“Rad” from the outset feels a bit like a cheesy sequel to a 1980s movie that never happened. This time, the setting isn’t post-apocalyptic. It’s post-post-apocalyptic — bigger, better and with even crazier mutants. Imagine the tagline: It’s the “Rad” you knew and loved but now more radder.
Coming from the Bay Area’s recent Microsoft acquisition Double Fine Presents, “Rad” is steeped in the studio’s penchant for corny but biting humor, which has long been one of the developer’s chief selling points. Light touches, such as ATM machines still requesting member status even when the world has gone to hell, are worth a laugh, as are in-game “Respirators,” giant machines designed to grow grass and plants in an effort to reengineer life rather than change habits.
Welcome, too, are the light nods to humanity’s inability to act with reason in the face of climate change. No, it’s not exactly “Snowpiercer,” but “Rad” uses its ’80s-era aesthetic to have fun with that period’s obsession with radioactivity-induced abnormalities.
So far after a few hours with the game, I’ve only uncovered a few of the 90 or so randomly generated mutations listed by the game’s menu, such as the vampire-like power to use others’ wounds for health, the ability to turn my arm into a fireball-inducing flamethrower and the bonus of my sweat turning into toxic sludge that will stop the insect-like outsized monsters who are coming after me. For the latter, expect to encounter some neon-blue roaches (they’re plentiful), gelatinous blobs that adapted to extreme heat by learning how to live off magma and the evolution of tiny skin parasites into enormous, spiky-haired crabs.
At the outset, we’re allowed to choose from a host of preset ’80s-inspired characters; I went with the “Valley Girl.” Everyone’s weapon of choice seems to be a baseball bat. Die and the world resets, putting our trusty teenage hero at the start to venture back into the wasteland on a mission to restore life and power. Each map, which we view from above, is regenerated at random, and the worlds are, impressively, drastically different from run to run, with obstacles to bat or jump over and encounters with weirdos, such as the dude who gives a beer (it restores life, of course).
Though I wasn’t excited to travel back to the ’80s yet again, it’s clear that “Rad” didn’t choose this era at, well, random. In terms of recent history, the ’80s increasingly feel like a pivotal moment, when the difference between the haves and the have-nots became more obviously pronounced and when growing awareness around climate change — the well-publicized discovery, for instance, of the increased threat to the ozone — wasn’t met with the necessary action.
An underlying theme of “Rad” is to leave the problems for the next generation to solve, and the kids, as the game progresses, start to wonder why the elders have nice homes compared with their tattered tents. Why, indeed, when the older generation is the one that messed up this whole planet?
As this awareness creeps into the game, you probably don’t want to be on the receiving end of the ire of the age group that has evolved to shoot fireballs out of its arms.
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Developer: Double Fine Presents
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PCs