RAD has a fun and cheeky sense of humor with a lot of nods to 80s pop-culture, but it ultimately becomes a victim of its own poor design choices. Anybody who enjoys playing through roguelike action games will like how RAD commits to making players fight their way through ever changing circumstances, but the difficulty spikes and overreliance on luck can be very frustrating. The nostalgic references and quirky characters go well alongside the cartoonish visual style of the game, but it’s not enough to mask the many other problems that RAD suffers from.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where toxic creatures roam around and humans are grouped up into a town lead by The Elder, a mask wearing leader who uses tons of 80s lingo and tells stories of the Ancients. The people there try to venture out and bring life back to the world, which has become almost completely uninhabitable, through the use of the Ancients power. By fighting the many mutants and creatures lurking around, life can eventually be brought back to the world.
While there’s a lot of story that is scattered all over, much of it is told through voice-over when you reach certain areas you explore. Trying to follow the story can be a little difficult when you find yourself hitting a brick wall with your progression and not discovering certain tomes placed around the game. Luckily all of this can be recorded in the Extras menu, but you’ll have to play and garner a lot of luck in order to piece everything together well enough to get all of the important details.
The most frustrating part of RAD is how difficult it can be to progress through each area. The level of challenge can be very inconsistent due to the game’s roguelike design, where so many elements are randomized each time you restart. You can explore environments and fight mutants you encounter, which allows you to level up and gain different powers and abilities, which is key to getting ahead anywhere. Unfortunately, your progression and growth isn’t consistent whatsoever as you venture into each level. Killing enough mutants lets you level up, but you aren’t given a choice of your power or abilities, which can lead into games that put you in a very difficult or impossible position.
It doesn’t help that after the first upgrade you get from leveling up it can be very difficult to kill enough enemies to do so again and obtain a new ability. You’ll find yourself engaging with groups of enemies that simply overpower and destroy you because you didn’t have any attacks or abilities to assist you well enough. You can end up losing your health very quickly and dying from attacks that demolish you before you have enough time to react. This makes even the simplest encounters feel like a dance with death when it doesn’t really need to.
Luckily there’s a few spots where you can discover a new mutation, which will grant you either a passive ability or new type of attack. But once again this is random and you can’t choose what you get. This is the worse when you have to face a boss battle shortly after and all of the abilities you own are not enough to help you in the fight. Along the way you can find little shops where you can purchase items like health potions and attack boosts with cassette tapes you find, but the pricing of them and amount of cassettes you can obtain is very unbalanced and difficult to manage. You’ll have to play through multiple runs saving tapes to purchase some items, which may or may not help you in the long run. This wouldn’t be so bad if you were able to make it to other stages that yielded more cassettes, but the randomness of everything throws all of that out the window.
When you’re not exploring the wasteland, the main hub where you start is an interesting area that sets up the tone of the game nicely. There’s an element of silliness with the 80s pop-culture vocabulary and punk rock undertones, while also having a grim and dark outlook on the outside world. There’s not much to do in the main hub besides stock up your cassettes you find in each stage. The people walking around do have dialogue, but they don’t really do anything to aid you in your travels. You can move around and see some funny and quirky areas where the people congregate, but other than some dialogue you won’t get much else from it.
RAD also has some daily challenges you can partake in, which has leaderboards online. They’re more of the same that you get from doing the solo runs on your own, but also keep track of the time you take in each area and how many enemies you destroy. None of this contributes to your overall progress and you don’t get many cassettes from engaging with it. It feels like a waste of time since completing the challenges doesn’t reward you in any meaningful way. It would’ve been great to see you gain bonus cassettes or other bonuses from partaking in them which make a difference in the main game. Anything along those lines would’ve been a better choice than how RAD handles this now.
RAD is ultimately a neat idea for a roguelike game that needs a lot more work. The difficulty and progression with your abilities could use a number of changes that could make playing a lot more fun and fair. Having to repeat the same sections of the game over and over again because of bad luck and not skill can be very frustrating to anybody. In addition, the story could be presented a little better and told in a way that doesn’t seem so locked off by the roguelike gameplay. Unfortunately, what you get here feels more bad than can be considered RAD, and that’s a shame.
This review was based on a digital review code for RAD on the PlayStation 4, provided by Bandai Namco.