As the name implies, Streets of Rogue is a rogue-lite; a genre so oversaturated that I groan whenever I see the term. With assurances of replay value through randomly generated levels and the ever-present gimmicks that seek to stand out from the rest, rogue-lites can sometimes be dull experiences that hide behind the genre’s staple promises to justify their existence. Despite my reservations, Streets of Rogue was a pleasant surprise.
Upon starting the game, you’re treated to a cheeky, sarcastic intro tutorial. I’m glad the resistance leader was impressed that I had mastered the penultimate task of moving the left stick slightly – so much so that he exploded, in fact. The intro really sets the tone of the entire game, but while the humor is fun enough, every line of dialogue and item description seeks to make you laugh. As a result of this relentless desire to be funny, the game naturally becomes a hit-or-miss affair. There have been countless games that act quirky to make up for their mediocre gameplay. Thankfully, Streets of Rogue steps up in the department that matters.
As is tradition, the numbered level structure and randomized maps are key aspects of Streets of Rogue, but the character select screen immediately makes it clear what the game is all about. There are a ton of different character classes to use, with several yet unavailable options requiring specific tasks to unlock. Right out of the gate, you’re incentivized to experiment with different types of characters to not only progress through the main game but open up more options for the future. There are several different stats that dictate how fast, tanky, strong, and proficient with firearms your character is, but it goes further than that. There are a plethora of items such as weapons, stealth tools, food, and armor. Compounding this massive set of options is a perk-like system that can grant various bonuses to your capabilities, and even alter how you interact with others. This is all dictated by a point system, so while you are given an overwhelming number of options, there is a delicate balance to make regarding what you can bring and what you can’t. There is even the option to willingly select detrimental effects to provide you with more points towards something else. For example, you can create a character well-versed in stealth: they can move fast, pick locks, steal from others, and have equipment designed to infiltrate.
If combat is more your thing, you can create characters that hit so hard that enemies fly through walls. Stocking up on good old-fashioned guns provides firepower at the expense of sustainability. You can even select non-human characters, like a gorilla that is unable to speak to people, but makes up for it with physical prowess. My personal favorite build involves the most powerful thing of all: money. Taking very few combat or utility options and stocking up on money is another great way to play. Why damage your shiny new tire iron on someone’s face when you can pay people to do it for you? Why pick locks and sneak around when you can bribe the bodyguard? Overall, a significant amount of my time spent with Streets of Rogue was dedicated to working out new ways to play.
There is also a currency system that allows you to slowly buy new items, perks and abilities over time that are permanently added to the options for your created character. This gives the game a nice sense of progression that alleviates the frustration that would otherwise come with having a bad run of luck on a few levels. Whether you beat the game or fail on the first floor, you can accumulate new options that add to the variety.
After you’ve completed the daunting task of picking a character, the game will randomly generate a floor and a number of objectives. Upon completion, you can move up to the next floor and repeat the process. After a few floors, the level aesthetic and theme will change, making it more difficult and complicated. The objectives range from rescuing hostages and slaves to eliminating targets, and stealing valuable resources. Standing in your way will be various traps, locked doors and windows, armed enemies, cameras, and turrets.
There are also modifiers that alter the dynamics of any given floor. A Terminator-like robot may begin hunting you, bombs can fall from the sky, ooze can poor throughout the level, or the entire population can be inflicted with random status ailments every few seconds. In other words, there’s a lot that can ruin the standard game plan for your chosen character.
Much to my surprise, the highlight of the game is co-op. Being able to run through these levels with friends is an absolute joy. Because you can each choose different specialties, coordination and using each other’s strengths is the key to success. It’s not heavily strategic, but it changes enough that teamwork and division of labor add an extra bit of fun to each level.
For all the praise I will give Streets of Rogue with respect to its gameplay, I was disappointed with how the story ends. While the journey is a lot of fun, the final level is rather abrupt and anticlimactic. It isn’t a major issue, but a game of this style could really use a bombastic ending sequence to add that extra incentive to complete the game. Overall, though, Streets of Rogue is one of the best rogue-lites I’ve played in ages. It highlights the virtues of the genre very well, and while the challenge dissipates steadily over time, the game remains interesting and varied.