by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Run, Forrest, Run!
Describing the premise of Infinity Runner seems a bit like having a conversation with a panel of a dozen 14-year-olds about what would make a sweet game, and then mashing them all together. “It’s like that Temple Run game that everyone has on their phones, but it takes place on the biggest space ship of all time, and you wake up and punch your way out of a big tube! Then you just start running because a strange girl that might be a psychic cyborg or something tells you to. Then you start punching and kneeing space soldiers in the face. You’ve got to dodge stuff too or you die, like laser doors and toxic goo and exploding hallways! Then you turn into a werewolf! Why? Because science, that’s why! And when you’re a werewolf it doesn’t matter if people shoot you because you’re AWESOME!” I don’t really mean that in a bad way either. I enjoy a game that can throw logic out the window to some degree and embrace the crazy. And crazy it is. While Infinity Runner has its fair share of problems, one thing it does well is keep its foot to the pedal to keep pushing the player forward without awarding any time to stop and catch your breath.
As its name suggests, Infinity Runner is an infinite runner game in which you try to navigate your character through the dangerous halls of the spaceship Infinite. While they’re hiding under a pretty unique layer of atmospheric paint, the fundamental mechanics are virtually identical to any other infinite runner you may have played. Your character automatically and perpetually sprints forward, and it’s up to you to switch between the middle, left, or right side of the paths, jump, and slide to avoid obstacles and snag collectables (Data pads in this case, which are mysteriously just floating all through the halls. Yeah, I don’t get it either.). The controls are pretty simple- A and D move you left and right on the path, left mouse jumps, and right mouse slides. Combat is a quick-time event that has you hit a combination of the mouse buttons and WASD keys within a certain time frame. That’s really about it, but the difficulty comes from the speed at which you must react to the obstacles presented to you.
The quality of the obstacles, the key to the success of any infinite runner, is a double edged sword. On one side, everything is incredibly cinematic. While there are some “filler” objects thrown in your way like laser barriers or fire, sections of the ship that are exploding, falling platforms, and mechanical baddies are all pretty awesome. The don’t stick out in the odd way that imposed barriers often do in games, but instead feel like something organically happening in the ship. The first person perspective, as opposed to the third person perspective that most similar games use, adds a lot as well, really making everything seem that much more intense, personal, and quick. When all this is clicking, the game truly is an awesome adrenaline rush.
Trial and Error
The down side to how cinematic everything feels is that it often times isn’t obvious how exactly you’re supposed to treat a lot of the hazards. There were quite a few times, far more than there should have been, where I had to use up three or four lives just to figure out if I was supposed to jump, slide, or dodge in a certain direction. A moment in the second sector of the game comes to mind. I run into a room and it appears the hull of the ship has been compromised. First a section of pipe falls down. It’s about the same distance from the ground as some lasers I’ve slid under before, so I slide. Nope, instant death. I was supposed to dodge right. A huge jet of air is blasting at me from the left. It’s pretty big, but it seems to be stopping about halfway through my path, so I dodge right. Nope. Maybe I can just run through it since it’s air? Nada. I try to slide since it’s not all the way to the ground. Death. The last thing I try is jumping, even though it’s a lot higher than what I’ve jumped over before. For some reason that’s it. There just isn’t a lot of consistency with the set-piece hazards, and trial and error is the only way to get through a lot of the sections. That’d be fine given the checkpoints are pretty frequent (every 15-30 seconds or so), but the fact that you only get three deaths before having to start the entire level over makes it incredibly frustrating. A runner game should reward skill and reflexes, and as such it’s vital that a player be able to quickly and reliably assess what a given situation requires him or her to do to succeed.
As seems to be a running theme in this review, the presentation in Infinity Runner is a mixed bag. First the good. Like I said earlier, the first person perspective paired with some of the more cinematic and organic obstacles make this easily the most heart-racing runner I’ve played in quite some time when everything is clicking. The movement animations are fluid, and seeing your arms and legs as you jump, run, and tumble really put you in the game. I think it’s worth mentioning as well that Oculus Rift integration is built into the game, but without an Oculus kit I was unable to test it, and therefore can’t comment on its quality. The sound is also pretty good, with thumping music and pretty good voice over quality. The visual fidelity isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water, but everything looks nice enough to not be a distraction.
Not everything is peachy keen, however. My main beef with the game’s presentation is that most of the environments don’t seem terribly different from one another. There are a number of different zones of the ship that are travelled through, but except for some occasional differences things are pretty repetitive. Lots of dark, skinny halls. I think it would have been nice to mix in some more open-seeming areas (while still running along a defined path obviously) or some bright sections. Make the holding chambers feel like a prison. Make engineering seem more mechanical. The locales just lack personality. Another complaint is that the grammar can be just god awful. In between sections you get a text recap of what’s been happening with the story, and the English major in me couldn’t take some of it. For instance, early on I got the following monster run-on:
At least you know at this stage that you have been frozen for 30 years so that may be of some help but this information does not really help when three of the meanest-looking soldiers are trying to cut through the blast doors of the elevator, how are you going to handle them?
Note that most of my comments are based on the campaign mode. There is also an arcade mode which lets you run ad infinitum, and multiplayer. Multiplayer seems awesome for this game. Maybe have players chasing each other? Maybe avoiding a werewolf in an enclosed map? I don’t know, but there’s got to be something more exciting than multiple people “playing together” that can’t actually see each other and just compare scores. All in all, the other modes are pretty forgettable. Campaign is the mode to stick with.
Infinity Runner is a game that has a lot of really strong things going for it, while at the same time being held back by some pretty damaging issues. When the game is clicking, it’s on fire. My adrenaline would be pumping, I’d ninja though some cool set pieces, and I’d feel awesome when completing a section. The first person perspective and cinematic hazards really make you “feel there,” and the music keeps everything driving forward. Unfortunately the game isn’t always clicking. Some of those cool hazards look neat at the expense of being difficult to gauge, which leads to frustrating game-overs and the feeling that there was nothing you could have done except trial and error. Add in environments that serve their purpose and look cool when they’re exploding, but ultimately become repetitive, and it’s difficult to stick with the game as long as I did. I do want to see more though. Here’s hoping that in the future a sequel or DLC can fix some of the game’s problems while capitalizing on its strengths, because there’s quite an awesome game buried down there somewhere.
Crazy premise is enjoyable by virtue of its uniqueness, some of the “set piece” hazards are intense, and the soundtrack fits well.
Frustrating hazards that demand trial and error, repetitive environments, and disappointing multiplayer.