Rollerdrome can accurately be described as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with guns. The latest from Roll7, developer of the OlliOlli series, Rollerdrome is a score-based arena shooter, but on roller skates. The game tasks you with skating and shooting your way past “House Players,” enemies decked out in spiked armor that would feel at home in Mad Max. The presentation of the game, from the clean, cel-shaded art to the pumping synth soundtrack, is designed to lock you into the thrill of the titular bloodsport.
In the fiction of Rollerdrome, which is set in an alternate-dimension 2030, this is a massively popular televised sport. You can see why: It’s honestly beautiful to watch protagonist Kara Hassan get massive air off a half-pipe, nose grab, then pull out a pump shotgun and knock a sniper off their perch, all in one fluid motion. In a skilled player’s hands, Hassan’s runs through the game’s varied arenas look like an art as much as a murder spree.
This is a game that feels good to play, which is important, given Rollerdrome’s more serious narrative. Gunplay and skating feed into each other, mechanically: Tricks get you more bullets, and bullets get you fewer enemies, which in turn helps you do more tricks, which finally allows you to clear out even more enemies. It’s frenetic, compelling, and surprisingly easy to parse, which is important as bullets fly by, requiring you to dodge at the last second. Doing so activates Rollerdrome’s version of bullet time, Super Reflex, which makes even the simplest kickflip look like something out of the Matrix. [Editor’s note: We now realize that you can’t really do a kickflip in roller skates, and apologize for the error. The grenade launcher distracted us.] From start to finish, the gameplay is as hypnotic as it is difficult. You will, undoubtedly, immediately retry a stage right after beating it, sure that you can kickflip over a baddie with dual pistols blazing just a little better, since you just barely missed A-rank.
Rollerdrome wants you to have an absolute blast, and it succeeds. Rollerdrome also wants you to know that the “blast” you are having is in service of Matterhorn, a monolithic corporation that is growing increasingly friendly with a fascist police state, and every run you complete helps that corporation perfect its growing arsenal of weaponry, which they are, of course, selling to the police — a fact that has not escaped the public’s perception, leading to a violent uprising of the working class, a coalition that includes some Rollerdrome participants like yourself, who, it is revealed at the start of the game, enter the sport of Rollerdrome by paying a six-figure fee, racking up life-ruining debt that the corporation hangs over them as both threat and promise that they can never, ever leave the Rollerdrome.
But good luck remembering that when you’re wall-riding with a grenade launcher in your hands!
Rollerdrome’s narrative portions are sequestered from its gameplay. Occasionally, you find yourself in the locker room before the game, or on a train traveling to the next round of the competition, reading notes, letters, and conspicuously unguarded memos written by evil capitalists. What you’re reading is all very concerning, but the game part of the game, the part where you have fun, is all whoosh, pow, and whatever the onomatopoeia is for rail grinding. It is entirely possible, in the heat of a Rollerdrome run, to forget you are testing weapons and killing (possibly?) prisoners or some other disadvantaged class of people in the game’s near-future dystopia. It’s too fun! It’s way, way, way too fun!
At first blush, it seems like the two sides of Rollerdrome aren’t talking to each other. The seriousness of the story isn’t in sync with the pure adrenaline candy of its gameplay. Unlike Inscryption or Papers, Please — other games that make you think about what it is you are doing — Rollerdrome’s gameplay appears not to reinforce the critical, political narrative, but to obscure it. But the more I played, the more it made sense that entering the Rollerdrome would erase all but my adrenaline and desire to win. If Rollerdrome, the in-fiction sport of Rollerdrome, weren’t this much fun to play or to watch, how could it possibly overshadow the machinations of faceless monoliths who wish to control and subdue the public into a state of surrender? Rollerdrome must then be so fun to play that one wouldn’t want to dissent, even if one were so inclined.
So, anyway, yeah, Rollerdrome is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with a gun, but it’s also a commentary on the capacity of violent entertainment to dull our senses to the violence in our actual lives. Good luck remembering that when you’re chasing an S-rank score.
Rollerdrome was released on Aug. 16 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a pre-release download code provided by Deep Silver. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.