Roguelikes/lites are ten a penny these days, and not all of them great, but I’m quietly impressed with the direction and ambition of Streets of Rogue, which is available to play now as an impressively featured alpha demo. Inspired by genre classics The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne (aren’t they all?!), as well as the RPG elements of games like Deus Ex and Fallout, it has shunned the dungeon in favour of a procedurally-generated city.
A living, breathing city where its many denizens, from all walks of life, go about their daily business – shopkeepers, bar tenders, doctors, scientists, cops, slave traders, bums and criminals, to name just a few. And for the most part, unless provoked, they’ll leave you alone to explore the streets and establishments in peace.
Streets of Rogue throws you into a randomised area of this city and gives you missions to complete such as stealing specific items, neutralising or rescuing certain persons, or just activating things. Once completed, you can move up to the next floor; die and you start again from scratch, after all this is a roguelite. How you go about achieving these objectives is entirely up to you.
Sneaky folks can quietly steal keys and safe combinations, hack computers, bribe or threaten guards, and drug people. You can even create distractions by knocking on doors and windows, tampering with generators, and releasing prisoners. Those who prefer a less subtle approach can shoot their way into buildings, setting door charges, blowing holes in walls and, my personal favourite, shoving nasty chemicals into ventilation systems. You can even hire NPCs to fight alongside you.
Currently, there are 20 playable characters (there will be over 40 in the full game), each with their own backstories, unique attributes and initial loadouts, with more traits made available as you level them up. Who you choose will have a strong bearing on how you approach the game.
For instance, the assassin is a master of stealth and silent kills but poor at direct combat. The thief can pickpocket and has an array of gadgets but will be chased out of most places for being “suspicious” looking (that would be the stripy top!). The vampire is invisible to cameras but can only restore health by drinking blood. The shapeshifter can possess other people and use their abilities, but the police will shoot him on sight (well, he is naked!). Gangsters can take on more than one follower and enlist homies for free, but they need to avoid rivals if they don’t want a gang war.
And then there are all the items to be looted, purchased or rewarded with. There are numerous guns and melee weapons, including non-lethal options, and a variety of explosives. There are lock picks, skeleton keys, tools, armour and all manner of fancy and curious gadgets such as short-range teleporters and ammo processors. Plus, you’ve got various health items and drugs that bestow both positive and negative status effects, though unidentified syringes are a bit of a gamble to say the least – best get those checked out by a scientist first.
As such, Streets of Rogue is more Syndicate, GTA or even Hitman than dungeon crawler. It’s a sandbox where the emphasis is on player freedom, emergent gameplay and anarchic fun. The plethora of playable characters, weapons and items (there’s already a wiki!) allows for very different playstyles and experiences, and I should imagine this will give it a massive amount of replayability. I’ve certainly had a blast messing around with the demo.
The current build also features two-player split-screen co-op, with developer Matt Debrowski working on extending this to online. Each character will also have their own story quest, and there are plans for an Enter the Gungeon-style home base where you’ll be able to unlock things, skip levels, activate mutators, etc.