It’s almost entirely sure that if you take a look at this game, They Always Run, you’re going to assume it’s some type of medroidvania experience. You will expect sprawling labyrinths to explore and an ever-growing arsenal of versatile weapons and powers. To a degree, you’d be right. However, They Always Run goes back to linear principles, giving us distinct, finite levels to explore and clear, before going to the next ones. There is no backtracking, and the stages themselves are simpler than what you’d expect to find. Is it a bad thing? No, no it absolutely is not, mainly because of some very good design choices made by the developers.
First of all, our protagonist is really cool. He is a bounty hunter, chasing criminals in space while wearing a badass red cape and a futuristic helmet. Oh, also, he is a mutant of sorts, and so he has a third arm on his back. Can it be used to punch bad guys, you are wondering? Thankfully, punching bad guys is what this third arm is best at, and it’s a blast doing it. The battle system is really slick, based on really interesting animations and a moveset that feels and looks awesome. You can slice your enemies with your trusted swords, yes, swords, plural, because you see, you slice using three swords, one on each hand.
It’s fast, responsive, and the animations change depending on where you’re standing and where your enemy is. For example, if you dodge while standing on empty space, your bounty hunter just rolls on the ground. But, if you dodge in front of a bipedal enemy, you slide between their legs and gain the upper hand, surprising them from behind to break their defense and bypass shields or such measures. Later, you’ll find some pistols, a grappling hook and other gadgets that make fights even cooler and a lot more fun.
There are some more mechanics to discover that add depth to the 5 hour campaign, like the ability to scan enemies to find bounties and then mark them -after you kill them- to earn money, you can one-shot kill enemies by countering their attacks, you’ll fight some exciting bosses and try to save money to buy very useful upgrades, used for fighting and exploring. The systems are neat, well-designed and fun, and give you enough to be satisfied without wanting more -or less. The content is balanced and the skills are unlocked at the right times, with a good sense of pace, so that you are always discovering new things and ways to play. The enemy types could be more varied, but it’s hard to complain a lot when the fighting is so fun.
Also, of course, said gadgets are utilized outside enemy encounters too, in exploration segments that are mostly good, but are brought down by unresponsive jump controls, floaty movement and a camera that zooms in and out for no apparent reason, at times. You’ll take part in some very cool parkour chase scenes that are perfect in theory but end up a bit problematic because of the controls -still, very, very fun. The levels are decently designed, getting the job done without being very memorable. The art, however, is fantastic, giving life to alien planets and beings in watercolour strokes that look amazing and distinct. Additionally, the lighting is utilized efficiently to make the 2D backgrounds and models look like they have volume, like they exist and take up space, while the animation is very fluid. Extra help comes through the soundtrack that is fitting and easy on the ears, but forgettable in the end. All things considered, They Always Run manages to deliver on every front, albeit with some problems here and there -not anything unforgivable, but nonetheless most of its faults are noticeable.
The most surprising aspect of this game, though, is the story. To be frank, the first surprise is that it actually has a plot. Then, you’ll see that it’s not just fluff, not simply filler stuff, but one of the core parts of the experience. They Always Run is a story driven game after all, and its story, whilst just serviceable for the better part, does include some high points. In general, it is indeed a story of unexpected depth and it works well enough, giving you reasons to care about the space adventure and to see it to its end.
Seeing past all the problems that don’t let this game shine as bright as it could, it is easy to recommend They Always Run to genre fans. There’s a lot to love here. Some polish could make it one of this year’s most unexpected and great little gems, but, as it stands, it’s still a fun experience, packing a lot of punch and throwing some cool surprises along the way.