Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike – Review

Title   Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike
Developer  Hippomancer
Publisher  Hippomancer
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Action, FPS, RPG, Roguelike
Release Date  April 25, 2014
Official Site

Roguelike games are hot property in the games industry; the risk of permanent death, combined with procedurally-generated levels are an enticing prospect for most gamers. They have been getting increasingly popular too, with hits such as The Binding of Isaac and Don’t Starve. It isn’t often that I get involved in this sort of genre; it’s terribly unforgiving and I miss my well-worn quick-save function. The intrigue and promise of a real challenge, however, has worn away my concerns over the last few years, and I’ve dipped my little toe (not the big one, let’s not get silly now) into the vast array of roguelikes – that is to say I’ve played a few, they’re good fun and I want to play more.

Cue Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike, a first-person roguelike that really doesn’t take itself too seriously. Imagine if Borderlands, XIII and Don’t Starve had some sort of three-way bastard child and you’d probably get close to what this game represents. Also imagine that all those games were set in the mid-90s because this game has a very retro feel to it from the offset.

In Rogue Shooter, you are one of countless people trying to reach the 100th floor of Helios Station, a space-station that has become overrun by aliens, monsters, robots and, apparently, carnivorous vegetables. On every floor you will be required to kill at least fifty percent of the enemies in order to unlock the quarantine door and proceed up a level. No wonder this place went to shit, if the quarantine system is only worried about half the abnormalities in the room. “Is that rare strain of airborne penicillin-resistant gonorrhea still being detected on Floor 65?” “Only about 35% of the air is contaminated?” “Well, fuck me, better open the doors up and get back to work then.”

With fifty percent of the threat neutralised you can choose to travel to the next floor or stay and kill the rest of the opposition. This will yield more experience points and more goodies to collect and, although I have never made a mad dash for the exit yet, there were a couple of occasions when running away would have been the smarter option. Every four floors you have a safe room where you can fix items and replenish your health and ammo on your ascent to the top floor.

Like many roguelikes, you have plenty of options prior to the game even starting, although many of these are locked when the game first begins and can only be unlocked with intel. For the most part, intel is found laying around the rooms and all intel points work towards unlocking different character classes, enemy weaknesses, combinations for creating item types and, finally, upgrading permanent statistics like health, damage and inventory slots. Those final three statistics mean that if you’re struggling to get past the first twenty floors, with repeated attempts it should get easier to reach new areas.

Before starting, you have to pick your character, with each one having different starting rations, credits and tools. Rations are consumed at a rate of three each level, and no having no rations will see you become hungry, making your movement sluggish and your firing accuracy as poor as a politician’s promise. Stay fed people, you’ll be worse than shit without food in your tummy. Credits are used at vending machines in the safe rooms in order to purchase ammo, rations, tools, or better weapons and armour. The choices are limited to one gun or one piece of armour though, and although they’re always more powerful, they aren’t anything you won’t find for free on the floor at some stage or another. Finally, tools are used to repair weapons and armour, all of which degrades at varying rates, depending on what they are.

Picking your starting character isn’t too difficult at first as your choices are limited but open up over time. Before long you’ll have standard choices like The Marine, who comes with a machine gun and plenty of ammo, and the Lawman who is packing a shotgun and pistol, but has no credits or tools. The there are the more wacky choices such as The Ninja, with her katana and cloaking device, and The Inventor, with his Shotgun Trident and masses of tools. Each provides a slight variation on proceedings and at least makes the first few levels a little bit different.

You can also choose one perk when you begin. Again, only five are available to begin with but, by the end of a couple of attempts, you should have unlocked them all. These perks are very well balanced and never feel like massive game-changers. I don’t enjoy perks that totally flip the game on its head and I’ve always gone for different ones on each attempted run, in order to see what works best. Having your radar cover a larger area is certainly beneficial, as is the increased ten percent chance of a critical hit, but you may want to get a bigger inventory and increased chance to find more ammo.

You’re given one perk point to spend every second time you level up, meaning that you’re not going to be able to get them all that quickly; the furthest I’ve currently reached in the game is floor twenty-six and I only had around five or six of the twenty possible perks. Overall, the role-playing, aspect of the game is good, if not a little simplistic. There isn’t a great deal of depth but there is enough to occupy the majority of people, with classes, perk options and the promise of stuff to unlock.

Enough about perks and statistics, though, this is an FPS, after all, what about the guns? Well, on any given floor I averaged picking up two or three items, either weapons or armour, although due to limited inventory space, I couldn’t always keep them and had to discard bits and pieces, meaning a decision had to be made as to what to hang onto. Do you keep only one type of weapon and spend all your money on ammo for it, or do you try and carry an array of weapons but sacrifice spare armour and items?

The types of weapons you get are certainly plentiful: pistols, revolvers, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, rocket launchers and katanas being among the more routine choices, many of which can all have effects such as causing fire damage or poison. Of course, there are other more exotic weapons you can try, such as the Quicksand Launcher, which literally launches quicksand at the feet of your enemies in order to get rid of them. Perhaps you’ll use the pistol-sized nuclear missile launcher, or the always popular Shotgun Trident, which fires a shotgun round and then stabs the poor target in the face with Poseidon’s favourite eating utensil. If all else fails, you’ve got your big boot, very much inspired by the kick function from Duke Nukem.

