Player choice is one of those buzzwords you hear in almost every E3 game pitch, and yet it’s generally followed up by a story-driven game that leaves little wiggle room for the player to have an actual impact on outcome. These choices may amount to a few different dialogue options, or perhaps you’ll get a legendary item that isn’t mentioned or noticed by anyone, ever. In the end, though, you’re doing exactly what was intended by the designers to continue the narrative in place. Developer Matt Dabrowski’s major game release, Streets of Rogue, flips this notion on its head.
Released in Early Access on PC back in 2017, Streets of Rogue is a roguelike dungeon crawler that does away with a cohesive story in favor of giving the player ridiculous control over the gameplay experience. Set in a dystopian future where society is now living in one giant tower, you’ve suddenly decided to join the Resistance and climb the tower in order to overthrow the corrupt mayor. It’s a story in name alone with practically zero substance behind it, but it’s just meant to be a serviceable reason for the player to move forward with the dungeon crawling.
As a roguelike, gameplay is centered around climbing as high as possible in the tower before inevitably reaching a grim fate and starting all over again. Starting off, you pick one of a handful of characters, each with their own unique playstyle and gameplay mechanics, along with a special Big Quest that can be completed for extra experience on each floor. Those playstyles and quests can be wildly different, to the point of absurdity, and this is where Streets of Rogue truly shines.
For instance, the hacker has very little in the way of combat, but he can hack and manipulate any electronic object in order to turn them in his favor. This could be the security systems of a bank firing at the owners, or perhaps receiving a discount on a specific vending machine. His Big Quest has you installing malware on a computer in each floor, which then releases some very displeased robots who hunt you down. Alternatively, playing as a gangster allows you to recruit a group of fellow members and then accomplish missions through sheer numbers. His Big Quest has you wipe out the rival gang on each floor so that yours reigns supreme. In total, there are 24 unique characters to play, along with slots to create your own custom characters if nothing suits your playstyle.
Outside of the classes, each time you level up, you can choose one more trait for your character at the end of the current floor. These traits may boost your hacking speed, make you harder to see, or even give you some money at the start of every floor. This is where some might consider this game more of a rogue-lite, as these traits are unlocked between runs using the standard international currency of Chicken Nuggets. You can also spend those Nugs to unlock alternative mission rewards or better starting equipment for one run. These options don’t necessarily make you stronger as time goes on, but do add a bit more variety and choice to each playthrough.
Environments are entirely destructible, most items can be interacted with (given the correct tools), and all NPCs have something to offer the player via recruitment, sales, or bribes. You are given two or three random missions to complete per floor, and then you are able to take the elevator and level up. The sandbox in which you play feels so malleable that it’s sometimes overwhelming. I know I need to neutralize this bar owner, but should I blow down the wall and shoot him, or perhaps should I just threaten him into submission? Maybe I can hack his electronics in the back room, knock on the door and have the machines take him out. If I’m a cop, I can simply walk up and arrest him if no one is looking. It’s these choices that will give the game so much replay value, and I found myself trying every character to see what I could do differently for each level.
I found my most major success with the gorilla. It sounds like a silly class, and that’s because it is. The gorilla has maximum stats on everything except for firearms, but he’s unable to talk to any humans, so money is worthless to you. His Big Quest has you free all the other gorillas from the evil scientists, and they would then join your side for a gorilla squad bent on the destruction of logic. As a player, I just wanted to get quests done with brute force, and I rarely dealt with the markets anyways, so playing a class that emphasized power and speed made a whole lot of sense. It worked out so well that I actually moved up to the top tier of the tower on the first playthrough with my gorilla brethren, which was mind-boggling since I’d been stuck on level 3 for literal hours prior.
There is a balance to this endless wonder, though, since the simplistic graphical style may not appeal to everyone. As someone who plays a lot of high-budgeted AAA titles, the graphics in Streets of Rogue were a difficult hurdle to cross. Everything is set on a flat plane with very little definition given to buildings or NPCs, much akin to games like Prison Architect or Dwarf Fortress. In a similar sense, these games forego complex graphics in favor of complex interactions and gameplay. It can take some adjustment, but the rewarding nature of player agency more than makes up for the lack of three dimensions.
Living in a foreign land, I mostly played Streets of Rogue as a solo experience, even though the game has a multiplayer option that would probably turn the chaos up to remarkable levels. Alone, some classes can feel a bit more restrictive than others, but nothing seems impossible, and that’s the beauty of this package. At just 20 American dollars, this game is available on all current platforms, and I’m not sure why every soul doesn’t own at least one copy.
Streets of Rogue has the heart and complexity rivaling any major release, even without a story to back it up. If you’ve got the hard drive space, there’s no reason not to pick it up immediately.