Rollerdrome Review

Four things I like about this game, and one I don't


By Paul Hunter

When I was a kid, I loved RollerGames, the televised roller derby sport that went way, way over the top. It featured a heavily banked Wall of Death that skaters could fall over and tiebreakers were resolved by throwing an opposing player into an alligator pit. Oh, and players were allowed to aggressively hit, push and block the other team.

Rollerdrome, the new third-person shooter-skater hybrid title for PlayStation and PC, feels like what would happen if RollerGames replaced fisticuffs with pistols and grenades. The game is set in an alternate near-future where a mega corporation known as Matterhorn has taken control of Rollerdrome, the world's most popular sport. In their lust for power, they turn the sport even more deadly to distract the masses from the organization's shady dealings.

Over the past two weeks I've had to play through and survive the game's eleven blood-soaked stages. Here are four things I liked about Rollerdrome...and one I didn't.

Liked: Superb Rhythm

Rollerdrome is the latest title from indie developer Roll7 that channels their signature flow-state gameplay, similar to their recent OlliOlli World release and its first DLC, Void Runners. Flow-state titles are meant to absolutely absorb you in the gameplay to the point where you get deeply focused and beyond the point of distraction. And that's exactly my experience playing Rollerdrome.

The roller skating gameplay is reminiscent of Jet Set Radio and Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and just as buttery smooth, but the game also layers in compelling third-person shooter elements. Levels are setup like this: Your character roller skates into an arena filled with various House Players bearing a range of offensive and defensive abilities and equipment. You're also armed, initially with dual pistols and later with a shotgun, grenade launcher and crossbow, and your goal is to kill the House Players before they annihilate you.

Rollerdrome gameplay is all about resource management. You've got a health bar to keep tabs on, which you can replenish by skating over pick-ups dropped by downed House Players. You've also got to manage your ammo—all your weapons share one ammo bar—so when you deplete one weapon you drain them all. To regain ammo you need to impress the judges that will award ammo for doing skate tricks, building combos and avoiding damage. It's such a fun system once you get a handle on tricks, which include grabs, air flips, wall rides and rail grinds.

Every stage you'll be seamlessly hopping between blasting enemies all around you and doing tricks to keep you ammo supply up—and it's a total blast. Aiming slows down time a la Max Payne, which makes it possible (and it's encouraged) to shoot enemies and perform tricks at the same time. It's the perfect mix of adrenaline-pumping skating and explosive combat that's so hard to put down.

Once you get accustomed to the gameplay flow you can take your skills to the next level by mastering Super Reflex Time. If you manage to dodge an enemy attack right at the last second you'll enter Super Reflex Time where time is slowed and your damage increases. This will allow you easily take out some of the more challenging foes like the heavily protected Riot Guard or tough-as-nail Mech Brut.

Some enemy attacks are easier to dodge and could affect your stategy. For example, Sniper shots are simple to dodge, so your goal might be to take advantage of the Super Reflex Time opportunities and save killing these enemies for last. Levels also feature easy to take down Grunt enemies that are great sources of ammo and health. It's really neat that enemies all have a 'role' to play to help keep you alive or sustain your combos, such well thought out gameplay!

Liked: Comic Book Art Style

I really enjoyed the exquisite visuals that look like a comic book in action. It's certainly novel to see and makes the game stand out in a crowded year of games. While the story takes place in the year 2030, I appreciated that the environments, which includes skate parks, malls, dusty canyons, ski resorts and lava pits, all have a retro 70's flair to them.

You can also go behind the scenes in the locker room before stages to enjoy some world building. Rollerdrome sets you in the role of up-and-comer Kara Hassan who's following in the footsteps of her hero, Morgan Fray, and wants to outshine her closet rival, Casper Ix. During these backstage moments you can get info on items within Kara's and her rivals' lockers, read Matterhorn propaganda, check out current standings and high scores, and read flyers or watch slideshows that help flesh out the characters and game world. Very few sports games bother to give you behind the scene peeks into the locker room, so I thought it was a nice touch.

Liked: PS5 Console and DualSense Features

As a PlayStation console exclusive, Roll7 went the extra mile to give PS5 owners increased immersion with smart integrations of the DualSense controller.

To start, they added adaptive trigger functionality that lets you feel your arsenal of weapons. You get a nice hopping feedback sensation as you unload your dual pistols into enemies. For a greater kick, your shotgun blast reverberate through the triggers, plus you feel where the sweet spot is that unleashes a more powerful slug shot. The same holds true with the grenade launcher and crossbow that allow you to experience the tension of each shot.

Rollerdrome also utilizes haptic feedback to feel every bomb, blast and bat smash. It really draws you deeper into the experience when you can sense the terrain shaking beneath your skates. As well, the game includes 3D audio, which is critical for hearing enemies all around you. Being able to pinpoint enemy locations helps to keep the high-octane gameplay flowing, exactly what you want in a fast-paced game like this where precision matters.

Liked: Accessibility Features

The industry's move towards greater accessibility is very welcome. Roll7 created a challenging game, but they also provide plenty of options for gamers to tailor the experience to their needs and preferences. You can control everything from visual to motor to hearing options, such as increasing font size, reducing screen flash, or turning on high-contrast audio to accentuate important sounds.

There are also options to simplify challenging gameplay mechanics such as making shotgun slug shots easier to do, or customizing the control buttons to your liking. Even better, you can opt to skip the skill challenges that gatekeep later levels off. This allows you play through all 11 levels without tricky challenges halting your progression. And some challenges are really hard, so the option to skip them is a welcome one.

Didn't Like: Lack of Level Variety

While I absolutely enjoyed the visual style, the one down side is there's not a whole lot of level variety. Arenas consist of skate parks, indoor malls and a few outdoor environments. They're neat to see the first time, but once arena types start to repeat the interest drops somewhat. And it's a shame, too, because the comic book graphics are so amazing. A few extra arena types could have really made the visuals pop even more, plus it would help to keep every arena feeling fresh.

The Verdict

Rollerdrome is such a creative and exciting new bloodsport, and I'm hooked. The gameplay takes a wee bit to get accustomed to, but when you do you'll be grabbing, rail grinding and flipping your way to stylish arena-combat carnage. Once you get into that Rollerdrome zen state it's hard to pull yourself away. Easily one of the best indie games of the year and a must-play for PlayStation and PC fans alike.

Final Score: 9/10 - Amazing

Rollerdrome details

Platform: PS5, PS4, PC
Developer: Roll7
Publisher: Private Division
Genre: Action, Sports
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.