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RPS Verdict: Streets Of Rogue

Be a cannibal, eat the rich

Four weeks ago, in the disgusting heat of old August, we told you we can’t stop playing the chaos-fuelled micro-muckabout Streets Of Rogue. And since then we've not stopped banging on about it. It's sort of embarrassing. We spoke to its creator, we praised its tabletop-ish freedom, and we enjoyed having a totally normal one. But listen, we’ve got to move on. It turns out we actually can stop playing this gangster-blasting chimp sim. But not before we deliver a final verdict.

Matt: It’s been so long since I’ve played a good “I wonder if I can…” game. A game that gets me asking questions like “can I electrocute those robots by punching that water hydrant”, or “can I pollute this building’s airflow with a gigantising pill, then enter it and romp through town with three massive guerrillas in tow?”. The first few hours of Rogue are a constant stream of moments like that, each rule united by common sense consequences that are still rooted in the absurd. Of course you can hack fridges. Of course people slip on discarded bananas. I haven’t played it at all for the past three weeks, mind.

Brendan: Oh my god, it’s a “Can’t Stop Playing” game Matt. You stopped playing waaaay before you were supposed to. That’s disgraceful.

Matt: I’ve got my reasons! I just don’t want to kick this off with me being miserable.

Sin: That’s why you fled the office recently! I’m onto you. I could still play it more (and did last night). It’s like Italian cooking. There’s so much you can do with it, even if the ingredients remain the same. The mutators in particular we’ve barely touched in articles. One of them restricts your vision to what’s in front of you, like the NPCs have. One lets you swap out entire districts if you’re tired of the slums. One lets you ignore missions entirely and vwomp straight to the exit at any time. It’s probably the most generous roguelike/light/lorble I’ve ever seen. It wants you to have fun instead of pulling the rug out from under you whenever you try something outlandish. I felt like an expert, then I played with Matt for his first game and he immediately schooled me on a tonne of stuff I had no idea was possible.

Brendan: The mutators are great. There’s a mutator that just makes it all zombies, all the time. What! It feels like old school cheat modes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “big head mode” turn up.

Sin: The Unreal Tournament terminology littered throughout is surely not a coincidence.

Brendan: I hopped back down to them Streets this morning to remind myself why being a shrunken loot fiend is so fun. The characters are what drives it. I played as a thief this time, and discovered the quiet pleasure of blorping through walls with a mini teleportation device, stealing secret photographs from safes, and inching suspiciously through narrow blind spots to avoid irritable shopkeepers.

I like how the game steers you gently toward a certain attitude with each character. As the stripey-shirted pocketpicker, for example, I took the “slippery target” trait between levels, which makes you harder to shoot. Later, I got a trait that made vandalising completely silent, an absurdly useful ability for a burglar who enthusiastically crawls through the shattered broken windows like a gleeful sticky bandit from Home Alone. It just lets you do all this fun, dumb stuff, and walk away feeling smug.

Sin: I definitely hew to the characters’ traits and theme more than usual. Have you tried the character creator much? I still think we need to make each other (or terrible caricatures of each other) and play a challenge mode. Or each make characters that we know other people in the office will hate. Basically I want us all to foster a poisonous dislike of each other by christmas.

Brendan: I haven’t messed about with that at all. But I did appreciate the time you made Monsieur Gustave from the Grand Budapest Hotel and went around wearing ludicrous amounts of cologne.

Sin:The cologne is so powerful! A lot of items are surprisingly so. And it’s good at encouraging you to use them. You run out of space fast, you can pick up anything. Some traits give you free objects from shops. And the “loadout-o-matic” machines mean you always have access to your class items, until you accidentally blow those vending machines up.

Brendan: There is an awful lot of blowing stuff up.

Sin: I still haven’t got past the downtown district, which is fourth out of (I think) five districts? Or five and a half? It doesn’t matter. I even thought about this when playing RAD, which is a completely unfair comparison to make. But there are roguelikes that just feel exhausting and annoying when you die, and then there’s Streets Of Rogue, where you think: “Aw, bums. Well, what if I was a gangster instead?”

Matt: I stopped thinking that sooner than I thought I would, is the thing. I’m scrambling for a way to explain my problem without bragging, but, well, I do think part of it comes down to me being too damn good.

Brendan: “Matt Cox,” reads your tombstone in 50 years. “He was too good at games.”

Matt: I can pretty reliably reach that downtown district, and by the time I get there I’ve basically been doing the same thing for 45 minutes. It’s a game of impressive breadth and disappointing depth, where each run outstays its welcome. Sure, I haven’t experienced life as a zombie or an investment banker, but I’ve tried enough characters to know I’ll tire of them.

Sin: Never do anything, kids! The tomb awaits.

Matt: Try some things, kids! Just don’t become investment bankers. That seems fair.

Sin: It’s just occurred to me that you could be a cannibal in game and exclusively eat the rich. For freedom.

Matt: You know, the fact that you’re thinking about exclusively eating the wealthy explains a lot. And in the game. I tend to see my characters as toolkits rather than people.

Sin: The big quest system is a potential solution to that. Each character (except custom ones) gets an set of objectives for each level, with no reward unless you get to the end with them all done. Gangsters want to kill rival gangsters, bartenders want to serve drinks, the slum dweller has to gather enough money to become middle class or something. But it’s easy to fail, ignore, or simply forget.

Brendan: The fact that you have not indulged your inner capitalist as the drug-addicted investment banker is astounding. You know when people say “oh the game gets really good after 20 hours”? Well, Streets Of Rogue gets really good once you start snorting sugar and taking out too many loans to feasibly repay.

Sin: Can we talk about the music? I want to avoid calling it ‘retro’ because it’s not… it feels like this is the music it just… has. Like it wasn’t a choice to reference old games, it just kind of fit. Which is silly, but it works so well to establish the mood. And the pace. Also one of the tracks is called “I’m too arousing for my turtleneck”. That’s a good line. Though not as good as Matt is at games, obviously.

Brendan: It is good music. Nate did a vocal cover of the first level’s background music for our podcast on the game. It was very faithful. Anyway, we must wrap this up. Let’s gather our final thoughts into a big pile, and then set fire to them, so we never have to write about this very good game again. Here’s my final thought: you get to hack a fridge and make it crush a drug dealer into paste. Good game.

Matt: I’ve had my fill of drug dealer paste. It was good while it lasted.

Sin: It’s like a fully stacked bar or fridge. Ask me about it and I splutter “good olives! Lots of rum!” in a panic because it’s so many little things waiting to be played with. I’ll probably be coming back to it for a long time to try a new cocktail.

You can read all our Can't Stop Playing coverage of Streets Of Rogue right here.

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