PAX West 2019 Hands-on: No Straight Roads

Rock is dead. Nobody listens to it anymore. Who wants to listen to music made with real instruments anyways? It’s all about that electronic music now. It’s what the people want, and its what the music industry is gonna give them.

No, I’m not talking about real life (although there’s bound to be some rock and metalheads who would agree with that sentiment regardless). Rather, this is the basic premise behind No Straight Roads, an upcoming music-heavy action game from developer Metronomik.

No Straight Roads follows the characters Mayday and Zuke, members of a rock duo that call themselves Bunk Bed Junction. Their home of Vinyl City is currently under the iron grip of EDM, and after being told by the city’s apparent ruler/talent show host Tatiana that they should give up on music, the rock duo decides that they’d rather destroy the EDM empire.

The most immediately striking thing about the game is in its visuals. From the heavily-stylized and highly-expressive characters to the colorful and pulsing worlds they find themselves in, everything about the game’s presentation is instantly eye-catching. One of the stages I played through in the game’s PAX demo was a battle against an EDM DJ, which started out on a dance club floor, moved into outer space, and ended on a flashy sequence that essentially turned the enemy into a black hole that I had to outrun.

I’m glad I stuck with the demo to reach that sequence, though, as the first half of it was a slow slog through a meandering tutorial. No Straight Roads is, at its core, an action title; you’re beating up waves of enemies with either a guitar or drumsticks. The gimmick is that many enemies attack in rhythmic patterns, following the beat of the background music. The gameplay was simple to pick up on – jump, dodge, melee attack, ranged attack, all your typical stuff, with the only real unique mechanic being that you can interact with certain objects in the environment by pressing a button to play your instrument. You can also swap between controlling Mayday and Zuke, although the game admits that there isn’t anything unique about each of them in this particular demo.

However, the tutorial really takes its time to beat the gameplay mechanics into your head, lasting a good ten minutes…about half the demo runtime. It didn’t leave the best first impression on me, and if I had just been walking by as a normal attendee to try it out, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it past this portion.

After completing the tutorial, though, I was moved to the aforementioned fight against the EDM DJ, which was much more interesting. Most of the fight involved dodging projections of planets revolving around the battlefield, hitting them for ammo to attack the DJ, and occasionally activating a rocket launcher to hit for greater damage. The fight moved through about four phases, adding more complexity and increasing the amount of rhythmic attacks I had to dodge, before finally ending on the black hole escape sequence I spoke of earlier.

If the demo had led with this sequence, I would definitely be speaking much more highly of the game right now. The core gameplay is relatively basic, as the game relies more on its visual and musical presentation to stand out from the pack…the two aspects that weren’t as obvious during the tutorial segment.

While my initial impressions were rough, the game still has enough interesting ideas going for it to be worth keeping an eye out. If the rest of the game plays out more like the boss fight portion, and much less like the tutorial segment (which I expect that it should), then I’m looking forward to seeing the full game.

No Straight Roads is currently planned for a 2020 release, with no specific date beyond that, for PS4 and PC via Epic Games Store.

Screenshots courtesy of Metronomik.