“Streets of Rogue” Review
We meet again, Streets of Rogue. I thought that after you came into my life, spent a weekend with me, nearly ruined my career and caused me to waste two days of my life I’ll never get back, you’d have the decency to slink back in shame. But you’re here. You’re still on Itch. Now you can infest everyone else, like the succubus you are, crashing them into the rocks with the rest of your roguelike friends. Where’s Crawl? Where’s Nethack, Dwarf Fortress, and DoomRL? You could form a happy little quintet of unengaging roguelikes, but instead you come crawling back alone.
I’m not here for pleasure. You’re a roguelike, and you and I would never get along. Any genre where the player’s progress is arbitrary and wiped out at an instant is no genre of mine. The best ones are those that resemble Rogue the least — where the lives are juicy, the players are strong, the lore is deep, the luck is dead, and the combat is visceral. But you are none of those things. You have treated me to a dinner of bad level design and arbitrary decisions, with boring characters and combat that just doesn’t sell. What about the luck? Give it some credit — it barely matters here.
What you offer me is gameplay that is either broken or unfair, where the best parts are those that are neither, and yet the game seems biased on ensuring I don’t have fun. I guess that’s the core of it, isn’t it? No matter what the game advertises, name – dropping Deus Ex like it deserves to be in the same article as Deus Ex, it is not fast, barely functioning, and offers little variety. Well, let me be fair. It has variety, but most of it can be cut out. A game that lets you do anything is a game which focuses on nothing, and for all the mechanics this game has, it never lets any one be decent enough to carry it. The eternal problem of nonlinear games.
I’ll start with the superficial. The graphics are competent in that you can discern everything, but lacks direction and is unremarkable. Same for the music — actually, worse for the music. I considered turning it off, but I couldn’t be bothered. I’ve heard worse tunes than generic… what genre is it? Techno? I can’t remember. Can’t be bothered to relaunch the game, either. Bless the hearts of the little sound effects. They aren’t that bad.
I get bored of talking about what games do right, what bare minimum standards it meets, for it’s the job of the developers to meet those standards, and earn no extra credit for doing their jobs. I focus on the remarkable, and this game has little of it. The premise seems remarkable — give the player enough options to tackle any situation in whatever way they want. Wait, what’s that? Sounds generic? It’s been done to death? Since the 1990s? And Ubisoft has been doing that every month for the past three years? I’m asking a lot of questions? So it’s “Yes” to all of them, then?
I remember thinking at the start, where everything triggered slow – motion (weapon switching, explosions, kills… three things that happen often) and ground the pacing to a stop, that within all this nonsense was the meat of a good game. I found out I could turn the nonsense off, and was confused why the developer didn’t, as the game developed the illusion of being entertaining. I realised an hour in I was wrong about the “good game” part, too, though much improved. The developer doesn’t get credit for making me improve his game. That’s his job.
Attacking the player
The combat? Melee is awful. You aim in their direction and pray your spring – loaded fist hits them. If it does, you pray they don’t block your katana with their fist. They can also block a gorilla’s lunge… with their fist. It’s sloppy and arbitrary and just plain bad. Thankfully the ranged combat is good — the weapons are accurate and have satisfying knockback, the ammo count strikes that balance between strategic switching and spray – and – pray, and the good weapons are rare enough where they’re a treat to use. Dodging enemy bullets is nice and antsy, except they run out of ammo and combat devolves into an idiotic slap – fight where whoever punches fastest wins, so it’s beyond me why I have to mash my mouse button instead of having it auto – attack. Why does this game have melee combat? Because it has the potential to be decent. Why isn’t it decent? Because the developer was too proud to make it so.
You get power – ups, because this is a roguelike, at random. I stopped visiting shops halfway through because I can’t be bothered to decipher my inventory every two minutes, because the game’s “autosort” function is a dirty little lie. The shops are inconsistent in what they sell, for when all I want is weapons, I don’t want to be greeted with worthless safe crackers. You can buy syringes that you don’t know what they do until they use it, so I stopped buying syringes because I was tired of being punished with effects I couldn’t predict. Not that it matters; shopping is dependent on how much money the game wants to give you. Why must I pick up money manually? Why can’t it come to me like in Spyro? Same for items — there is never, ever, a time where I do not want more stuff. Making me press “E” on everything isn’t fun. It’s busywork. It’s a waste of time. And the worst thing a game can do is waste the player’s time.
The game is built aroud busywork, actually. Every floor you get three missions — one of the same half – dozen you will go through the entire game with. There’s a mission where you have to go to the top of a map, rescue a prisoner, then go to the bottom of the map. You cannot teleport there, despite being able to the rest of the game. I choose to kill the prisoner instead. The teleport function, where you instantly go to places of interest, cuts down on the game’s criminally slow walking speed. It doesn’t work indoors, for some arbitrary reason, so you spend ten seconds per building walking through rooms without enemies. There are a lot of buildings, and that’s a lot of time wasted. You can blow up some walls, which is fun, but not others, which isn’t fun because you have to walk very slowly in and out of the building. I’d hazard a quarter of the missions are designed to waste time. How fitting for a roguelike. A 25% chance for the game to not be fun.
I actually liked Rogue Legacy. Its levels are challenging, its combat simple, the items sensible, and no matter how much you lost, you got a little better every time. It amputated the worst parts of roguelikes, and it was entertaining throughout. Streets of Rogue is its evil twin. It adopts the worst parts of them, with constant niggles, too many ways to do things without making each way equally as fun, and with mechanics that can be clever at times but has too much getting in the way for them to shine.
I enjoyed being a cop, but I could only make arrests 60% of the time because their buddies would attack me, and I’d just end up killing them. I enjoyed being a thief, because their tools let me bypass the awful map design, but when the tools run out my freedom feels hollow. I liked the soldier, because it lets you gun down everyone and blow up walls, which is the best the combat will ever feel. The hacker had potential, but the enemies would never get where I want them to be, so making televisions explode was unsatisfying — and why am I forced to wait six seconds for every hack? The vampire was the most clever the game gets, but asking me to get behind enemies who lock onto me at an instant means that the instant I get into combat, I should just give up. Same for the shapeshifter, doctor, and ninja. The core “get – behind” mechanics are too frustrating to bother.
I tried to arrest a killer robot by throwing a banana at it and running up to it, but a shopkeeper shot me for entering what was formerly his storeroom. The robot blew me up. You see, for every potential unique and fun thing the game lets you do, there are five other things that want to sabotage your experience. What is the purpose of a game that doesn’t want to be played? Why does the game hate the player? I went through this question as I tried to use the drug that made me go faster, but I pressed the wrong key and ate the drug that kills you instantly. Yes, there is a drug that kills players instantly and the player can eat it.
It must have been a favour.