Do you remember Thumper? It was a rhythm-action horror game in which you played a space beetle musically fighting giant spiky head monsters. It was really good and there was/is nothing else quite like it. Well, I recently came across a game called Distance and I genuinely thought it was by the same developers.
Distance is a game set in the future in which you race through a collapsing structure towards a portal to escape a malevolent force. The story itself is unclear, but it seems as though humans were researching teleportation technology. Something evil from some other world or dimension came through those portals though, and the city (or maybe it’s a space station) didn’t come out too well. So you race your future car through the collapsing ruins around you, using its boosters and unique ability to fly short distances to escape before time runs out.
At first, you’re simply racing along a track, avoiding obstacles and passing through regular checkpoints that refill your boost and repair your car. Destruction sets you back only a very short distance but that timer, represented on the rear of your car, is always ticking down. As you progress you get the ability to jump and later fly, to allow you go overcome future challenges. Those paths you’re driving on aren’t as stable as you might like, so you’ll find yourself leaping over gaps and gliding to new routes. Before the end, you’ll be leaping, rotating your car upside down, and using boosters to land on upside-down tracks to keep going. All this is done at breakneck speed and it’s incredibly satisfying to get through an especially complex set of movements.
So where’s the horror? Well, some of the courses do…odd things. You’ll be racing along before the screen begins to glitch out a little. At first it seems as though the visuals are a bit off, but moments later you’ll be transported to some bizarre hellscape in which demonic voices speak seeming nonsense to you. I don’t want to spoil anything as it’s really quite an experience that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. Suffice to say, it’s a touch unsettling at times, and the less said about the level ‘Abyss’ the better!
It really is quite thrilling and the controls are really tight which certainly helps, although it might feel a little off in some of the low gravity sections. The challenges keep ramping up and require a certain degree of memorisation which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The main campaign is only about 90 minutes long though, which might put some people off for the £20 price tage, but there’s a lot of extra content, including two more mini campaigns (that are much harder) and an arcade mode with tons more tracks. There’s even a track editor and Steam Workshop support offering lots of community made tracks. On top of evenything else, there’s the online multiplayer to boot. If you’re going to stop after the campaign, then it probably won’t be good value for you, but with everything else that’s there you can have a lot of fun.
Visually, Distance is mostly excellent. Everything looks interesting and varied, and most threats are fairly easy to identify. I loved that driving into lasers caused parts of your car to be sliced off (which effects the handling, especially if you lose a wheel) only for those parts to grow back when you hit a checkpoint. I say it’s mostly excellent, as on occasion it wasn’t immediately clear where I needed to go. After a couple of crashes you can work it out quickly enough though. The sound is fantastic (and this is one of the things that reminded me of Thumper) with thumping tracks that grow in intensity as you travel through the stage, changing only when you find yourself in that ‘other’ world. It does a great job of creating an ambiance based on what you’re currently experiencing. Try it with headphones. Really.
It can be tricky, and you may need to die a fair few times to get to grips with the controls. This is especially true when you start having to leap from on track, rotate in mid air, then use boosers to force yourself onto the next section. Once you have the rhythm for it though, there’s a great feeling of pace, and returning to tracks you’ve already completed with your new skills can result in some great sequences as you string together moves through a challenging series of roads.
Distance was developed and published by Refract. I played the game on PC and would highly recommend it! I’ve not played else quite like it (although Refract describe it as a spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, which I haven’t played) and I’m quite eager to go back and try out some more community made tracks. It’s mad, fast racing that I encourage you to check out.