With the rise of so many modern 2D action platformers, They Always Run needed to stand out. After all, it was competing with the likes of Metroid Dread. Alawar’s solution to this was simple: give the player a third arm to fight with. The Russian indie game studio’s goal for this was to deliver exciting and satisfying combat. Paired with a gorgeous cyberpunk setting, this action platformer was well on its way to being a hit. If not for its numerous bugs, that is.
STORY – A BOUNTY FOR REVENGE
Aidan, a three-armed bounty hunter is on the path of revenge. He needs to find the Black Marshal to make things right.
They Always Run‘s story is your typical revenge plot: someone killed my loved one(s), and now I have to find them and kill them myself. And that is the whole story of the game. Sure, there are some side plots to add some spice to the story, but they ultimately fail in making it more interesting. The only thing the revenge plot seems to do is to set up the gameplay, and nothing more. To add to the story’s blandness, it is mainly delivered through text dialogue between characters in a font that, to be frank, is just a bit ugly. The ugliness of the story and the font is a glaring blemish in a game that shows such exceptionally beautiful landscapes.
GAMEPLAY – RUN, JUMP, BEAT EM’ UP
They Always Run follows the formula of many action platformers. There are platforming sections and there are combat sections.
THEY ALWAYS PLATFORM
The platforming in this game can be considered decent. There are obstacles to dodge, gaps to cross, and railings to climb. You can even gain a grappling hook at some point to launch yourself or to destroy some walls. All the things that make a platformer a platformer. But this is nothing new. All platformers have had some version of this, and They Always Run does not add anything new into the mix. Moving or falling platforms, double jumping and dashing are all things that have been done before.
Even the chase sequences in the game are uninteresting – you chase someone through the level, and take a different path from them because things are falling and breaking. But there is not much tension, because the person waits for you at the end anyway.
A COUNTER POINT
The combat, however, is unique, interesting, and satisfying. With three arms, you are able to fight much more efficiently (and with style). You attack enemies at your front and back, and shoot three enemies at a time. Use your dodges to quickly get behind a shielded enemy, or stun them with your third arm.
There are even some upgrades that can enhance your abilities – using the grapple to pull them closer or you nearer, send enemies flying with a ground slam, or decimate them all with an ultimate attack. These upgrades are purchased with credits that you gain from killing enemies, reporting some of the more notorious ones, and completing missions. The most notable mechanic is the counter. If several enemies attack you at once, countering the attack will dispatch all of them in one quick move. All these mechanics together make for an intensely satisfying combat experience.
That being said, the combat is difficult. Enemies are numerous, and tend to surround you, blocking any escape. Sometimes, this makes the experience much more satisfying. However, take note that stimpacks (which regenerate your health) are incredibly rare. They are usually only dropped by enemies randomly, and an area before a boss fight is unlikely to have them. You would be lucky to have more than one stimpack in your inventory that you haven’t used, meaning that the upgrades you find that increase the max inventory of stimpacks is essentially useless. You’d also be lucky if an enemy that dropped a stimpack wasn’t the one you’d just flung off a cliff.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – ARMED WITH AESTHETICS
Gorgeous doesn’t even begin to describe the game’s aesthetics. A lot of the work has been channeled into the art. So much so, that you wouldn’t be surprised if you found out that the artists themselves had grown a third arm to make it. The backgrounds are beautifully crafted, made to look like they were brush painted. The vibrant colours show off an amazing view of whatever planet you are on. The foreground is painted perfectly to highlight each of the level’s mechanics, while also changing across the levels to fit the backgrounds. Each character is drawn to perfection, with little details that make each character stand out against another. Not to mention, the lighting on each character is exceptional.
The animations of each movement are intricately designed as well. You can tell the amount of work the artists put into drawing each frame of animation for the various movements of each character. The animations of both combat and movement flow incredibly well, making it feel like a well choreographed dance.
The game’s soundtrack also manages the capture its cyberpunk aesthetic well. Futuristic beats and boops dot the musical score, and harmonize to create a track that give an exciting sci-fi atmosphere. The sound design is similarly excellent. Each punch you do has an extra added oomph to it, and slashing an enemy dead with a good “shing” of your sword is incredibly satisfying. The sound effects of your platforming are also meticulously crafted: metal clanging and clinking when you climb on railings and chains, wind swooshing with each jump and fall. While the platforming itself may not be interesting, the sound design behind it is what all platformers should strive for.
BUGS & GLITCHES – AN UNPOLISHED DIAMOND
They Always Run is unpolished. It has numerous bugs that can and will frustrate you. Of course, none of these are particularly gamebreaking, but they can worsen your experience of it as well as your immersion. There are a few which stand out in particular.
For a platforming game, you would typically expect the platforms to be precise and accurately measured. After all, you wouldn’t want to jump to a platform, think you’re on it but the game thinks you aren’t and you fall to your death. But this is exactly what happens in the title. Platforms can be slightly smaller than you expect, leading to you falling off when you thought you shouldn’t. Other platforms can be larger than you expect. While it doesn’t seem like a problem at first, it hinders the platforming experience once you bump into a wall that you thought you missed, and again, fall to your death.
Platforms aside, the platforming also depends on certain animations. These animations are expertly designed, but face one issue: the game teleports you to start an animation. You snap onto railings and when vaulting boxes, making the platforming feel glitchy. The counter animation during combat also teleports you sometimes, or even the enemy, which can leave you confused about your position and theirs during a fistfight.
Lastly, we have the dreaded camera. Some good points about it: the camera focuses on items of interest for you. This is a great concept in theory. By doing this, the camera acts as a guide for you, hinting at your next destination or the next enemy. The game also doesn’t hesitate to show off its art, giving you a lot of wide shots of its landscapes.
Put into practice, however, the camera becomes a nauseating mess. In most areas, there will be multiple items of interest. The camera will then keep shifting up and down, zooming in and out on these items with your every movement, trying to focus on anything and everything in your range. It certainly doesn’t help that the character moves so quickly, and the camera matches its speed to catch up to you. All this results in the camera flailing around haphazardly, leaving a weird feeling in your stomach.
They Always Run was reviewed on PC, with a code provided by GOPublX.
(Soundtrack video by Kami Gawa.)