Rough Justice ’84 – Roll with the punches

Critical success?

Clean up the streets one dice roll at a time in Rough Justice ‘84.

One of my favourite board games is Elder Sign, where you use Yahtzee mechanics to fight against an encroaching Lovecraftian god. The push-your-luck elements, careful decision-making, and dice manipulation mechanics pair wonderfully with the theme to create a pretty memorable experience. The digital version of it is pretty solid too. I mention all this because Rough Justice ‘84 feels like it shares some of the systems in that tabletop classic but with a delightful 80s aesthetic. And whilst it does have a few problems, it’s certainly a nice board game-style video game to play around with.

You play as Jim Baylor, a former police officer who was set up by a corrupt force and sent to prison. Upon your release, you find that the city’s crime has escalated considerably, and you join a friend’s private security company intending to decriminalise the streets and earn some money on the side. If the cops are too dirty to clean up, someone else needs to step in!

There’s more narrative to unlock as you play through the story, but the plot is really just framing for Rough Justice ‘84’s mechanics. You act as more of a manager in this game, sending out agents to complete tasks so you can earn money and reputation to unlock more advanced missions and progress the story.

Rough Justice '84
Successful dice rolls lead to successful missions! XP, money, and reputation follow.

Most of what you do takes place on an overworld map of Seneca City. You accept caseloads from characters at the agency and send agents to complete missions on the map to complete those caseloads. Complete missions and you earn cash and reputation for your agency, and XP for your agents. Fail, and you won’t be getting paid as well as losing reputation.

All of this takes place in real-time, with time limits for you to complete your caseload and advise agents on what to do for their mission. I wasn’t a big fan of the real-time element though, as the map controls are such a faff on a controller that I had agents fail missions whilst I wrestled my way to the part of the map they were on. You can, thankfully, pause the game and issue orders, but every time you take any action, the clock starts up again and those time limits sneak up quickly. 

Missions are completed based on dice rolls, with you needing three or more successful rolls depending on the difficulty of the job. A successful roll is considered to be four or higher, but early on most of your agents will have a maximum of two dice to roll. To mitigate this, you can buy equipment or spend agent energy to get more dice. This was a nice element of risk/reward, as you might be successful using just three dice, but maybe it would be wise to spend resources to give yourself a better chance. I do feel there was a missed opportunity here though, as all the equipment and energy spending just gives you more dice. It might have been interesting if some equipment could modify dice rolls, or reduce the number of successes needed. Still, this was a neat part of the game that gave me those Elder Sign vibes.

Rough Justice '84
You’ll spend most of your time on the overworld map directing your agents. The controls here are a bit wonky and I found it tricky to navigate a lot of the time.

The downside here is that that’s pretty much the entire game. You don’t make meaningful decisions, as you simply send the agent with the most suitable stats to the job that needs those stats. Then you roll a bunch of dice a few times and hope to get lucky enough to continue. Yes, you can level up your agents — a process that is not quick — which gives them more dice, and indeed there are a nice array of mini-games, but it won’t take long for you to realise that you’ve seen most of what Rough Justice ‘84 has to offer. Up until you have that moment of realisation though, you’ll find yourself having a good time.

That enjoyment is due in part to the aesthetic. The map looks wonderful, even though it’s a simple part of the game. The neon pinks and blues really pop thanks to the almost wireframe design of it, and it certainly gives off those 80s vibes that are clearly an inspiration for the game. Then you have the characters, who are all simply stationary images, but there’s clearly been some thought into their design, with time-appropriate outfits and big hair for pretty much everyone you meet. Once you add in the great retrowave soundtrack and solid voice acting, you find a great art direction that’s been carefully thought through. It’s really hard to fault this side of the game.

Whilst I did enjoy my time with Rough Justice ‘84, it did start to get a bit repetitive before too long. Progressing the story is really quite grindy as you complete the same missions and mini-games over and over to earn enough reputation to move on, and random events and dice rolls can lead to you losing more reputation than you are earning, costing you significant progress. There are fun ideas here, but they’re spread quite thin across the entire game. I actually feel that this could be a more enjoyable experience as a co-op tabletop game, where you chuck actual dice and play together with others with shorter play sessions throughout a campaign. As it stands though, this is a fun enough game, but it might not hold your attention all the way through to its conclusion.

Rough Justice '84
The mini games are a nice change of pace, and there’s reasonable variety with them. You’ll have played them all before too long though.

Rough Justice ‘84 is available now on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch now.

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