreme amounts of damage (like, one-shotting a boss amounts of damage). And contrast that with all 8 other classes. They all feel really different and make the game feel fresh all over again when you try a new one out. It will take quite a while to unlock them all, and you'll have your favorites and the ones your are best at using, but all of them are fun and worth messing around with.

Once you pick a class, you start on the first level. In all levels, you first need to find the teleporter that will take you to the next level. This spawns in a random spot, usually a good distance away from you. The levels in Risk of Rain are not huge, but some of them can take some time to explore due to their layout. You usually have to do some climbing to reach platforms you can't jump to, and you may have to take a circuitous route to check for that teleporter in every nook and cranny, although it usually only takes a couple of minutes to find. All the while, enemies are spawning. Enemies spawn according to the game's difficulty, which is constantly rising as time goes by. The higher the difficulty rises, the more and stronger enemies will spawn. A meter on the side of the screen shows your difficulty level slowing ticking up. It starts at “very easy” and works it way through several levels such as “medium,” “hard,” “impossible,” and beyond. This mechanism keeps you constantly on the move, rushing to get ahead of the difficulty curve by finding the teleporter as quickly as you can. The enemies that spawn run the gamut from small lizardmen that run after you and bite you to big crabs that can pinch you for massive damage to enemies that shoot at you, fly after you, attack you rapidly with swords, damage you just by touching you, and teleport after you. As time goes on and the difficulty rises, elite enemies can also join the fun. These enemies behave like their fellows but have special abilities, such as setting the ground on fire as they walk, shooting electricity at you if you get close, or healing themselves and other nearby foes.

Finding the teleporter to the next level is just the beginning of beating a level. Once you find it, you activate it. This starts a 90 second countdown during which enemies spawn at a drastically higher rate. A few seconds into the countdown, a boss will spawn as well. Bosses are typically huge monsters with unique abilities and gigantic pools of hit points. Sometimes you need to focus on taking them out to prevent them from continually damaging you. Other times you might be on the run for the whole 90 seconds as the combination of the tons of spawning enemies and the boss's attacks won't let you catch your breath. Once 90 seconds tick off the clock, enemies stop spawning in that level, and you can teleport to the next once you kill all the enemies that are left. You then repeat this process in the next level. There are 5 or six levels, randomly mixed up in order except for the last two. There are also more levels than those you see in a game, so sometimes a certain level won't even appear in your current game. Levels always have the same basic layout but some of their features will change in different playthroughs. Once you play the game for awhile, you will learn the basic layouts of the levels, but there is usually a surprise of some kind around the next corner, be it a blocked off passage, the placement of the teleporter, or the boss that spawns that time around.

The most random element of the game is the items you get on each playthrough. Around each level are chests containing random items that fell from your ship's cargo holds. You spend money you get from killing enemies to open the chests and get a random item. You can also get items from killing bosses, or using a few other level features, such as shrines that make you sacrifice money or HP for a chance at getting an item, or displays that let you choose one of three items. I just did a quick count, and I believe there are 110 items in the game. 110! You start with a big pool of them available to be given to you in chests and then unlock dozens more as you meet the game's many interesting and fun achievements. Most items stack and synergize with other items. They do everything from boost your health regen to raising your evasion rate, making you shoot ice crystals after every kill to healing you rapidly if you hold still, give your attacks knockback to poisoning nearby enemies, letting you jump higher to making enemies explode, summoning helpers to reducing damage... The list of interesting power ups goes on and on and on and seeing what crazy new power you get next is really exciting and fun. Everything has its use, even if you don't realize it at first. Some weaker items potential is just waiting to be unlocked by synergizing them with another item or stacking their effect a few times. The weird and fun combinations you get are really interesting and fun and add uniqueness to each run. You usually get a couple dozen of these items in a run, and between different base classes, different item combinations, different levels, and different enemy and boss spawns, variety is the name of the game.

Another way you can spice things up is by finding artifacts. These special items are hidden away in weird corners of the levels and sometimes require you to do something in the level to get them to spawn. Once you collect them, you can activate them at the beginning of any playthrough to change the way the game works. Some of them just make the game harder in one way or another. Others are double edged swords, giving you a big advantage and a big disadvantage. And some just make things different. There are 10 of these artifacts, so I won't spoil exactly what they do, but they can fundamentally change the way you play the game and are a great way to mix things up even more.

Audio-visually, Risk of Rain is something else. On the audio front, the soundtrack is unique, varied, and perfectly matched to the art direction and themes of the game. You have everything from soaring, Pink Floyd style guitars to quiet and calm tunes with slow jam drums to panic inducing boss themes. Each level's music fits the design style of the level and is perfectly suited to the search for the mysterious teleporter. And then when that boss spawns... you're hit with music that either cranks up the adrenaline as a huge tentacled nightmare teleports in and starts beating on you with inhuman speed or a mysterious tune that highlights the sureality of a humongous jellyfish slowing gliding through the air toward you. There isn't a bad note in the long list of great songs in the game, and they will playing through your head forever.

Graphically, Risk of Rain is a sprite-based game, but these sprites are really different than anything I've ever seen. The main thing you'll notice is how small a man-sized character is. Your player character is tiny, tiny, tiny on the screen, like 1/5th the size of Mario's sprite. Despite this, it seems to pack the same amount of detail, probably more, than a sprite the size of Mario. It seems to me like this is only possible on an HD display, like the “sprite pixels” are smaller than a real pixel on a tube TV. Yet the incredible detail and design is there. Then add in the fact that this same style is used on enemies that can be huge. Bosses especially are gigantic, and they are really gorgeous and packed with detail and moving pieces. The backgrounds are also awe-inspiring. Whether you're looking at a starry sky, an endless cave system, or a frozen wasteland, everything has multiple moving layers and tons of detail. The muted yet colorful color pallet perfectly matches the mood of the game. To top it off, character design is just off-the-charts wonderful. The bizarre denizens of the planet and their animation is really beyond almost anything I've seen in the past. Many, many hours into my time with Risk of Rain I was still discovering details and little animations when enemies died or spawned, not to mention the subtle changes that picking up items adds to your tiny character sprite. Exquisite stuff.

There are a few bugs, but nothing too major, and couple little things I would change here and there, but it's almost pointless to mention these cons since they are drowning in a sea of pros.

It's been about two years, since I gave a game a perfect score. Closure was the last game I gave such a lofty grade to back in 2013, and I had really hoped that I would run into at least one game a year that I could give a perfect score. But alas, 2014 produced no such gems, although several games came very, very close. But I am pleased to say that 2015 brings about my second perfect score rating, which I am awarding to Risk of Rain. Every aspect of the game is fully realized. It's extremely addicting and will have you playing over and over and over again and having new experiences the whole time. It's well planned, and engaging in every aspect of its art style, story, sound, themes, and mechanics. It's a triumph of crunchy mechanics and simple controls, tons of content with no bad eggs, secrets and goals to chase around every corner, and a treat for the eyes and ears. It's a 5 out of 5.

Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (July 11, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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Germ posted July 12, 2015:

I wish I had mentioned the item descriptions in my own review. You're right- the atmosphere in this game is fantastic. Playing it gives me a unique feeling, and it's one of the only games that I purchased the soundtrack of. The bugs bothered me a lot more than they did you, but it's clear we both liked this game a lot. Usually if one of us likes a title the other hates it. Glad we finally found common ground!
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Robotic_Attack posted July 25, 2015:

Yes, finally we both agree

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