Risk of Rain

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Hopoo Games and Chucklefish for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2013.
Risk of Rain begins with a long cargo ship – known as a “space train” – flying through space. We get a look at the interior of one of the cargo holds and see a fellow with a rather large sword appear and swing his weapon. Suddenly everything is burning and creatures are running around, and cargo begins falling down onto the planet below. You play as a survivor, fighting your way through hordes of enemies on the planet’s surface and using teleporters to move from location to location as the monsters in the area are destroyed.

The player’s character appears as a tiny sprite on a large playfield which soon becomes filled with enemies that spawn in all over the environment. The goal in each level is to locate and activate a teleporter, at which point a boss is spawned into the environment, along with a continuous stream of enemies. Survive for 90 seconds (120 seconds on the harder “monsoon” difficulty) and the enemies will stop spawning. Destroy the boss, and take out any remaining enemies, and you are free to teleport into the next area.

The basic gameplay template is very simple – and even the mechanics are very straightforward: move, jump, climb, and shoot – but the game is tough as nails, and the roguelike elements change everything…

First off, the game features permadeath, so getting killed sends you back to the start of the game. And this is not one of those games where repeated playthroughs eventually result in higher starting stats. No, here you lose everything, and each time you start a new session, you find yourself back in the first level with a paltry health bar and $15 in cash. It’s up to you to struggle your way back through the game and make better use of your skills and items next time.

The one bit of progress that you do keep is the ability for certain items to drop. As you encounter items in the game – or pick them up from defeated bosses – they are added to your item log and may appear as random drops or purchasable items on future playthroughs.

There are 100 items to be found across the game’s six levels, with the more powerful items appearing in later levels, allowing for a steady escalation as you inch ever deeper into the experience. Some items remain locked until certain requirements are met, as indicated in the Achievements interface. There are a handful of items that require you to actively use them, such as the ability to stop time for a few seconds, launch a barrage of missiles, or toss a bouncing brain. Only one of these items may be carried at a time, and they generally have long cooldown periods between each use.

However, most items are passive, and you can carry as many of these as you like. In addition, the effects of these items are stackable, so you can use them in conjunction with one another, or collect multiples of the same item to compound its effects. This is where things can get really nuts, particularly as you progress into later levels and the bottom of the screen is filled with a list of icons representing every passive item in your possession.

Items have a wide range of effects, such as faster healing, the ability to cause bonus damage when hitting an enemy, increased attack speed, the ability to hurt enemies that you touch, randomly causing enemies to explode when killed, the ability to damage enemies by falling on them, increased health when enemies are killed… and the list goes on and on. There are even items that act as supplemental weapons, with attacks offering random chances to launch a missile, fire a machine gun blast, or electrocute enemies.

Items may be collected in a variety of ways, but most of them require gold. Randomly distributed around the map are chests, each of which has a dollar figure associated with it. Spend the amount of money indicated, and the chest opens, allowing you to collect the item. There are also shops of sorts, where three items are displayed and you are free to purchase any one of them, while the other two disappear. Unfortunately, there is no indicator as to what each item does, so unless you’ve memorized the icon representations (which you may well do on repeated playthroughs), you won’t know what you’re spending your money on until you’ve picked it up.

Items may also be gained by completing challenges. By activating imp statues, a number of weak yet agile enemies are spawned. Take them all down within the time limit, and you are rewarded with an item. Fail, and you’ve just wasted your money.

Another helpful support item comes in the form of drones. Randomly placed around the game world are broken drones that can be repaired for a bit of money (or with the use of an item). Drones typically offer support fire, continuously blasting away with machine gun fire, missiles, or lasers, allowing you to stand your ground and unleash a heavy assault, or run away while still dealing damage to enemies behind you. One drone type can heal you as well, at least for as long as it is in operation.

Drones can take damage over time, eventually falling back into disrepair, at which point you can pay (a higher price) to reactivate them. Drones fall in the spot where they were destroyed, so you may find them quickly covered by approaching enemies, forcing you to clear the area to retrieve them, or leave them behind.

There are also shrines spread throughout the world that allow you to sacrifice some of your money – or health! – for the chance that an item will be dropped. Each time you try your luck, the price increases. At first, these may seem like a waste of your money, but when you start slaughtering enemies by the dozen, you may find your coffers filling quickly. Furthermore, money does not transfer from level to level (remaining money is converted to experience), so you are free to run around and do a bit of post-boss spending at the end of each level… just don’t take too long.

