Over the years many words pick up a few different meanings, especially when they are shortened and Double Fine games has managed to make RAD, a shortening of a word that can mean extreme change, radiation, or simply calling something awesome apply in all three forms to their game of the same name. RAD takes and challenges players to tackle a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with radiation, all while going through radical body changes accompanying some rad 80s themes.
Humanity can be a stubborn thing to the point that even after a nuclear apocalypse destroys most of the world, they can cling on to try and thrive once again. Of course hit those survivors with yet another worldwide apocalypse and then those survivors that still manage to cling onto life will simply start living day to day since tomorrow will never be a certainty. RAD, which is soaked in 80s aesthetic and rocking themes, is such a world where the Ancient ones perished only for The Menders to try and fix the world and have things once again blow up.
Now the player’s village manages to survive thanks to working machinery built by the Menders but time is running out as these machines are slowly losing power. Through the help of “The Elder” an ancient being that has been around as long as the survivors can remember, the teenagers of the town must venture out in an effort to restore the town’s power source.
RAD doesn’t take too long trying to set itself up as players will quickly find themselves out exploring the wastes within a few minutes of beginning the game. After that the narrative doesn’t really take much of a central focus outside of giving players extra bits of information either through narration while exploring the game or through random item descriptions. The feel to the game however is fairly well handled as the “rad 80s” vibes are incredibly strong here with numerous references to various bits of pop-culture scattered around the environments as well as how over the top the Elder can be. Double Fine’s signature comedy comes through fairly well in RAD through the Elder’s various chimes about how great or “not rad” the player is doing while alongside the uniqueness of many of the townsfolk you can interact with but don’t expect it to creep into the limited narrative.
After the Elder uses a keytar to activate the Menders’ machines to allow the player to absorb the radiation in the world players will venture out, wielding a trusty baseball bat, into a very rogue-style experience that sees the maps randomly generated as well as the enemy placement and variety change every time you sit down to play. As you fight through these mutant creatures and destroy mutant plants to help vibrant normal plant life grow the radiation in them will transfer to the player and after a certain limit, their body will then mutate. These mutations are similarly randomized with players being able to use up to three “Exo” mutations at a time. These mutations vary wildly from being incredibly powerful and helpful to feeling useless in nature and often the first mutation can make or break a run depending on which one you get.
These Exo Mutations are all wildly different from another and each one can be fairly useful though there can be a clear power discrepancy between some of these abilities. Having the ability to grow spikes to counter incoming attacks or simply hurt close enemies may appear useful but can pale in comparison to simply creating a toxic slime trail that damages everything that steps in it while bat wings may seem nice at first but being able to lay eggs that spawn spiders that will seek out your enemies is all the better. Of course, since these mutations are random players will quickly have to learn the ins and outs of various abilities and to try to make the best of what they end up getting though ending up with some dud mutations or ones that simply don’t fit your playstyle can lead to a potentially disastrous run.
Alongside these Exo Mutations players can also obtain numerous Endo mutations that are simply passive in nature and can provide various buffs or debuffs. These can be things like making the player do increased damage or have longer range with ranged mutations or invulnerable to certain damage types but also can hurt the player’s abilities at the same time. The thing is, with Endo abilities players have no real way to find out if one will be beneficial before they pick it up, making things even more random at times. This makes for some great replayability for those who want to see everything but given the difficulty of the game, players will likely be seeing plenty of variations as they try to survive the mutant filled wasteland.
Despite its aesthetics and having a narrator that will chime in with tidbits of information all while the Elder provides some punctuation from time to time RAD is not an easy game by any means and even as a roguelike things can be rather difficult at times. Part of this is due to the aforementioned randomness of some mutations but also due to the fairly limited health pool as well as enemy AI. Even if you manage to find yourself with a solid set of mutations and some extra health, the hard hitting mutants that can randomly damage you even while stunned or a wrong turn into a hazard can quickly spell doom.
Of course death does allow players to keep at least a few things from time to time. Experience gained from destroying mutants can unlock various items that can then be either purchased from shops or found in the wild while cassette tapes (currency) can be deposited when returning to town and squirreled away for safety or, with certain nano mutations, partially deposited at death. Alongside the fitting currency type large floppy discs can also be used to unlock various machines or locked chests to potentially obtain something useful.
This allows RAD to tap into the beauty of a roguelike as players can generally grow a bit stronger over time by completing tasks for residents at the main hub while unlocking new items all while gathering money even as they fail and die to the mutants and larger creatures guarding the various areas in the game.
Visuals & Audio
Double Fine has always had something of a knack for developing unique looking characters and crafting an interesting world but unfortunately RAD falls a bit short in both of those areas. Outside of a few unique NPCs the players themselves are generic looking at best with the only truly shining moments being how they mutate and seeing the crazy combinations that are available in the game. Alongside those same lines the world itself is fairly bland for an apocalyptic landscape filled with mutants and considering the long load times between areas, could be far more appealing. The only real shine here happens to be the designs of the Makers and the various references to 80s pop culture and little callouts to Bandai Nacmo that can litter the world.
The voice work for RAD is fairly simple but also features some great contrasts at times. The Elder’s booming voice that narrates menu choices, item pick-ups, and failure sound great and the occasional bit of narrative in the more soothing female voice helps set the groundwork for the world a bit more and is handled well. The soundtrack features a number of great bits of background music that fits well for the theme of the game as well as its love of 80s style rock music.
As a roguelike RAD certainly nails the high highs of successfully navigating dangerous locations with a variety of abilities that fit your style as well as the low lows that can see a player falling to their death due to a springy plant or enemy attack while suffering from debuffing nano mutations and a collection of the more useless exo mutations. This unique take on some solid gameplay allows RAD to feel fresh no matter how many lives you lose against the mutants as the challenge lies both in seeing how the random generated levels and abilities play out but also your skill to take advantage of it all.