Streets of Rogue exhibits a profound love and respect for its players. I can’t remember the last time I played a game so committed to addressing the question, “what would be fun for the players?” Indeed, it seems designed to satisfy as many people as possible. However, this is not some soulless corporate attempt to market to a broad audience. It’s an indie game developed by a single person, Mark Dabrowski. Dabrowski achieves distinction by providing the player with a mountain of options, trusting them to know how to create their fun, and operating within a clear, consistent, and intuitive framework. Suffice to say that Streets of Rogue pushes the envelope in terms of a player-oriented design.
All the World’s a Stage
Let’s set the stage to answer some basic questions. What is Streets of Rogue? What’s the gameplay like? As an indie game with pixel graphics, does it have a sufficiently catchy soundtrack? Simply put, it’s a top-down roguelike wherein the player must complete objectives to proceed to subsequent floors. By utilizing all manner of items, special abilities, and pure, elemental chaos, the player may get just lucky enough to overcome the variable and increasingly difficult hazards along the way. “Floor 5-1: I’m Too Arousing for My Turtleneck” is my only answer to the last question.
The stage itself, meanwhile, is the systems-driven playspace so quintessential to this game’s identity. Your goal is simple: traverse the city, unseat the Mayor. But the levels are characterized by inter-faction violence, odd occurrences, and sudden bursts of destruction. One stray bullet can drag individuals and groups alike into the gravitational pull of combat, escalating conflicts in spectacular fashion. To use a different metaphor, each level is like Europe in June 1914: a goddamn powderkeg.
The interaction between systems, the chain reactions of disaster and violence, and the numerous approaches available to the player all lend a very natural, organic feel to the world and its conflicts. The visuals and sound design further complement this living and breathing environment. The game is strange and goofy, sure, but the tone, soundtrack, and gameplay all mesh to deliver a precise, consistent experience. The game delights in befuddling and bewildering. Still, its world isn’t purely random. It’s madness with a method and chaos with a cause. There are in-game objectives which consist of three flavors: main missions, optional missions, and big quests.
And All the Men and Women Merely Players
Streets of Rogue amplifies the importance of the player in ways that many larger titles fail to do. The game allows you to go at your own pace during the first two floors of every section. Objectives are comprised of items and NPCs throughout the level, awaiting your attempts at bribery, subterfuge, or twisted experiments (to name a few approaches). This autonomy encourages the agency, foresight, and creativity of players, and it also includes one of my favorite gameplay elements: nefarious plotting. However, beware complacency and arrogance! Streets of Rogue seeks to improve your run and mix up the gameplay a little — by lighting a fire under your ass just as you’re starting to get comfortable.
On the third and final level of a section, some disaster occurs. Bombings, radiation blasts, and zombie attacks are commonplace in the titular streets. These levels often fly by, forcing the player to react quickly to a rapidly-evolving situation. It’s a good thing that Dabrowski understands when it’s time to let players go at their own rate, and when to guide the experience a little more. But hey, if you think radiation blasts are stupid, you don’t have to deal with them (more on that later). Like many things in Streets of Rogue, you have options.
Certainly, one of the most compelling options is your choice of character. Each one is distinct, sporting their unique objectives and gameplay. The Cop, as you might expect, makes arrests and has mechanical incentives to avoid harming innocents. The Shapeshifter, conversely, makes people into mere puppets and has incentives to incite class tensions. Different strokes, I suppose. And if none of the characters are ridiculous enough for you, you can always create one. Make a demigod bestowed with many powerups? Or, perhaps try recreating the Deprived from Dark Souls? Do what makes you happy.
For more variety, the player needs only to turn to the Mutators game feature. Mutators fundamentally change the way the game is played, altering anything from the speed of play to difficulty. For example, mutators like infinite ammo and new character every level offer radically different experiences. I think this feature is a wonderful commitment to providing the player with fun on their terms. You could hypothetically create conditions tailored almost perfectly to your tastes, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Singleplayer Mode (9/10)
You can’t go wrong if you’re going it alone. While individual mechanics like combat are somewhat simplistic, the interactions between them, driven along by the game’s systems, create remarkable depth and complexity. It’s a profoundly engaging experience when you can sink your teeth into the problem-solving. Then, in a moment, it becomes a gleefully twisted, gory whirlwind of blood and bullets. It’s not perfect; the written humor is often hit-or-miss, and controls get a little fiddly when you have multiple followers. If you want them to operate at peak efficiency, you’ll want to equip each one with weapons, which can be a drag. It’s frustrating when optimal play also happens to be boring. But after 28 hours, Streets of Rogue has already become one of my favorite roguelikes. That alone speaks for itself.
Multiplayer Mode (7/10)
Everyone knows that too many cooks can spoil the broth. There’s a certain element of that in the multiplayer. Depending on who you’re playing with, the mayhem is doubled, tripled, or quadrupled by each additional player. More chaos is fun in its own right, but when I played, I felt a definite pressure (not to mention a literal timer if everyone’s hit the exit) to rush through everything, limiting my ability to craft dastardly schemes. This pressure comes as a result of the inevitable crapshoot that is multiplayer. Some people will align with your playstyle; some won’t. Even having mentioned all this, multiplayer could potentially be one of the best aspects of the game, depending on your luck. If you can get a friend to play with you, an accomplice to your sick whims, I’d certainly recommend it.
Dailies are where you get to see how the sausage is made. The dailies didn’t excite me. I’m still absorbed by choosing characters, discovering new things in the base game, and generally being distracted by shiny objects. That said, the concept is a smart one and a standard in the genre. The character requirements and gameplay alterations will undoubtedly maintain the replayability of the game as it settles into its post-launch lifespan. Thus, I’m scoring it the same as I would the base game. Is swapping character options for replayability an even trade for me right now? No. But I expect that will change once I’m more intimately familiar with the game and ready to branch out a bit more.
Here’s a quick snapshot of Streets of Rogue.
- Price: $19.99 USD
- Release Date: July 12, 2019
- Developer: Matt Dabrowski
- Publisher: tinyBuild
- Genre: Roguelike, Action and RPG Elements
- System Requirements:
- OS: Windows 7+, MAC OS X 10.9+, Ubuntu 12.04+
- Processor: Dual-Core Intel or AMD processor
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: DX9 (shader model 3.0) or DX11 with feature level 9.3 capabilities
- Storage: 320 MB available space
Everybody loves this game, and for a good reason. I’ve got my quibbles — the humor is sometimes meta without being self-aware, controls can be a little fiddly here and there, the soundtrack is repetitive in spots — but they are just quibbles. They can’t do much to undermine the quality of this silly, remarkably deep, compelling roguelike. Streets of Rogue is like a build-your-own pizza; so much of your enjoyment is driven by your choices. If you’re into roguelikes, you’re probably already playing this. But if by some cruel twist of fate, you haven’t gotten the opportunity, I heartily recommend Streets of Rogue.
Streets of Rogue Review Verdict
Game title: Streets of Rogue
Game description: A fast-paced top-down, 2D rogue-lite from developer Matt Dabrowski. Go lone werewolf in single-player or multiply the madness in multiplayer. This game is available on Windows, Linux, MAC, and Nintendo Switch.
Singleplayer - 9/10
Multiplayer - 7/10
Dailies - 8/10
A brilliant roguelike that puts player autonomy first. Fans of the genre will find it’s hard to put down; brewing chaos has rarely been this fun.
- 26 characters to choose from
- Experimentation driven gameplay
- Craft your own experience with Mutators
- Multiplayer is hit or miss
- Humor falls flat at times
- Commanding companions is finicky