One of the primary features of Risk of Rain is its time-based difficulty meter. As you play, a meter in the upper right corner of the screen slowly starts to fill, and each time a segment of the meter is filled, the difficulty level rises. The game starts out with the Very Easy difficulty, but quickly escalates into Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, etc. Oh, and there are three difficulty levels above the Impossible setting, so good luck with that.

As the difficulty level increases, tougher and more numerous enemies will begin to spawn. You will also begin encountering variants of previous enemies that are granted new skills, such as the ability to move more quickly or launch projectiles. Occasionally, the game can even spawn a boss-class character into play without the player activating the teleporter, and many of the game’s bosses can pursue you to any point in the environment, requiring that you deal with them before moving on. Bosses, too, may appear in variant forms with new abilities.

Much of the strategy to completing the game comes down to balancing the time you spend powering up your character and collecting items versus moving forward between levels. Spend too much time running around in one level, and the next level will be all the more difficult. But if you just rush straight for the boss and dive into the next level, you may be too underpowered and find yourself quickly killed.

Since collected items are effect-type enhancements, rather than straightforward stat boosts, these are merely supplements to your core strength. In order to raise your basic stats, you must spend time killing enemies to gain experience and level up. Levelling up grants you a longer health meter and stronger attacks, which are very important when facing off against an ever-escalating onslaught of enemies. Killed enemies drop experience and money, and this may also be found by opening capsules scattered about the environment. Beyond brute strength and support items, you must rely on your core fighting abilities to survive.

Your starting character is the Commando, although nine additional unlockable characters await those who complete certain prerequisites. Each character has a different set of abilities, resulting in a wide range of play styles. Some characters are built around delivering fast attacks, while some are slower but more powerful, and some have a greater focus on up-close combat, while others are better at dealing damage at a distance or while on the run.

In any case, each character has four abilities, each assigned to a different button. Generally, there is one main weapon with moderate firepower that may be used as much as the player likes. All other abilities have cooldown periods, with longer cooldowns based on their power. This configuration requires skillful and strategic play, as no one powerful ability may be spammed. Players must take advantage of the environment to avoid or dodge attacks (many characters have specific dodge moves as one of their abilities), and pick off enemies from a distance when possible.

For instance, if you find yourself fighting a number of enemies who cannot jump, you may be able to lead them to a ledge, jump across, and hit them from afar. Taking advantage of the environment and dealing damage on the move is further rewarded by the fact that player health regenerates. So, finding a safe spot to take down enemies lets you deal damage while simultaneously regenerating health… but you can’t stand still for too long, as enemies continuously spawn until you kill the end-level boss.

In addition to the random spawning of enemies and placement of chests, there are random elements to the levels themselves. While the basic layout is the same in each instance, there are some nuances, such as various alcoves appearing within the level, reconfiguration of platforms, and your starting placement and the teleporter location are randomized as well. Each new level presents a new tileset, and you encounter many of these in random order as well.

In many cases, the tile changes are merely cosmetic, replacing platforms with other themes, or perhaps swapping ladders with ropes or vines. However, there are some instances where these changes present new obstacles, such as a volcano-themed environment that has pits of lava that cause continuous damage if you fall into them. There is also a level with a large underwater area, which offers slow falling speeds and numerous bottomless pits. In addition, some levels are more vertically-oriented while others are more horizontal, further impacting the player’s strategy as he attempts to deal with enemies, explore new areas, and flee from danger.

In the early going, players should not be surprised to find themselves repeatedly killed in just the first or second level. This may frustrate some less skilled players, but the simple foundation and engaging gameplay offer plenty of reasons for more skilled players to return to the fight and press their way forward. Players who stick with the game will develop better strategies, discover more helpful items, and unlock new playable characters that will eventually put them in sight of the end goal. And players don’t have to go it alone… the game features offline and online 4P co-op.

Risk of Rain was developed by Hopoo Games, a 2-person studio made up of Paul Morse and Duncan Drummond, both of whom were students at the University of Washington during the game’s development. Paul is the lead designer and Duncan is the programmer and artist. Music for the game was composed by Chris Christodoulou. The game was created using GameMaker 8.1 and was funded via Kickstarter.

The game was published by Chucklefish, developer of Starbound and publisher of Tresure Adventure World by Robit Studios, Wanderlust Adventures and Wanderlust Rebirth by Yeti Trunk, and Stardew Valley by Eric Barone.