Risk of Rain: Permadeath

Your spaceship crashes on an alien planet after some guy with a crazy sword does some serious dirt to your engines. You survive, but so do the creatures your ship was transporting. Unfortunately those creatures hate you. Also, it was a very big ship.

Risk of Rain is a game of survival as you’re constantly being set upon by hordes of enemies. To increase the likelihood of your survival you’ll need to explore the game’s enormous, randomly generated maps and mow down monsters to collect money and experience. Experience is used to level-up but money is used to purchase an array of items, each ranging in effect from “useful” to “lasers all of the time.” And you’ll need as many lasers as possible, because Risk of Rain’s difficulty gradually intensifies over time.

Risk of Rain isn’t a game solely about stacking up the bodies though. There’s a hefty amount of strategy involved, too. If you want to last more than a few minutes you’re going to have to be nimble, learn when to back away from a fight and learn what the plethora of unique upgrades do. The only way out of a level is to defeat the boss, which you must summon by activating its shrine. Therefore, you have to negotiate a tradeoff. Will you spend time exploring and gathering items, allowing the difficulty to increase? Or will you make for the boss and push on to the next level? A lot is at stake, as a single death means the end of your run.

Risk of Rain is a rare breed of pixelated beauty both intricately detailed and minimalist. The environments and diminutive character sprites are sparse on detail but this only serves to make the larger creatures you face, particularly the boss creatures, seem all the more embellished and intimidating. The soundtrack, which ranges from peaceful to appropriately hectic, does wonders in setting the tone.

One of Risk of Rain’s greatest achievements is that you can just sit down and play it; the control scheme isn’t complex at all. You have three main attacks and an evasive maneuver, each of which differs between the various unlockable classes. The game’s default class, the Commando, has a roll that shields from damage, increasing his survivability. The Enforcer, on the other hand, can block damage and stun foes, denying their advances. Despite the simplicity of the controls it’s not hard to see how class combinations could add layers of depth to not only Risk of Rain’s single player but its online multiplayer as well. And online multiplayer is where the game really shines, despite some glaring shortcomings.

There’s no matchmaking in Risk of Rain; online play must be set-up manually. Before you can host a game online you’ll need to open the appropriate ports on your router. Opening a port isn’t necessarily difficult or time consuming – instructions for most routers are widely available online – but it’s also not the most straightforward process either. Further complicating the issue is that in order to connect to a game you’ll need to know the host’s IP address. The lack of a searchable server browser means there’s no real option to join a pick-up game.

Once you’re actually in an online game, though, Risk of Rain runs rock solid with a consistent frame rate and little noticeable lag. This makes the somewhat cumbersome and archaic processes that hinder the accessibility of the online features all the more tragic. There is, after all, little more exhilarating in Risk of Rain than turning the already frenetic pacing of single player up a notch with the addition of an ally. You just have to get to it first.

Risk of Rain also supports local co-op, though limiting multiple players to a single screen makes for a chaotic, frustrating experience. This is largely because the level design in Risk of Rain is as horizontally oriented as it is vertically. This means that if a player falls from a great height they are pushed off-screen until the player upon whom the camera is focusing can find them. Additionally neither player can see what upgrades they’ve collected in local co-op, making strategizing all the more difficult.

Risk of Rain has its fair share of problems but at its core, whether played solo or online, it’s chaotic, frantic fun. The mixture of randomized levels, item upgrades and class combinations make each run feel completely different but never unfair. Even though my progress was reset with each death, I still felt like I was getting better at the game. I knew Risk of Rain had me when I immediately wanted to dive back in and apply that knowledge.