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Review: Risk of Rain

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There was a metallic taste in your mouth when you woke up. That’s how you come to on this blasted rock; with blood in the back of your throat. The UES Contact Light is gone, and judging by the corpses of your compatriots it looks like you’re the only one left. You’ve remained cooped up in this escape pod for three days –  with scratching and growls on the outside – but the rotting stench has forced your hand. You eject yourself from the capsule to find a world not unlike our own – similar, except for the shattered moon in the sky. You check your weapon and breathe in deeply, smelling ozone in the air.

A risk of rain.

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The moment before death: the game allows you to run through the previous stages you encountered before moving on to the final level. Not for the faint of heart.

Risk of Rain is a kinetic run-’n-gun action sidescroller that dips lightly into rogue-like territory with semi-randomised stages, powerups, and permadeath. Your space freighter, the UES Contact Light, has crash landed on an alien world, and your only hope of getting off the planet is getting back to its wreckage. You’ll traverse six stages out of a possible ten (of which two are always repeated) and then confront the final boss.

You will also die. A lot. Risk of Rain is relentless in its difficulty. Your objective in any stage is to locate the portal, and as time wanes so the enemies’ number and toughness grow. Activating the portal will result in the arrival of the stage’s boss, along with a dramatic upswing in the enemy spawns with the simple instruction to survive for 90 seconds. It takes on an increasingly manic air as you kite and maneuver to avoid mobs of enemies, whose combined efforts can (and will) destroy you with a single hit.

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Each character has four distinct abilities and vary widely in form and function.

However, you’re not powerless. Risk of Rain offers 10 character classes, most of which are unlocked by achieving certain objectives within the game. You start off with the Commando, a fairly well-rounded character with decent range, attack speed and defensive and offensive capabilities. Unlocking a new character is often like opening up a new game: Risk of Rain is remarkable in that each character differs significantly from others in terms of abilities and play styles. And, despite the small size of the sprites, each little pixel warrior has a distinct animated flair to them which differentiates them from their peers.

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One of the first bosses you encounter; the Wandering Vagrant is a gentle introduction to Risk of Rain’s escalating difficulty curve.

Also aiding you is your ship’s cargo that has been scattered across the twilight world. You’ll need to use the money you accrue to collect them, but when you do you’re granted new powers and abilities. These power-ups range from passive abilities that increase your attack speed to more bizarre, such as a mask that creates ally ghosts from the husks of your defeated enemies. As the items stack, this can result in some overpowered combinations.

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One of the items you’ll collect during the course of the game. Risk of Rain is full of subtle (and not subtle) references to other video games, MMOs and anime.

You’ll find drones to repair along the way to provide much needed backup, as well as shrines where you can gamble your gold for the possibility of high-level loot. Indeed, risk is very much at the heart of Risk of Rain‘s design, and combined with the ever-present timer it works beautifully. You’re always balancing exploration with speed, thoroughness with desperation –  the gameplay proves incredibly addictive in the “one more time” variety, enticing you with the promise of new items to discover, new combinations to exploit and new secrets to uncover.

The game’s presentation uses a pronounced pixel style which is quite expressive. The characters and enemies, as previously stated, are well animated, while the stages dwarf your sprites and provide an air of abandonment and isolation. In particular, this is aided by the exceptional soundtrack, which dips between haunting psychedelic tones and heavy industrial music.

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That quiet moment before the storm: the game offers you a small respite upon teleporting into a new level.

Risk of Rain is marred by a few technical issues. A number of bugs still exist in the release, such as more than four rows of items breaking the game and a broken online co-op mode that requires you to either use Hamachi or forward router ports –  having managed to get one or two public co-op games in, I can say that I prefer the single-player, but playing with friends will obviously improve the experience. The game can also drag on occasions, with average sessions lasting between 30-60 minutes, depending on your skill and item drops.

All in all, Risk of Rain is a worthy addition to the rogue-0-sphere and a challenging game to boot, but it’s not for everyone – I highly recommend giving the demo a go before laying out your Rands. Those willing to persevere will find a gem whose intricacies will keep unpacking themselves long after purchase.

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