Streets of Rogue – PC (P)Review – by K3W3L

Genre: Action Adventure Indie RPG Early Access Roguelike
Developer: Matt Dabrowski
Publisher: tinyBuild
Release Date: Mar 10, 2017

This review was done based on versions Alpha 20d/e of the game, and is hence a reflection of the game’s state at that time. Note that the developer regularly updates the game, so any issues that I have might be fixed in a future build.

UPDATE: Since the review was written, I’ve managed to try out online co-op in Alpha 20f with 3 other friends. Because I live a few continents away from said friends, there were some online sync issues and rubberbanding issues where I couldn’t seem to tranquilise people, open doors, or the hostile goons just never noticed me despite me being right in front of their noses. Nevertheless, it was a total blast, as I had hoped it would be, and it was pretty neat that I could simply drop-in into their game. Loot distribution and chicken nugget gains seemed to scale appropriately, so all’s good on that front.

I love my roguelikes. I feel that 2017 got off to a pretty good start roguelike-wise. Roguelike mainstay The Binding of Isaac’s remake got it’s newest and final DLC Afterbirth+, Enter the Gungeon dropped its Supply Drop (pun unintended) update, and NeuroVoider got their Extended Update version in.

Riding in on this wave of momentum comes Streets of Rogue. The ever omnipresent tinyBuild have been gradually publishing more and more kooky and fantastic games on Steam, and this game is no exception. Streets of Rogue has been billed as a combination of The Binding of Isaac/Nuclear Throne’s roguelike elements, Deus Ex’s free-form RPG elements, and GTA’s anarchy. It’s a positively enthralling cocktail of alphabet soup.

Streets of Rogue has the dubious honour of being the first game to launch with a free weekend. This is because its sole developer Matt Dabrowski needed to extensively test the online multiplayer capabilities. Yes, you read that right – ONLINE MULTIPLAYER CAPABILITIES. With online multiplayer games gradually becoming more prevalent, this is a rather unique feature, especially in roguelikes which are typically single-player, or in the case of all the aforementioned roguelikes, local multiplayer only. Before coming to Steam, the game itself was actually in free open alpha; this marks the first paid release. It’s come along quite a bit since the free open alphas.

Notably, while Streets of Rogue is partially based on the Streets of Rage universe in some aspects where you can loot from bins, it does not play the same way. Being a roguelike at heart, Streets of Rogue features procedurally-generated levels. For most characters your primary method of attack will be your fists, but you can loot (and some characters start with) weapons – melee and guns that have a durability rating/ammo capacity respectively – to attack enemies with instead. As a result, the combat feels the most similar to Nuclear Throne. Controls felt pretty superb on keyboard and mouse; admittedly I didn’t test much with a controller since I’m not a controller person, but it’s nice to see the ever-ubiquitous controller support.

Each level has a randomised shape, with randomised buildings and randomised NPCs, and…uh…randomised missions. You have about 2-3 missions per levels, and you have to complete or fail them all before moving to the next. You can even take bonus missions from some NPCs when given the opportunity. Missions require you to, typically, toggle some switches, retrieve items from NPCs, neutralise some NPCs, etc. Also, on every third level of a zone, there’s a random event occurring – killer robot, riots, dropping bombs – that makes it significantly more frantic and challenging. Some of the most frantic moments occur during these ‘third levels’. There’s a quick teleport system in place here which is a boon as it cuts down on backtracking time (though you can’t do that on the ‘third levels’ due to them being vastly more dangerous).

Let’s get the relatively minor negative points out of the way. Firstly, this game is still in Early Access. It’s not content-complete yet, and is only about 40% there, as of the time of writing, with only 6 levels total within 2 zones done. Even if you’re only semi-proficient in Nuclear Throne or Gungeon, I’d estimate about 4-5 hours to beat both zones for the first time. Besides that, there are still a multitude of planned features not in yet, such as characters (20 currently but purportedly about 40 will be in the final game) and mechanics called “Big Quests” (with placeholder text boxes in the game).

