When I previewed No Straight Roads, I wrote, “it has a tonne of attitude, incredibly catchy tunes and a wild artistic flair” but “after spending 90 minutes with it, I’m not convinced it has the legs to sustain a full-length experience.” After playing the final version, my opinion hasn’t changed for the better.
In fact, the longer I spent with No Straight Roads, the less enjoyable I found the experience. It’s still got wild visuals and a throbbing soundtrack, but the gameplay is woefully average at best.
Combine this with a number of strange design decisions, an overall sense of being undercooked and less than great controls, No Straight Roads is sadly, average at best.
No Straight Roads Review
Set in the dystopian Vinyl City, run by the No Straight Roads corporation, No Straight Roads is a conglomeration of Monsters, Inc., Rush’s 2112 and the We Will Rock You the musical. No Straight Roads corp powers the city through EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and has outlawed all other forms of music. Keen to help their city, Zuke and Mayday, our leads, audition their band (Bed Bunk Junction) for No Straight Roads. Despite producing an enormous amount of energy, Zuke and Mayday are sent away.
Desperate to overthrow the shackles of the evil EDM overlords, Zuke and Mayday set out to hijack the live shows of No Straight Roads’ biggest and brightest stars. In doing so, they’ll prove rock is a more powerful source of energy and restore freedom to Vinyl City.
The plot and themes in No Straight Roads aren’t anything we’ve never seen in fiction before, but I don’t think they’ve been used as the basis for a videogame. It’s a fascinating concept and conjures up all sorts of potential for narrative, universe building and gameplay. Unfortunately, none of these is capitalised on. We learn very little of life in Vinyl City or the people who reside there, nor do we learn about the wider world or anything beyond Zuke and Mayday’s primary objectives. The setting is so ripe for exploration yet developer Metronomik is content to leave it all in the periphery. While I was playing, I was wishing I could learn about citizens of Vinyl City, their day-to-day life and how the power of music affects them.
Instead, there are dozens of NPCs scattered through the various areas of Vinyl City, of which only a handful can be interacted with. They say very little of note and seem to exist more as a checklist item of developer requirements rather than a useful plot device or gameplay mechanic. If only they had something interesting to say, exploring Vinyl City wouldn’t feel so utterly pointless. A few small cutscenes give a bit of a broader context to proceedings but they too, mostly focus on the main characters.
When I previewed No Straight Roads, I only played 90-minutes of the game and experienced boss fights and exploration. Now that I’ve played the finished game, I’ve learned that’s all there is. Players will explore a, largely, empty Vinyl City, battle through increasingly frustrating combat gauntlets and finally challenge a boss before repeating the process again and again.
Not all games need infinite complexity and countless modes, mechanics and things to do but if a game is going to focus so narrowly, it had better ensure that focus is worthwhile. In No Straight Roads, it just isn’t.
Outside of combat, controlling Zuke and Mayday is painful. They feel as though they’re sliding around on an ice rink. Trying to find hidden areas and secrets is an exercise in frustration as they frequently get stuck on geometry, overshoot jumps and fall down without warning. Compounding matters is the fact that exploring really serves very little purpose. As mentioned, NPCs are just…there and beyond them, players are able to collect QWASAs which can be used to power up a number of objects. Doing so rewards players with some fans which are spent on unlocking new stats. While that sounds useful, and it is, the number of fans you get from powering up stuff on the streets is minuscule. The time it takes to collect the QWASAs and powerup objects versus the number of fans you unlock means you’re better off skipping it altogether and just heading to the boss fights.
Sadly, this doesn’t improve matters.
Before every boss fight, players need to make their way through a combat gauntlet of increasing difficulty. As players battle through waves of enemies, they’ll need to avoid damage and navigate platforming sections in order to reach the boss fight without dying. These sections give players a taste of standard combat without the added pressure of the boss fight and try to teach them about the way enemies stick to the beat.
Again, as I said in the preview, the mechanic of enemies sticking to the beat is really flimsy. Sure, they do attack and bounce and to the beat but battling by sticking to the beat isn’t the best strategy. You don’t need to fight to the beat and so mashing attack is the best way to deal with enemies. Dodging attacks benefit from listening to the music but it’s difficult to tell which part of the beat certain elements are reacting too. Some attacks can be parried by hitting them on the beat, but it’s far too difficult to hear which part of the music these parryable attacks fall on and nine times out of 10 you’re better off simply avoiding the attacks.
Even as you level up and learn new abilities, combat remains awfully bland. Both Zuke and Mayday only have one main attack. While it can be augmented, it never truly changes. Essentially, you’ll be mashing Square/X the entire game with very little variation. Like the underdeveloped plot and missed opportunities of the story, the gameplay falls victim to the same failings.
Where an interesting and very cool system could have been developed based on the music and timings of the beat, No Straight Roads half-arses it and what you’re left with is very vanilla.
The one bright spot in No Straight Roads is its artistry. The visuals have this gorgeous, modern cartoon style that would look at home on Cartoon Network. Vinyl City’s EDM influence is apparent in its neon highlights, bright colour schemes and flashing lights. Everything is exaggerated and over-the-top. Imagine going out to watch a DJ’s set in a dark club filled with glowsticks and backlights and you have some idea of the look of No Straight Roads. It’s entirely unique and really well done.
The music too is a highlight. While you battle and the tracks shift between their EDM and rock forms, you can hear the instrumentation and the clever use of tone. It’s great that beating bosses unlocks their tracks and you can choose to replay any boss using any unlocked track. However, for my money, it’s not worth it since the gameplay is so underwhelming.
While I have high praise for the artistic elements of No Straight Roads, I do have one bone to pick. Being colourblind, some games are difficult to play when they rely on colour. During boss fights, players are given warnings of incoming attacks through flashing reds and the like. Often, these fights would include so much colour and on-screen visual noise, the warnings would vanish into the background and I had no way to discern where to go to stay safe. Not everyone will have this problem, but it’s pretty hard to fight a boss when you can’t find a way to avoid their attacks.
I had high hopes for No Straight Roads. Its rock v EDM plot with a city powered by music is certainly right up my alley but it never capitalises on its potential. This is one of 2020’s biggest letdowns and a game that will forever be remembered for what could have been.
No Straight Roads was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by the publisher.