A corrupt politican has come into power! Wealth disparity is high, the police is useless – yet brutal – and slavery is back, which definitely does not reflect our reality! But fear not, for a resistance has formed to topple the awful Mayor! This is Streets of Rogue!
So Streets of Rogue is about rising up against a corrupt leader, so it’s political even if it was not intended. What does this game say about resistance? Well, it’s kinda cynical. I mean, outside of flavor text and the missions you’re given, the tutorial pretty much foreshadows that this is a full circle revolution with this resistance just putting a different autocrat in power. I mean, it’s obvious that it’s going to happen.
Speaking of, the resistance accepts all kinds of people. Slum Dwellers? Yeah, rise up against the rich and powerful… while trying to become part of their ranks. Cop? You are penalized for arresting innocents… at least until the end of the game, where if you do the Big Quest, you’re so powerful that you can do whatever you want. Actual Cannibal? Welcome to the resistance. Fucking Slave Masters that are one of the direct problems you’re trying to fix? Well, they’re fighting the corrupt Mayor, so welcome to the resistance I guess.
Actually, you know what? If this game is a representation of mainstream Democrats “hashtag resisting,” I’d say it’s on the money.
The roguelike part of Streets of Rogue has you traversing through randomly generated districts of city streets until you reach the Mayor’s Village. You got arbitrary video game maze buildings mixing in with homes, bars, small clinics, etc. NPCs of different types mingle as you go about your business, acting as enemies, friends or innocent bystanders (well, innocent in that they’re unrelated to your goal).
And sometimes those interactions explode into fighting. A Thief may pickpocket you or some other NPC and they happen to do it in the lines of sight of a Cop. Because ACAB, the Cop’s first reaction is to start shooting and they may accidentally hit a bystander, which causes them to fight. If a Crepe ever sees a Blahd or vice versa, it’s on sight. Some guy accidentally breaks a piece of property? He’s going to perish. You can take advantage of these interactions to get rid of people bothering you and hell, you can even get people to fight for no reason if you pump some rage juice into their air ventilation. Point is, the city is a place that will collapse into mindless chaos if given the excuse.
Of course, you’re not going to be high and dry from these interactions, as all of your characters are playable versions of most of the NPC types. Most characters have a set of traits and a special skill that defines them.
Aside from the Slum Dweller, who’s a blank slate Magikarp, each character has a heavily encouraged playstyle enforced by their default traits and Big Quest (more on that later). There’s the Soldier, a very straight-laced character that starts out with good guns that can make the game feel like one of those roguelike shooters, but there’s a lot of variety with other characters. Like, the Doctor, for instance, is mostly a pacifist that refuses to use weapons, but can knock people out with chloroform and starts out with a tranquilizer gun, encouraging stealthy play. The Comedian tells jokes to people that makes them hate them or love them, to the point that they can join as followers, which encourages a more diplomatic playstyle or encourages taking traits that buff allies. There’s some variation in playstyle depending on what traits you get when you level up, but generally the different playstyles makes most of the characters feel distinct from each other.
So, you pick a proud resister and head out on the streets! You roam around a top-down world that seems friendly but can and will turn hostile – especially if you have a starting trait that makes some NPCs pissed at you. You can treat the game like a roguelike shooter if you get a gun, or you can bash people’s heads in, with a dramatic slowdown accompanying satisfying killing blows. It’s not all violence, though. You can talk to NPCs to buy stuff or ellicit services, like bribing the police to ignore whatever crimes you do on the level or getting a scientist to identify syringes (which is this game’s version of potions/wands).
Each level has a set of missions and the exit to the next floor won’t open up until you do them. You don’t necessarily have to beat each mission; if you have an escort mission and the person you’re escorting dies, you’ll still be able to go to the next level – you just won’t get the experience points. Still, good to have if you can’t risk completing a mission properly.
Every second level of a district has an optional mission where doing it earns chicken nuggets (it makes as much sense in context). Every third level is where things get intense, with a busier variant of the district’s track playing as some random event happens. One event involves bombs dropping out of the sky, NPCs constantly running out of their residences when one explodes like watching fireworks. Another has everyone – including you – get inflicted with a random status ailment every few seconds, embracing the chaotic nature the game presents. Although, depending on what the event is, the third level may run into problems depending on what character you have; better hope you don’t have a squishy character reliant on diplomacy in the event where random people turn out to be assassins.
Alongside the missions, each character has a “Big Quest” that lasts the entire run. Big Quests require you to do specific tasks in line with the character’s abilities for each floor, giving you extra EXP; if you stay committed to the Big Quest for the entire run, the character’s special ability is upgraded, which makes the last level and future runs easier. Some Big Quests feel natural, like the Thief’s which encourages you to rob chests and safes with the special thieving tools they can get. Others require you to do something more specific with the role, like the Cop having to arrest specifically marked NPCs. And there are a few that just feels arbitrary, like having to kill werewolves that only spawn when you play as the Vampire, which doesn’t feel natural at all and comes off like a chore.
I think the levels have a fair sense of progression and their difficulties escalate in a natural way. As you head up through the city, the population grows along with whatever security there is, making getting into random brawls less feasible. Goons and cops turn into their super versions while sets of roaming enemies that are easily aggro’d escalate in severity. The first district’s roaming hostiles are just thieves, but they’re really quaint in comparison to the cannibals and patroling robots that seek to deport anyone that doesn’t fit into the upper crust mold.
Something that Streets of Rogue really surprised me with was its accessibility. I mentioned before that you can continue levels even if you fail a mission, but there’s a bunch of other features that makes the game easier. For one thing, there’s the mutators, which can change the nature of the run. Here you can enable the ability to use the upgraded special abilities of characters you finished a Big Quest for, though that’s just one thing. Hate the third level special events? You can opt to just remove them. Hate the cannibal enemies? You can make it so they won’t aggro without the need of a trait. Unless you chose the sandbox mutator, you can actually still unlock things if you’re playing the game this way, which is unexpectedly nice.
In the macrogame, you can unlock more rewards for finishing missions and new traits by spending those chicken nuggets I mentioned. However, after unlocking them you can also choose to remove them from the reward pool. Say that you level up and get a list of traits that just don’t gel with your character. Moments like those become less likely as you can remove any trait that isn’t convenient for your run; granted, you still need to keep a minimum number of things in a reward pool, but getting useless stuff is still far less likely. I’ve played a bunch of Binding of Isaac and a thing that I hated is that at this point in the game’s life, there’s so many items that the item pools would just be saturated with things that aren’t helpful, or at least, not helpful at that moment. So, seeing something like this come along is a welcome gift.
You can also play this game co-op so you can topple down a brutal figure with your best friends! I haven’t been able to try it. Such is life.
Streets of Rogue is a fun roguelike revolving around an immersive city that you can tackle with a whole bunch of interesting playstyles. There are a few things that don’t work as well as they could, though the game’s surprising forgiveness partially balances that out for me. So, go out there and destroy power!