Review: Streets of Rogue

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The appeal of some roguelikes doesn’t come from when things go right, but from when things go completely to hell. Honestly I don’t play Spelunky to execute perfect or even passable runs, but to see what kind of horrible, hilarious deaths I’m destined to suffer. Streets of Rogue has a very similar appeal, owing to how open-ended the interactions between all its characters and features are. But these robust options also leave space for a lot of different player approaches to problems, as well as some awesome, unexpected results when you manage to frame someone else for your misdeeds or trigger what seems like the apocalypse from trying to open a refrigerator. And really, if that’s not the kind of fun this whole “video games” thing has been evolving towards then I have no idea what any of us are doing here.

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The city has elected a new mayor on a platform of junk food and partying, but his reign has been anything but good times. Crime is on the rise, fun is effectively outlawed, and a resistance has risen to unseat this corrupt overlord. You are the newest inductee to this bold movement, and perhaps its only hope considering its members can’t run you through their training course without capping a few of their own. The city’s best hope is a new mayoral election, which you can force if you can make it to the top of the oddly-vertical ‘burg and challenge the current despot directly. Or you can kill him and take his hat, that counts too.

Streets of Rogue currently consists of sixteen floors to the city, with the mayor and his entourage perched on top. The other fifteen floors are divided into five thematic districts like slums, industrial parks, and downtown. On each randomly-generated floor you are given randomly-generated tasks to complete, from nicking a baseball from a storage room to powering down a factory of deadly traps. It’s entirely up to you how you go about these missions but they must be completed before you leave the level. Complicating the matter is the rest of the city laid out around your objectives, which could be peaceful shops and residences, gambling dens and police stations, or mad science labs and haunted graveyards.

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The reason these are complications is because of the dizzying number of interactions characters and objects in the world can have. Let’s take a simple example, a job to kill an armed shopkeeper. Obviously, if you are better armed or confident in your combat skills you can just run in and kill him. If you’ve got allies, you can send them to kill him. If you don’t, you can try to lure him into a fight with cops or gang members outside. Speaking of luring, you can set a trap with explosives and tap on the windows or beat on the walls to draw him towards it. If the building has air conditioning you can poison the air with something. The possibilities spiral on and on as you explore how many people you can bribe, how many things explode, and how much chaos can erupt from a pickpocket stealing from the wrong person.

These levels are alive, from the random slum dwellers and drug dealers all the way to the office workers and bartenders just trying to get through the day alive. Everyone has things they’re trying to do, and things you can help them do. Your conduct is important, and not just for keeping folks from punching your lights out, because you have an electability stat you can build if you want to take down the mayor peacefully. But you also don’t want to piss off the wrong shopkeeper, or your loan shark, or that gang member who’s going to go grab their whole gang to come down on you. There’s even a dedicated button to check the status of everyone on the screen, to see if they’re allied, neutral, searching for you, or hostile to you. You’ll find plenty of items to influence their feelings as well, from fancy cologne to literal mind control devices.

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I’m really only scratching the surface of what you can do and must do in Streets of Rogue, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning the dozens of player classes, too. Really you can be just about any inhabitant of the city, from bums and gangers to cops, scientists, and bankers. Each class has special traits and abilities, like scientists knowing what syringes are when they find them and slum dwellers leveling faster. But they also have class-specific big quests, with optional objectives on every floor. Completing all of them on a successful run unlocks a super version of the class, with abilities tailored to let them wreak all kinds of specialized havoc. This gets even better when you unlock the more exotic classes like vampires and zombies, because their playstyles turn this into an entirely different game.

Unlocking new classes is very simple, for the most part, and you’ll get more than a few just from completing floors and causing wanton destruction. Leveling up and doing optional missions during runs will also net you chicken nuggets, the illicit currency of the resistance. This can be used for meta-progression, unlocking new items for the drop tables and perks to pick when you level up. Don’t worry about fouling up your pools though, because you can switch off unlocks at will. Add to this all kinds of optional modifiers to make your game even crazier, and a wonderfully chaotic co-op mode, and you’ve got quite a lot to explore in this title before you can claim to have seen everything.

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I never expected Streets of Rogue to offer so many options and opportunities for fun, but it’s built to do exactly that. Every mission is a chance to dream up new scenarios of stealth or sabotage, and every mistake can be twisted into sprawling chaos. I’ve caused turf wars between the mafia and ninjas, I’ve amassed an army of gorillas, and I’ve blown up an entire city block by hacking a computer. Ultimately it’s a make-your-own-fun kind of game in the vein of Heat Signature, but it gives you so much direction to learn how that I can’t imagine not reaching that point of gleeful experimentation. It’s shocking that this one is even still in Early Access given how much there is to see and do, but that only means that yet more potential for wild adventures lies ahead.

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