Follow The Curves
Everyone's taste is subjective. However, there are no two ways around it, rock and roll remain one of the most popular genres of music. Yet in some distant, dystopic, future, rock and roll is illegal and all music is based in EDM. No Straight Roads presents that future and the rebels that are trying to change it. I got a chance to try out the first two boss fights from the game, and this is a road I'll follow despite the curves.
The game focuses on a pair of wannabe rockstars named Mayday and Zuke. They audition to get picked up by massive government/recording company NSR, but the company decides they don't want them. It doesn't help when Mayday believes NSR didn't give them a fair shot, NSR puts out a message saying all rock is now illegal, and finally shuts power off to everyone except the NSR elite. So the two decide to rock out for justice, fighting NSR's top acts along the way.
Of what I saw, the concept is pretty fun, managing to hit a good bit of comedy. Mayday and Zuke play off of each other well, and each of the musicians they meet has great personalities. On the other hand, I am worried that several of the cutscenes seemed to run for just way too long. I spent a lot of time just leaning back in my chair waiting for the next chance to play.
When it comes to actually playing, No Straight Roads lets you either swap freely between Mayday and Zuke, or play co-op with another player so each player has a character. There are advantages and disadvantages to both modes. Solo players can swap freely between the two characters, and the character they're not playing as will slowly regain health. However, the other character also sits there like a useless lump. In co-op you can have both characters active at the same time, but the only way to heal is to use a special ability or find a healing item.
No matter who you're playing, No Straight Roads is pretty easy to learn. Both characters have a melee combo, can pick up ammo for ranged attacks, and can use a transform ability to turn specific spots in the environment into useful allies. There are some minor differences between them, but they can mostly be summed up as "Mayday is slower but stronger, Zuke is weaker but faster." The transformation items are also slightly different, Mayday usually changes items into things to attack with, while Zuke goes for supportive items. Eventually, you'll get unique abilities that also follow the same attack/support trend. No matter who you play, though, it's not different enough to change the central loop.
The real draw to the game is the boss fights. Each stage is centered around a musician, and your goal is to find and kick their butts. The demo let me fight the first two: the funky DJ Subatomic Supernova, and the digital idol star SAYU. Both fights are unique, with special elements that set them apart. For DJ Subatomic Supernova I had to dodge literal planets and smack them around to pick up ammo, while SAYU had me grinding on rails to go after different artists and developers to shut her down piece by piece.
It's clear that No Straight Roads is entirely designed around these bosses, and that they're the central component to the game. So it's good that they're also fun. I had a blast figuring out the pattern of the two bosses that I saw in the demo, and exploiting them to fight back. Each boss is broken into phases that ease you into new elements, so I never felt like I was being blindsided. It's a good learning curve, and in both fights, I felt like I was being challenged without having dumb "got'cha!" moments or attacks that didn't feel properly telegraphed.
The bosses also all have some amazing soundtracks. It makes sense, No Straight Roads borrows elements from rhythm games after all. Each of the boss' attacks is timed to the beat, and if you pay careful attention you can use this to help you parry or dodge attacks. In a particularly cool idea, you can also refight bosses with different tracks. For example, I could take on DJ Subatomic Supernova with SAYU's music, changing the patterns of his attacks slightly. It should certainly add some replayability to the end product.
Of course, with so much of the focus on these bosses, the rest of it feels rather iffy. Between the two battles, I wandered around a hub world, where all I could do was find collectibles and talk to people. There was a basic level before the fight against SAYU, but it takes place in a practically empty environment and being literally put on rails to get to super basic platforming and combat challenges against dull enemies. It's not that interesting, and I hope these segments are improved with the full game.
Still, I came out of my demo of No Straight Roads pretty entertained. A fantastic soundtrack and some great boss fights set to it can really do a lot of wonders. While there are still parts that could use some improvement, this feels like a game that has its heart in the right place, and its music turned up. Here's hoping the final product manages to be just as enjoyable when it comes out next month.
TechRaptor previewed No Straight Roads on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The full game will launch on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on August 25th.