If guns aren’t your thing, then perhaps you’ll keep the weaponry simple and focus on building up an array of fun items to play with. These include different types of grenades, a decoy clone, a cloaking device, a teleporter and a personal shield. Or you could always work on becoming a drug stim addict and inject yourself with various buffs and boosters.

As with everything else in Rogue Shooter thus far, the weaponry and items are fun but lack a certain amount of depth. If you’ve played Borderlands, then you’ll know that once you’ve got past a couple of the novelty weapons you’re going to be craving the crazy-named guns and the countless statistics attached to them. All Rogue Shooter’s guns can offer, however, is a plus symbol with a number next to it – the higher the number, the better the weapon. The fact that the weapons degrade means that unless you keep some spanners handy you’ll be having to switch weapons as the old ones break, meaning that you won’t find one gun and stick with it forever. The only real complaint I have is that because I can only handle two weapons at once, I can’t easily switch to weapon three or four. If I run out of ammo during a firefight this is extremely frustrating because I’m left trying to navigate in a menu while someone beats my skull in.

The opposition suffers a similar sort of fate to the weaponry. There is certainly an array of enemies, and they do have different tactics and weaknesses, which is key for a roguelike – perhaps more-so than regular games, but once you’ve fought one bomb-throwing robot, you’ve fought them all. The opposition certainly becomes a royal pain in the arse when you start hitting higher levels; the sheer volume in such tight corridors means you’ll likely need a weapon with a higher rate of fire than anything else. Luckily it seems most of the monsters are deaf, so even if you fire off a few rounds, only a selection of the enemies on that floor will hear you. This is as much a criticism as it is a welcome relief. The opposition feels very samey after a while and I get the impression that I’ve seen everything the game has to offer after twenty or so floors. Aside from the enemies that disrupt my radar, that only move when I move, or whose single purpose is to shield other enemies, it’s a case of circle strafe and lay down as much fire as I can.

This repetition hurts most in the level design because, despite being procedurally generated, there isn’t enough variation to really mean that I notice the difference. I know the layout is different but if they took floor five and gave me exactly the same colour scheme, design and layout on floor ten I wouldn’t notice. Hell, for all I know, that’s exactly what they are doing. It isn’t a deal-breaker, by any means, but it’s still something I’ve noticed after a couple of hours. The Binding of Isaac had a slightly similar problem but at least that had some sort explanation as you progressed further down the rabbit hole. Here, the cafeteria and the medical bay have exactly the same colour scheme, and yet wedged in between them is the engineering level, which boats a different design.

The graphics don’t help cover up the repetitive nature of the level design, either. You can see what they’ve gone for in trying to replicate something from the nineties, and this game looks remarkably like Wolfenstein or Doom; the difference there, however, is that the enemy design fitted the aesthetics of the environment. In Doom, you fought against the denizens of hell and this was mirrored in the slightly scary design, the sounds they made and how they reacted to the player. I don’t have any problem with the retro aesthetic at all – I was, and remain today, a huge fan of nineties gaming – it’s what I grew up playing, but most of the enemies look like something I’d find in a children’s cartoon – they’re too bright and colourful for this sort of setting. They also don’t seem to make any sound at all (if they do, I’m missing them over the noises of gunfire and death). The other reason you notice the drab graphics here but not in something like Doom is because in Doom (or Duke Nukem), you’re always going somewhere – to collect a key, to get to an exit to do something – here, you’re just looking for things to kill, in corridors that look the same, in a layout that is vaguely familiar.

It isn’t just the visuals that are somewhat lacking, though – the sound is also an issue. The music that plays during the elevator sequence between levels had me reaching for the mute button inside the first couple of minutes, and most of the music during the levels actually had me thinking “this sounds like Doom” before I’d even started analysing the level aesthetics. That said, while it is pretty repetitive, it’s fairly inoffensive to the ears, with my only major complaint being that at some points the music just seemed to stop outright. I’d then be left with a few minutes of silence, which seemed strange. Perhaps the man on the other end of the internet was flipping the cassette onto the B side.

For all of my quibbles about the graphics and audio though, I can’t knock the replayability. I’m itching to get back to it and try and reach a higher level, find out what lies on the hundredth floor and just what the hell is going on. The game has four difficulty settings and I’m trying to crack it on medium. Thus far, there is still at least half the content for me to unlock and, with the role-playing elements to permanently level me up, I won’t be putting this down till I’ve completed it.

Despite a lack of depth and my issues with the graphics and audio, this game is greater than the sum of its individual parts. I want people to play this game because, as the first outing for Hippomancer, it’s a commendable effort. It isn’t going to win any awards or set the gaming world alight, but it’s certainly worth a look for anyone who enjoys roguelikes or first-person shooters. The experience as a whole should take around six to eight hours to complete, and now that the developers have patched in the ability to save your game and come back to it later, you’re getting plenty of content for your money.

  • A very solid roguelike experience
  • Fun weapons
  • Good RPG elements
  • Plenty of content for your money
  • Repetitive levels
  • Poor audio
  • Lack of depth in weaponry

I really enjoyed Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike. Although the game could probably do with some more depth in the weaponry and enemy areas, and some polish on the audio, I can’t deny the fun I’ve had with it. When the game comes together, those points really don’t matter that much, because all you’ll be focused on is trying to stay alive and reach the hundredth floor. Bravo to Hippomancer for a good first stab; there has never been a better time to be making games that serve a very particular niche, and Rogue Shooter is a solid entry into the halls of roguelike adventures.

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