In its current state, the game also seems a tad on the easier side (though some goals are more challenging than others). On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it has much depth – a lot of missions can simply be solved in typical roguelike fashion by just punching people’s faces in with your fists, weapons, etc.

But that’s where the negative aspects end. Everything else about the game has so far been top-notch. Despite the apparent lack of depth on the surface, there are actually multiple ways to solve missions – and this is where the slightly cheesy and over-exuberant tagline comes in. You can brawl, you can stealth, you can do a lot of things dependent on the variety of items and the characters that are currently in. The game gives you the freedom to write up somewhat absurdist gameplay scenarios – remotely hack a computer to unlock doors, or shoot someone with a tranquilizer gun to neutralize them and steal their loot…or even take a giantizer pill to become gigantic, causing wanton destruction for a while. It helps that there are so many elements in the game world; there’s great attention to detail.

I really love when games don’t take themselves seriously, and are jam-packed with humour. There’s a TON of humour in this game – readily apparent from the witty character descriptions, item descriptions, the aforementioned scenarios, and even the downright crazy tutorial where you have a guy overreacting to all the most minute of actions that you succeed in doing, eventually getting too overwhelmed with excitement and exploding into a pool of meat and blood as a result, LOL.

Most roguelikes don’t even feature any real multiplayer, but thankfully the trend is starting to shift in recent times. Streets of Rogue not only features local, but rather amazingly, online. Unfortunately I was unable to test either of those two, but I have no doubt that they’d both be an even more wacky and over the top experience.

There’s a progression system where you accumulate currency called Chicken Nuggets (…yeah) in order to unlock more traits, skills and items. You gain some from completing levels and specific missions. Terrific in that you always have some chance of unlocking something new every time you play, and this reminds me a lot of the alternate currency system in 20XX to unlock more items that you can potentially find. As for characters, you have to fulfill some interesting objectives to unlock them. The diverse character variety and the fact that they each have different attributes/starting items means that you have to play them in a completely different style to each other. Interestingly, I feel that Streets of Rogue does a far better job of making each character feel completely disparate than Binding of Isaac ever did.

The soundtrack, composed by Craig Barnes (who contributed 2 songs to The Metronomicon), is also pretty darn catchy. What’s groovy about it is that the soundtrack is very thematic, and packed with recurring motifs, neatly tying the soundtrack together with a sense of cohesion. The soundtrack DLC itself only has the songs that are currently in the game, but will be gradually expanded as more are added, alongside the game itself.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a tinyBuild game if it didn’t feature any sort of Twitch integration. When enabled, Twitch chatters can actually vote on item rewards, traits, and even ‘third level’ events after successfully completing missions/levels. I feel this can be improved somewhat because you have to mouseover the item/trait so the description for it pops up, otherwise your viewers won’t know why to vote for something over another.

Pros:

  • Highly polished and relatively bug-free currently
  • Humorous; tongue-in-cheek
  • Brilliant roguelike level generation/gameplay
  • Online/local co-op multiplayer
  • Catchy soundtrack with recurring motifs throughout
  • Twitch integration
  • Ability to unlock even more characters, abilities, traits, items, signifying progression
  • A lot of depth; you can solve missions via various ways, writing your own narrative each time…

Cons:

  • …but this depth is not readily apparent
  • Early Access; lack of content

K3W3L gives Streets of Rogue an Early Access Drastik Measure of EA+++ (signifying a highly polished game with high potential to keep an eye on).

I’m choosing not to score this since it’s still in early alpha; but in its current stage this is simply wonderful, and a fine addition to the roguelikes of 2017 (it’d still score from 8.5 to 9.0 if it wasn’t in Early Access). $15 USD on Steam may seem a bit on the steep side, but Matt has pledged to attempt to keep the price constant, meaning you’ll gradually get more bang for buck later on as more content is added. Plus, it’s a roguelike, and roguelikes generally feel fresh to play over and over again without getting bored after hundreds of hours – this is no exception. I’m definitely going to keep close tabs on this one.