Double Fine have already had a big year. At E3 2019 they not only revealed gameplay for the long awaited Psychonauts 2, but they also announced they were joining Xbox Game Studios. It was a monumental moment for a studio that’s been independent for 19 years. However, after all this time, RAD reminds us why the studio has been a creative juggernaut for two decades. It doesn’t execute all of its ideas perfectly, but RAD is endlessly charismatic, visually fascinating and just incredibly creative… and I’d expect nothing less.
RAD’s setup is simple. The world went through not one, but two armageddons and it’s up to the player character to save their community of teens in the post-post-apocalypse.
From the very beginning RAD assures players that Double Fine’s signature humour is here in force: “By the time the second apocalypse came around, we were totally like, seriously?” Rad continues to be self-aware, kooky and sassy in every aspect of its writing. There wasn’t a single line that didn’t leave me slightly amused.
Even removed from the actual writing, RAD exudes a charmingly brash attitude in every aspect. The soundtrack has a heavy synth aesthetic ripped straight from ’80s action movies. The character’s designs are all very ‘punk’. And the player character will scream in pain every time his body morphs from mutations (which is a lot funnier than it sounds).
A ridiculously over-the-top announcer is also present to give the game unnecessary commentary. In a deep, exaggerated voice, he’ll, quite literally, announce your every move, even shouting “PAUSE!”. He’ll also give you some encouraging commentary in combat or when you pick up items like “cha-ching”, or “mama needs a new pair of shoes.” In any other game these would fall flat, but Double Fine always manages to create a playful atmosphere.
There’s also quite a lot of extra lore to dig into, if you don’t mind taking the time to do some additional reading. In the ‘Tome of the Ancients’, you can find all sorts of chapters about the fall of Earth. How the Menders tried to save it. How the Earth fell again. There’s a surprising amount to chew on and some very cool world building.
But, of course, smashing radioactive critters is what you’ll spend most of your time doing. RAD’s combat starts off simple enough. You have a roll to dodge enemies, a jump and a standard bat. The beginning of every run can feel a little repetitive as the only thing to do is button-mash your way through.
However, RAD really shines the more you play. Each time you level up, the player character is infected by the radioactivity and you gain an exo-mutation. A part of their body mutates into a useful, and ridiculous, offensive tool. Their head may turn into a flaming skull that acts as a grenade, or a cobra’s head that’ll poison enemies from afar. Arms can be turned into boomerangs and your entire body can be transformed into a mule’s.
Every part of your character’s body can morph and in every play through of the game, I was left with a ridiculous, and ridiculously cool, character. These exo-mutations are random but that’s what keeps it fun. With every play through I can’t wait to see what combination I’ll discover next. Bat wings, tree trunk legs, a bulging brain and a flaming arm? Each new combination brings new strategic implications and they’re a joy to play around with.
RAD can be an incredibly hard game at times so it’s good that its combat is satisfying enough. Playing around with new abilities is always fun. In later sections of the game, there will be a ton of enemies on screen and RAD’s explosive collection of mutations take a lot of skill to fully master and get the hang of.
On the flip side, endo-mutations are basically passive abilities you can find in the environment. These can do anything from increasing your speed, to protecting you from toxic damage. You might get really unlucky and get a negative mutation that will leave you more vulnerable, but there are ways to cure them.
I’ve been playing for hours and I’ve still got a few more mutations to uncover. Though it is a joyous adventure to discover new mutations, RAD’s roguelike nature does come with some downsides, and some mutations are simply more viable than others. RAD on Xbox One can be brutally difficult too, so if you want to go into a run prepared, it can feel as if you got the short end of the stick with a less-than-ideal mutation. A more balanced collection of mutations might have alleviated these problems.
RAD’s environments can also get quite dull. The game’s art is stylish and vibrant, but fighting through the same opening section can be a drag, even though it’s procedurally generated.
A lot of RAD’s combat also takes place in underground caves. These drab and dark sections can get the most repetitive as they aren’t open areas, just a series of corridors. They aren’t interesting to look at or explore, which is a shame. However, RAD does get around the problem of backtracking cleverly – you’ll leave a road of greenery and vegetation everywhere you walk. This isn’t just a cool visual touch, since if you walk back on that path you’ll speed up greatly. This makes retreading and exploring areas less of a hassle.
Every time you die, your mutations, money and progress will be lost, but you’ll still be able to progress in other ways. You can store money in a bank in the game’s hub world to use for next time, you can also grow plants that’ll reward you with items in other lives, and can invest in the hub’s store so it’ll sell better items in the future.
Gaining enough points in a single run will also unlock some helpful extras; new bats, characters and items can all be unlocked this way for future runs. But it is the quirks which are perhaps the most important unlock. These are essentially modifiers that you can turn on at the start of your play through – though they won’t necessarily be all good. Quirks can include things like replacing one of your hearts with a flaming heart that only protects against fire damage. You’ll need to sacrifice a point of health but it might be worth it since the flaming heart can regenerate. It’s up to you to decide.
RAD proves Double Fine’s charisma, quality humour and creative art is still intact. Hours later, I still can’t wait to play around with all of RAD’s mad mutations. The game is stylish, hard and brilliantly sassy and I can’t wait to see what the team works on next.
Also, I got through the entire review without a “it’s rad” joke, *phew*.