A permadeath game with tangible progression, delightful characters and dialogue, and satisfying combat, RAD is yet another win for Double Fine.
The post-apocalypse is a crazy place, so it would stand that the post-post-apocalypse is even crazier. Your typical wasteland is a place filled with mutants, roaming the remnants of civilization. It should be bleak, but the world of RAD is far from it; its '80s-inspired punk levels are everything we've come to expect from Double Fine: wacky and original.
RAD follows the story of a group of teenagers who hope to restore their barren home to its former glory. To do so, they'll have to journey into the "Fallow," a monster-occupied, radiated zone. The world is uncompromising, the enemies difficult. And when the player dies, they die permanently. Without the context of Double Fine's signature humor (think Psychonauts), this again, all sounds dark and scary and is anything but.
After selecting from a series of characters (unlockable ones with certain perks/gameplay modifiers), the player is thrown into a hub world. This area not only provides a much-needed break from the constant hack-n-slash fear of the Fallow, but also some genuinely fun interactions and useful inventory management. As RAD is a permadeath game, the hub acts as a place to store tapes (the currency) collected in each procedurally-generated level. So each time the player manages to survive, they can hold on to that cash; when they eventually do die (and they will) their next character can access that bank.
But with this lack of risk comes a lack of reward. The game's shops are located in the levels of the Fallow, meaning that in order to make purchases, the player will need to at least bring some of their tapes with them. Of course if they die, their money follows them to the grave. It's a fun concept in a game filled with interesting and satisfying spins on the genre.
RAD's primary conceit is this: because your teenage protagonist is entering a highly radiated zone, they quickly become mutated, developing strange abilities. Thank goodness for that, because you'll need all the assistance you can get to combat the mutants of the Fallow. Players might get the head of a snake, which can snap out and attack enemies at a distance, or grow wings to jump higher. It's completely random and wonderfully goofy.
The first power is gained with ease, after defeating a few enemies in the first "world," but other subsequent powers take more experience to acquire. Players have to strike a balance between fighting all the enemies and risking their tiny health pool or avoiding conflict and the prize of a step closer to a new ability. If they choose the latter, they'll likely be fighting mostly with their trusty baseball bat. The main means of combat allows you to swing, doge, "ground pound," and charge attack, and can defeat most enemies with a few well-placed whacks. At least at lower levels, and bosses are another story.
Each level in RAD follows more or less the same pattern: defeat as many enemies as you want, but make sure to clear the ones around activation points. These places open up part of a door leading to the final boss fight: a suped-up mutant with a lot of health and a couple baddies by their side. To fight them, you'll have to expertly use your ability and your bat, and really know the timing of their attacks. Thankfully, your bat can be upgraded and shared with new characters, giving them an advantage right from the start.
Unlike some other permadeath games, RAD isn't constantly oppressive. It lets you breath and take in the world. And if you want to take a break from the main story, there's always the side mode: Daily Challenges. These allow players to see how they compare to friends (and strangers) as they take on levels with predetermined quirks. It's a solid pseudo-multiplayer component that feels right at home in the world of RAD.
It's a world of possibilities, odd characters, and apocalyptic, yet beautiful levels. Their jagged cliffs and toxic lakes are bursting with color, the punk-rock teens with personality. Accompanied by a killer soundtrack that feels at home with John Carpenter or Tangerine Dream, players will be ready to hop back into a new game after each death screen. Hopefully it will go better this time, but the outcome is never known.
And that's the key to RAD: the unknown. The player's powers are randomly-generated, and so is the world they step in to. But each is beautifully animated and exciting to use and explore. You'll die A LOT, but the game gives you so much each playthrough that you can feel forward progress. Your bank account will grow, allowing you to purchase new items. You'll get stronger, more aware of enemy attacks. You'll get radder.
RAD is available for $19.99 on Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a digital PS4 code for the purpose of this review.