Early Access reviews check out a title but never have a final score, just the writers thoughts and recommendation
Distance, is an early access arcade racing game on Steam. A product of a successful Kickstarter campaign and developed by Refract Studios, this is something to keep an eye on if you are a fan of racing games. While this is tagged as “beta” I found it more than complete enough to review.
The devs have dubbed this a “survival” racer, though after several hours of play I’m not sure how that applies. I’ve tried all the game modes and quite a few of the maps and I just don’t see any particular survival elements. This isn’t a knock against the game, so much as a curiosity of the description. Despite this, Distance sets itself apart from the crowd with several unique or straight up well-done elements.
The heart of any racing title is car you drive. Here, everyone controls the same vehicle, or while in multiplayer, everyone has different colors. Since some madman saw fit to decorate the roads with saw blades, wall blocks, poles and frequently omit portions of the track altogether, you can also boost, jump, fly and are equipped with thrusters for fine-grained twisting, turning and flipping. While this could have easily been gimmicky, the developers have instead created something incredibly fun and diverse that keeps you on your toes.
Races of lower difficulty I could just lean back and relax, even chatting casually with my friends on a voice server, controller in hand as I zoomed along. Higher difficulty tracks however, demanded my complete attention and full range of my vehicles special abilities with no room for error. This variety is good as it lets you learn, while also providing a scaling challenge going forward.
The UI is also cleverly built into the back of your car, with everything you need to know showing somewhere on your vehicle. Your current time, and level of boost available. It even changes accordingly when you swap camera views. I really appreciate small details like this, and the smooth UI leaves zero barriers for your immersion. Just you and the tracks racing by at lightning speed.
One of my favorite races takes place on a Sprint map called Aftermath, wherein the world has been torn apart and there are few unbroken sections of the road to travel upon. This forces you to make frequent jumps and split-second decisions upon where to turn or land. The intensity suddenly grinds to a halt as you are transported to a section in space. All sound is muffled and distant, while the pounding soundtrack takes on a peaceful tone. Then, a short time later you blast back onto the main track and the regular beat kicks back in, ratcheting your pulse up to 11. Finishing most races is a combination of satisfying challenge and thrilling adrenaline.
something you should be playing right now if you enjoy arcade racing
There are a variety of game types to select from as you see fit. Adventure mode functions as single player campaign, telling a kind of story through the levels while you explore the ruined world alone. Arcade mode hosts everything else, such as Sprint, Stunt, Challenge and the multiplayer specific Reverse-tag mode. The stunt mode is especially interesting, as it made me feel like I was in a Tony Hawk skateboard game, only with a futuristic car. Exploring these “Car parks” and pulling off crazy tricks was both difficult and outright amusing.
Multiplayer was easy to setup or join accordingly. A server browser shows available games or lets you create your own. I tried out a couple races with random people, though I didn’t find this particularly compelling over my solo racing. What I did find engaging was racing one of my friends and suddenly I was actually enjoying the competition.
There is also Steam Workshop integration, which allows for community-made maps to be directly imported into the game. I didn’t try out any of these tracks, but their presence bodes well for extra content when you have exhausted the one’s from the developers.
I tried three different control schemes: Keyboard, controller, and racing wheel. While the game is playable on a keyboard, I found it awkward and not as easy to drive with as a gamepad or the racing wheel. I mostly used an Xbox 360 wireless controller, and this worked easily once your controller is on. Sadly rumble support is not yet enabled, but I’m sure it will be in the future. Lastly, I tried out driving on a Logitech G27 racing wheel. The dev notes said this was supposed to have rumble support, but it wasn’t working for me. While my direct racing slightly improved over my gamepad use by a few seconds per track, the trickier aspects of maneuvering, such as flying, or twisting was quite difficult on the racing wheel. On easier tracks with just driving, boosting and jumping, the racing wheel excels. But anything harder and it becomes cumbersome to attempt, often resulting in me crashing. I was also quite disappointed to find the game didn’t make use of the gas/brake pedals that accompany the wheel. In conclusion, I’d recommend this on a gamepad for the best experience.
Finishing most races is a combination of satisfying challenge and thrilling adrenaline.
Let’s talk about the graphics. In a word, they are spectacular. Even if you aren’t a fan of this particular art style there is no denying the game is beautiful. Powered by the Unity engine, muted tones clash with more vibrant colors makes every object distinct. It is always easy to tell where your car is, (or others in multiplayer) where the track is, and what obstacles are incoming. The most common comparison is of Tron, and I would agree. It certainly takes inspiration from Tron, but isn’t a ripoff. I absolutely love this style of visuals as I find it both sleek to look at and soothing to play.
All the graphical glory is complimented by an excellent original electronic soundtrack. Much like the art style, the sound is both calming and intense by turns. They start out slow, much like the start of a race, and quickly build momentum as you boost along the tracks, jumping, flying, twisting and turning in an effort to outmaneuver your opponents or simply get the best time possible. The music was so enjoyable for me that I wanted to buy it on Steam or iTunes, but alas, this is not yet available and is only stated to be released at a later date.
While some might call this an amalgamation of several-other racing games, I prefer to call it “really freaking awesome” and “something you should be playing right now if you enjoy arcade racing.” I find myself hopping on after work as a great way to wind down, or when I want a quick burst of a thumping electronic soundtrack while doing barrel rolls in a tunnel.
- Unique car abilities adds flavor to the racing
- Standout visual style
- Excellent soundtrack
- Steam Workshop integration
- Awkward to play on a keyboard
- No rumble support (Yet.)
Even though this is only an early-access game it feels complete. I didn’t come across any bugs and there is already a wealth of content available from both the devs and the community to keep you engaged for many hours. Easily accessible and positively gorgeous audio/video makes this easy to recommend in a heartbeat for fans of arcade racing.
Refract Studios had a very successful early-access launch and continue to regularly communicate to players and update the game. I would be shocked if their game did not reach completion. I met the developers at PAX East in 2014 and they are obviously passionate and committed about their game. While they have a very solid title on their hands already, given the beta status they aren’t afraid to experiment. On their Twitch channel today they showed off an experimental build of the game that allows for custom music support, with the game’s visuals responding to your music in the vein of AudioSurf. While this feature isn’t guaranteed to make the cut, the fact that they are testing different things out is good news.