There’s a certain satisfaction to be found from playing ROOT, a game that advertises itself as letting you play either entirely with stealth or as aggressively as you like. To its merit, there’s some truth in that; there were levels that I was able to complete without detection and through the sole use of stealth tactics, but there were others that were so frustrating to try and beat through stealth alone that I felt I had no choice but to resort to aggressively blasting every enemy in sight. Whilst perhaps the advertised ‘play how you want’ freedom isn’t always consistent throughout the game, it doesn’t take anything away from what is otherwise an enjoyable experience.
ROOT casts you in the role of Edward Summerton, an expert hacker who is tasked with hacking into the systems of a mysterious and powerful corporation. The narrative is told through segments of text at the start of each level, a form of AI called ‘Shell’ offering you guidance. That’s all it really seems to be though – there’s no real under-lying story as you progress, but more a set of instructions on how to approach each level. There’s actually an option to turn off all story elements, its inclusion suggesting the story isn’t really all that important to overall experience. It’s a shame because the writing is actually decent; I did notice a few spelling errors, but ‘Shell’ certainly had a sense of humour and made a few laughable quips.
Whilst ROOT offers stealth elements, the way it plays is reminiscent of an old school FPS. Levels consist of getting from point A to B whilst avoiding (or taking out) enemies and collecting key cards to get through locked areas. It’ll sound familiar to anyone who played the likes of Doom and Quake.
The whole ‘play as you want’ element of the game introduces the kind of stealth mechanics you’d expect to see in the likes of Metal Gear Solid; you’ll be sneaking through vents, knocking out enemies with a silent melee weapon, observing the patterns of guard movements as well as carefully peeking around corners to make sure you’re not walking into the sight of an enemy. I actually must commend developers Deep Fried Enterprises in regards to the ‘peeking’ – it was the first time in a FPS that I’ve actually used the function extensively.
You really have to be careful with the enemies – they don’t have the laughable AI found in other stealth games where you can seemingly sneak in front of foes with little fuss. Enemies will spot you from well across the map if you get in their line of vision – they even spot you if an inch of your body is poking out from behind the corner of a wall. It’s almost a little too ruthless at times, offering you very little margin for error.
On the other hand, there are times when the AI is just plain dumb; on one occasion I was being hounded by a guard in a room whilst his fellow guards within the vicinity paid no attention because I wasn’t in their line of sight. It’s inconsistent, but you’ll actually appreciate it at times if you’re going to make it through some of the tougher areas in a level.
You’ll encounter plenty of those ‘tough situations’ throughout the game – ROOT certainly lives up to its billing as a ‘hardcore’ title. Enemies can take you out with ease, and with no checkpoints along the way death results in starting a level over. It’s frustrating, but levels aren’t generally all that big so you aren’t set back too much. There’s certainly a lot of trial and error involved in progression with you constantly tackling situations in different ways before figuring out what works for you.
I actually found that at times ROOT had the mannerisms of a puzzle game – each encounter with enemies felt like it had a solution, and once you worked it out you’ll be able to complete levels flawlessly and with an actual sense of satisfaction. It’s the working out of the solution that causes most problems though; you’ll need plenty of patience to get through the game’s tough difficulty.
Whilst a puzzle game’s success depends on the quality of its puzzles, ROOT’s relatable levels certainly do have intelligent design. Despite its difficulty the game never felt unfair and there was always a solution to each tricky situation, even if finding that solution resulted in plenty of deaths in the mean time.
Unfortunately, towards the back end of the game I found that the freedom of ‘playing as you want’ is robbed from you – there were a few occasions where you didn’t seem to have any choice but to fight. Shooting is satisfying enough though, albeit very simple. You’re equipped with either a shotgun or pistol, each having their own merits when it comes to shoot outs; you can either pick off your enemies from a distance with the pistol or get up close and personal with the shotgun. In general. you’ll want to avoid resorting to violence – whilst it is possible to shoot your way through a level, I found that if I got in a battle with more than one foe it would typically result in my undoing.
Enemies comes in different shapes and sizes – you have the standard guards who are easy to put down, small spider-like robots who track your movement, the creepy sword wielding floating phantom along with a few others. There are even boss battles that test both your shooting skills and your ability to avoid attacks. Enemies are well designed and fit in with your neon lit surroundings, even if some do look slightly out of place in a futuristic setting.
I was a big fan of ROOT’s aesthetics, the bright Tron-like futuristic hallways are simply oozing with style. It was certainly a case of less is more; there’s no detail packed textures or abundance of things to look at, but everything looks so colourful and pretty. There are a few neat effects within the environment too, with the translucent effect on the objects found scattered throughout each level certainly giving you the upper hand against your foes.
Despite the amount of colour featured throughout each level, strangely the game adopted blue walls throughout. Whilst this seems like an odd complaint, it made each level feel a little samey – something as simple as the walls changing colour would’ve accounted for some differentiation between levels. Surprisingly there’s actually an option for you to change the colour of the walls manually – it just would’ve been appreciated if the game did it itself.
I found myself enjoying ROOT a lot more than I thought I would. It’s certainly nowhere near perfect, but its ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ gameplay offered enough to keep me entertained throughout the roughly two to three hour story mode. The stealth elements are certainly the most enjoyable of the game though – the aggressive approach felt weak at times and nowhere near as satisfying.
Whilst the back end of the game loses its way with forced combat situations, the bulk of the experience is made up of enjoyable, yet challenging, well designed levels that’ll keep you hooked with their ‘one more try’ appeal. Just expect plenty of those ‘one more tries’ along the way!
– Enjoyable stealth mechanics
– Clever level design that works well together
– Stylish visuals
– Combat focused areas aren’t so fun
– Weak narrative
– Some freedom to ‘play as you want’ taken from you later in the game