First appearing as a Kickstarter project, Flippfly’s Race the Sun has gone from strength to strength; at one point hoping to overcome the Steam Greenlight process, its success has now proved itself worthy to join the ranks of the always increasing Playstation indie market. Available on the PS4, PS3, Vita and of course PC, let’s see how an endless runner style game works on the big screen.
Most games employ characters, a plot and other narrative devices to help keep you both interested and wanting to continue playing. Race the Sun instead, relies upon its ‘just one more go’ ethos to try and inject its own form of longevity. The goal of the game is to pilot a solar powered craft towards the ever setting sun in the distance. Movement, at first, can be tricky due to the (presumably) high speeds you’re attaining; especially considering it’s only really the lateral movement you generally control.
Inevitably, there are plenty of obstacles in between you and your infinitely elusive goal, yet what sets Race the Sun apart from the plethora of other ‘endless runner’ type games is its cycling map. Instead of being a random set of junctures each and every time you restart (as you will, a lot!) the ‘map’ cycles every 24 hours giving everybody a fair shot at the leaderboards, but more importantly, letting you learn specific routes to take and avoid. This simple idea makes a larger difference than you might imagine as the problem that often occurs with these sorts of games is the lack of progression. Whereas this way, spending a couple of hours on it will actually make you feel as though you are improving.
On top of the visible feeling of progression you get, Race the Sun also has a few other tricks up its sleeve that help to sway you towards hitting retry. Missions will be constantly doled out, up to a maximum of three at a time, which include a cross section of both easy and difficult tasks to complete. Some might be as simple as ‘travel a cumulated amount distance’ or simply ‘have a few crashes’, whereas others can test your mettle a little more. Getting through zones without denting your ship are easily accomplishable after a while, yet performing 25 barrel rolls in a single run seems a little steep. Acquire three of this level of difficulty and you’ll inevitably feel a tad disheartened at the prospect of progressing.
Completing these missions does alter what appears on the map however. At first, it’ll just be you and the open road, yet after making your way through a few objectives; you’ll notice power up items appearing throughout. Some are simply point and score modifiers, whereas others can offer speed boosts, a single jump or even an extra life should you inevitably slam into a wall. Levelling up also unlocks upgrades for your ship too, such as the possibility to carry an extra jump module or a magnetic effect on your ship which’ll help you collect everything from a slightly further distance. The caveat being that you may only equip one at a time, meaning you’ll often have to sacrifice something else you like the sound of.
When you first start playing Race the Sun, not many options will be available, after an hour or so of completing the set goals however, you’ll unlock the Apocalypse mode which is essentially the same, but with a brooding red colour scheme and a much more punishing difficulty. Later on, you’ll also unlock the Labyrinth mode which switches things up a little via zooming out the camera and tasking you with navigating a much more intricate warren of obstacles.
The games’ minimalist style graphics works to its favour by being both abstractly pretty whilst also highlighting things for the player. In latter zones, the sun will appear to set quicker; therefore casting shadows across the nefarious blocks that threaten to spell your demise. Not only will this make it inherently more difficult to see the clearest path, but let’s not forget we’re in a solar powered ship, and regardless of how ‘green’ that is, too much time in the shade will cause you to slow down to a halt, ending in an immediate game over.
Endless runners usually fall into two separate camps, those who enjoy a quick ten minute romp during a daily commute, and those who feel their lack of depth and substance is more of a barrier than the intended accessibility. If there’s one thing they’ve all got in common however, it’s the pursuit of a highscore, and whether on the global leaderboards, or just some friendly banter between friends, the ability to chase scores is always bound to draw a crowd. Race the Sun then finds itself at an impasse, the smattering of upgrades and permanent progression unlocks are possibly unlikely to draw too much of a large crowd from the more hardcore of gamers who own a PS4. Whilst on the other hand, those already into the ‘endless runner’ genre will most likely have their needs satiated via a smartphone game. That’s not to take anything away from Race the Sun, it is certainly one of the better games of its type I’ve ever played, it just might have suited the mobile market better.