Roundabout Review – Driving Thru The Sound And Even In The Valley
Developer: No Goblin
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux (Reviewed on PC)
Release Date: September 18th
Price: $14.99 (Deluxe Edition – $19.99)
When I started playing Roundabout, I really didn’t know what to expect. I did know the pedigree behind it, with the studio No Goblin founded by designers that worked on stuff like Destroy All Humans! and Rock Band. Those games were my bread and butter back in the day, as I had put a ton of time into both. So how does No Goblin’s debut title Roundabout hold up? Despite a couple little problems I have with it, Roundabout is still fun and a great arcade ride.
In Roundabout, you play as Georgio Manos, silent protagonist and world’s first revolving limousine driver in the city of Roundabout. Throughout the story of the game, you will pick up kooky passengers along the way. As you progress, you will find characters with their own secrets and agendas. Several of these characters also can be meet again and are all surprisingly well-developed for an arcade driving game.
Really though, the way that these characters are presented is the best part of Roundabout. The story cutscenes are full motion video and have a 70’s B-Movie appearance that is pretty entertaining on its own. That combined with the kooky characters made for moments in the story that I genuinely laughed at.
On the other hand, the actual game is completely separate from the cutscenes as can be expected. Both really do exist in the own little worlds, with the only bridge being the voiceovers from the passengers as you drive. That’s not to say that the game looks bad, in fact quite the opposite.
The world graphically is best described as clean, with very vibrant colors that reflect the 70’s style well. There are also moments where your gameplay adds visual effects to the world, like a slow-mo mechanic introduced early on that makes everything look psychadelic. Each of the three areas of Roundabout are visually diverse as well, taking place in the suburbs, the city, and the mountainside.
There are also pedestrians walking the streets (and sometimes roads) of Roundabout, and as with practically any open-world driving game, pedestrians and you don’t mix. In your normal day-to-day driving as well as in specific story and challenge missions, you will run over them. The blood that splatters like red paint when the passengers explode is a tad unsettling.
Fortunately, this can be changed by enabling No Violence mode from the Extras section of the main menu. Instead, pedestrians will explode into sparkling stars when hit and it frankly looks better and cooler to me. Combining this with Happy Pedestrians mode will cause pedestrians to cheer when running away and exploding into stars and is pretty funny in itself.
Sadly, the music is probably the weakest part of the presentation in Roundabout. It sounds great with its 70s’ disco/jazz style and does change up for more dramatic sequences, but the tracks that play most of the time are very repetitive and can get old. I’m not sure how many tracks are actually in the game, but it feels like just a handful.
As expected of a driver like Georgio Manos, the core mechanic of Roundabout is your revolving limousine. Revolving doesn’t abide by the laws of physics, so the actual control point is a pivot in the center of the limousine and controlling it isn’t as daunting as it initially may seem. I also found it to feel much better to control with the analog movement of my Xbox 360 Gamepad as opposed to using the keyboard. With this pivot point, the challenge of control lies in navigating through obstacles and narrow openings by timing your rotation right.
When navigating through obstacles, be careful to avoid hitting anything solid. There is stuff like fencing that can be run through without harming you, but the stuff you can’t run through will hurt. If you take too much damage, your limousine will explode incredibly violently and you’ll get kicked back to the previous checkpoint. The effect that happens when you hit something takes getting used to. The sound and the sudden jerk that your limousine makes can be disorienting and sections with long distances or many obstacles between checkpoints can get frustrating.
To help with obstacles, you gain additional skills as you progress. You learn how to boost, jump, and bump into blue tires to change rotation direction through the process of the story. In addition, you unlock different power-ups that let you do things like slow down time, shrink in size, and change rotation direction on the fly.
Overall, the process of playing through the story and getting access to these skills does give you a sense of progression in Roundabout, but I would describe it more as a staircase that a ramp. It’s really only when the main abilities are gradually introduced that the game steps up, and quite a bit of the inbetween is repetitive and left me feeling kind of meh.
It’s structure feels like training for replaying levels and challenges more than beating the game, which may suit the arcade-like vibe No Goblin may have intended, and that’s the part I like the least about Roundabout. The open world separates the content into pieces, and there isn’t much variety in content in the first place.
Missions are mostly identical with a few exceptions. For example, in sections where you are “chasing” a rival character, the mission is virtually indistinguishable from other missions. The person you are chasing doesn’t even physically appear in-game until the very end, and the fact that you respawn when the limousine explodes doesn’t help to encourage the mission’s urgency.
Challenge missions are fun and make good use of trying new mechanics like keeping a bouncing soccer ball airborne with your limousine. Really though, once I played the challenges, I rarely had the interest to replay them.
Collectables like cash stashes and super jump tokens are actually quite fun and are one of the better reasons for Roundabout to be open world. I enjoyed searching for them and making use of my unlocked skills to grab them. These also helped to show different ways to approach obstacles you may not have thought of.
Through missions and finding cash stashes, you can earn money for buying properties and buying stuff in mechanic shops. While properties are essentially just another collectable, the mechanic shops are actually pretty cool. Shops allow you to repair damage your vehicle by running by, but there is also different gear available. Orange shops are where you can equip unlocked skills and purple shops offer new hats and paint jobs, as well as allow you to equip collectable horns.
The pieces have their ups and downs, but as a whole Roundabout feels designed for replayability and not much else. It would be just fine if it grabbed me that way, but it just doesn’t. It still is a lot of arcade fun and can be a good turn-off-your-brain kind of game, but if you just want to play through the game just to finish it, its short length will likely be disappointing.
Overall, I had fun with Roundabout. Its presentation is charming and funny, while its gameplay is fun at the best of times and repetitive at the worst of times. Its focus on replayability makes the rest of the game feel like training, but it can be enjoyable for those who’ll want to get their best scores and for its straight-up arcade action. It’s hard to recommend on just the style and the mechanics alone, but that’s pretty much what the game has going for it. If it’s your cup of tea, then take Roundabout for a spin.