My pessimism over the most recent path of the action-roguelike genre has gone full circle with the release of Risk of Rain Returns, which brought the franchise full circle. I was a devoted fan of the first installment, and I recall reacting with astonishment when it was revealed that there would be a sequel in full 3D in the year 2017. Following the completion of more than 150 hours of gameplay in that game, I became a full-fledged convert. In fact, I am again confronted with a curiously identical set of uncertainties: am I prepared, or even willing, to slam the door of my escape pod open and begin dispensing death in a side-scrolling 2D world?
For those who are not familiar with the series, Risk of Rain is one of the most important games that laid the groundwork for the roguelike revolution that occurred in the middle of the 2010s. A single traveller happens to crash land on an unfriendly planet, and in order to reach the spacecraft that would enable them to leave, they have to battle their way through a series of challenges. In order to do this, you had to acquire and accumulate a ridiculously large number of power-ups that interact with one another in many crazy and unexpected ways, resulting in the release of spectacular pandemonium on the screen.
One of the things that set it apart from other works in its genre, such as The Binding of Isaac, was the fact that the level of difficulty increased with time. A continual and tantalising issue was posed to you in the form of the need to find a balance between comprehensive investigation in order to strengthen your survivor and rapid progression in order to avoid being overwhelmed by adversaries that were becoming stronger. In the remaster, the sensation continues to be there, and it coexists in some way with a sense of familiarity that is less stimulating.
Similarly to the majority of games of a similar kind, you are at the mercy of its number-crunching. The selection of items that are available, the density of enemies, and the location of chests in relation to the teleporter that you must activate before fleeing to the next level (pending a brutal 90-second boss fight) are all examples of how Risk of Rain Returns is gleefully unfair. Any single randomly decided element has the potential to ruin your chances of success if the dice do not fall in your favour. In order to withstand these whims of destiny, you will need to internalise the inner rhythm of your survivor. This rhythm is the manner in which their quartet of abilities complement one another, boosting damage output and providing periods of much-needed relief in the middle of an unending carnage.
Rolling sideways with your commando’s tactical dive will bring all of your attackers to the same side. After that, shock them with the penetrating Full Metal Jacket shot, and then close in for the enormous point-blank shotgun blast. Finally, leap away to purchase the crucial seconds that are required for each of your enemies to recharge. Those abilities are utterly ineffective when they are used in a haphazard manner. In the appropriate order and at the appropriate moment, they have the potential to be devastating.
As a result of the fact that the concept has remained mostly untouched from the previous two installments, Risk of Rain Returns provides a multitude of enhancements to the quality of life, in addition to a number of new (or new-ish) elements. When you are surrounded by a swarm of angry lizard people and enormous crabs, it is somewhat simpler to understand what is going on since the graphics seem to be more clear and the sprites are slightly bigger. It is essential to note that the significant frame drops that occurred during such packed situations in the original game are absolutely absent even when evaluating the game with very basic specifications.
The outstanding soundtrack composed by Chris Christodoulou, which is so intricately entwined with the psychedelic atmosphere of the series, has been restored, and numerous pieces have been reworked with various new collaborators. The online play was essentially unplayable in the previous version of the game; it is fluid, flawless, and (with some minor balance concerns surrounding treasure drops aside), it is perhaps the greatest method for veterans to enjoy the game here. However, perhaps the most important enhancement is the total revamp of the multiplayer component.
As is always the case, the playable characters are really unique; for example, making your way through enemy ranks as the nimble Huntress is almost like playing a separate game than charging head-on with the tanky Enforcer. New additions, such as the Pilot, a highly mobile combatant who can aim diagonally, and the Drifter, who generates temporary items using scrap gathered from fallen enemies, bring the total number of characters to fifteen. It has been a great deal of fun to experiment with these new playstyles or to see how some of the returning cast members from Risk of Rain 2 perform in two dimensions. Furthermore, there are a number of new goods, monsters, and different talents that may be unlocked, which adds even more variation to the processes that are taking place. Additionally, there is a much longer list of achievements for those who might need the additional motivation.
The Providence Trials, on the other hand, are without a doubt the most significant feature. These trials consist of a series of character-specific obstacles that also serve as stealthy lessons for particular technical abilities. Some of these minigames are so ingeniously thought out and well created that I could easily spend many hours on the most entertaining ones, attempting to raise my score. In fact, I could easily spend such a long amount of time on them. Specimen Sampling, where you escort a pair of slithering blobs across a lava-filled cavern, is basically a bite-sized version of Lemmings; Caustic Climb has the reptilian Acrid bounce on the acid spheres he spits out in the manner of Bubble Bobble; and in my personal favourite, Piercing Space and Time, you have to utilise the Huntress’s teleportation arrows to navigate a vertical labyrinth that rivals any Super Meat Boy or TowerFall Ascension level for sheer platforming excitement.
This is still pretty much the same game that I was obsessed with back in 2013, despite the fact that there have been some small enhancements and a fresh coat of paint applied to it. In a genre that has developed since then, both in terms of plot (most notably in the Olympian intrigues of Hades) and combat mechanics (perfected in the unjustly overlooked Curse of the Dead Gods), Risk of Rain Returns today seems more conservative than it did in the past. It is a pleasant reminder of the series’ origins that Risk of Rain Returns appears as a nice reminder of the series’ roots, despite the fact that it is not nearly a genre-defining masterpiece like either of its predecessors. This is because it treads old terrain and revises rather than revolutionises a popular pattern.