Risk Aversion: A Review Of Risk Of Rain
Everyone loves a surprise.
Risk of Rain didn’t completely sneak up on me, but it came dangerously close. I knew of the game’s Kickstarter campaign earlier in the year, but we’re almost trained to assume we won’t see those games for at least a year, right?! Lo, a mere seven months after the close of their Kickstarter, developer Hopoo Games has released Risk of Rain, and I couldn’t be happier.
My personal history with roguelikes can be summed up with a single word: Yawn. While the sales pitch of “never play the same dungeon twice” used to excite some, the idea always bored me to tears. To my wee brain in the 1980s, it was an impressive technical achievement, but once I realized it was only the layout that was changing, it quickly felt uninspired.
Recently, designers have been stepping outside of the tradtional comfort zone and using randomly created elements in new and exciting ways. As these kinds of games enjoy more time in the limelight, players are finding they’re no longer just dungeons with different layouts—whole new worlds are being created.
Of course, the first game on everyone’s lips will be Spelunky. Rightfully so, though, for the multitude of gameplay challenges fostered in the hilariously simple grid-like levels is a study in design perfection. Sir, You Are Being Hunted possesses a similar kind of design beauty, as its procedurally generated islands feel as well-conceived as any crafted title on the market.
Risk of Rain scratches the same itch. Similar to the aforementioned gems, it presents the player with more than randomly generated levels. Power-ups and enemies are all randomized as well, but the coolest element is how all of these elements play into the game’s difficulty, which increases as time progresses. I don’t mean as you get further into the game–I mean with every passing minute.
Once you pass the seven-minute mark, things can get downright ugly. Enemies get more difficult and more numerous, and success is determined by the kinds of power-ups you’ve been able to score. It would be easy to think that this was a recipe for unevenness, but in exploring the map there are multitudes of these power-ups available, and in my playthrough it was rare that I ever felt slighted.
There’s a myriad different ways to look at a playthrough, as well. The goal of each mission is simply to find the transporter and leave, but success essentially depends on survivability. So you could level up and try to survive against the increasingly difficult horde, or you could try to run to the transporter as fast as possible and try to survive at a much lower level. Now matter how you play, the entire feeling of this escalating tension is one of excitement and surprise, rarely frustration. In this way, it’s almost like that of an endless runner, where more often than not you achieve a new personal best for survival.
Not every game has to speak to me, and not every game has to make A Statement. Risk of Rain wasn’t an experience so much as a diversion, but it’s brilliant in its simplicity, and not a single element of it overstays its welcome. Most importantly, it’s really, really fun.