If you’re active in the PC gaming community, you may have noticed a ten-dollar title named ‘Risk of Rain’ climbing up the ‘Best Sellers’ list on Steam. This independent platformer was made entirely by two college students using MS Paint and the entry-level game creation tool ‘GameMaker,’ and it has been one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in the past year.
Paul Morse and Duncan Drummond, the game’s creators, met through the University of Washington, where they study Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering, respectively. The duo took their game idea to Kickstarter, asking for $7,000 to pay for music contracting and quality assurance. Their demo’s polish, difficulty, and addictive nature sparked a storm of interest, and by the time their campaign ended, it had pulled in over four times its initial goal.
Their brainchild, Risk of Rain, is a 2-D action RPG that pulls no punches in terms of difficulty. You play as the sole survivor of an interstellar ship crash, trying to fight your way off of a planet that seeks to kill you by any means necessary. Inexperienced players will probably die within their first five minutes planetside, and even the most seasoned veterans find escaping the terrors of the alien world difficult.
The game draws inspiration from the Roguelike genre that has recently taken the gaming world by storm. This means that every time you begin an expedition, the world around you is different. You pick up cash by killing the planet’s hostile life forms, and spend it to repair military drones to assist you, or to unlock treasure chests. These chests contain random treasures that drastically change your character’s capabilities, giving you boons like life regeneration, limited flight, or the ability to stun enemies using special attacks. As time elapses on the planet, the game’s difficulty increases exponentially, meaning that speed is crucial to your survival.
When your character dies, they do not respawn. Your next expedition will put you back to square one, leaving you with nothing but the knowledge and skill you gained last time. By completing challenges, like slaying bosses within a time limit or locating other humans surviving on the planet, you can unlock additional items and new classes to play as, each with wholly unique traits and abilities, giving you more options the further into the game you go.
Roguelike nature notwithstanding, Risk of Rain is an excellent experience in its own right. The combat feels snappy and responsive, and when you hit your stride, every attack feels powerful and satisfying. Both online and local co-op are supported, and while adding more players doesn’t affect the number of enemies you face, the fact that power-ups and experience must be split between survivors keeps the combat balanced. Every time you die, you gain a little experience, and it never feels like the game is at fault for your failure.
Risk of Rain’s music and sound design are impeccable, instilling a sense of adventure and dread with every changing scene. Enemies sound vicious and menacing, and noted game musician Chris Christodoulou’s soundtrack strikes the perfect balance between traditional sci-fi electronic and frantic rock-and-roll. Aesthetically, the game is beautiful, with crisp pixel art that magnifies beautifully to any screen size. Enemies and characters are distinct, and every tiny sprite has its own personality.
The most powerful part of this game, however, is its cruelty and relentlessness. In the most popular games of the last generation, we have stepped into the shoes of war gods. Our characters have stopped alien invasions, shouted thousand-year-old dragons to death, and shrugged off countless mortal bullet wounds by simply squatting behind cover for a moment or two. When these gods die, they can turn back time and try again, without any consequence to the player at all.
Games like Risk of Rain ask us to play in a world in which we are not the invincible hero, a world that doesn’t forgive our mistakes. They ask us to live with the consequences of our actions, and allow ourselves to feel helpless. There are no 1-ups on this planet. There are no checkpoints. There are no killstreaks, no hospitals, and no fresh soldiers ready to pick up your weapon and fight on.
There is just a single survivor, making their way through a hostile world, trying desperately to get back home. That’s enough for me.
Risk of Rain does everything right, from combat to visual design to music, and the random elements it uses makes it almost infinitely replayable. I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of this ten-dollar title than any other game this year, and foresee myself playing it for a long time to come. If you’re looking for an alternative gaming experience, and don’t mind a demanding learning curve, I would highly recommend purchasing this game.
I give Risk of Rain a 10 out of 10.