Now is here, and I’m enjoying it just as much as I expected. In it, you ride bikes on rail-based tracks and perform stunts in gameplay that draws from popular extreme sports titles like , , and most of all . But there are all sorts of unique spins (pun only sort of intended) made possible by the game’s futuristic setting.
is hardly the only extreme sports game set in the future, but it doubles down on story more than most others do, and it uses the setting to add to game design in fresh ways.
For example, the bikes you ride in the game stick to rails, but they don’t just stick to the tops of rails—they stick to the bottom, too. Further, most of the bikes have two wheels of different colors. Attach a blue wheel to a blue rail and you’re in good shape for racking up points. Attach a blue wheel to a red rail, though, and you die. You also end up wanting to avoid neutral white rails, not because they don’t kill you, but because they reset your skill multiplier.
I talked to Owen Goss, one of the two developers of (the other is Matt Rix) about the cyberpunk setting and storyline. First off, why have a story in a game like this at all? Some of the best examples of the genre don’t bother.
“When we began prototyping in 2014, our plan was to have the game consist just of a set of levels to work through,” Goss answered. “We wanted levels to be in several different environments but all feel connected. So we wrote a whole story outline for why the world was the way it was.”
That rapidly expanded, he said:
We dove in and planned out quite a large story. We fleshed out the sponsors and their reps and created backstories for them all. And we created the whole plot arc and subplots.
At that point in development, we decided we wanted the characters in the story to communicate with you, the player, via a kind of text-message interface. They would send you messages talking to you and assign you work to do. You would jump back and forth between conversations in a phone-like interface and complete tasks. We built a complete user interface for it and wrote the first fifth or so of the story.
The problem was, it was extremely text heavy, and when we showed it to people, they got confused by the interface, and we noticed a lot of people would just skip through the dialog.
Goss said they discovered the sprawling story didn’t fit the gameplay, which was conversely fast and tight. After taking some time to think about it, Goss and Rix decided to drop most of the text and keep it to one short message per assignment.
“By placing a constraint on the story, we were able to create a much better balance between the story and the gameplay,” Goss explained. “We don’t get the nuance that we could have had with the longer story, but I think it works a lot better for the game. What we were trying to write first was a novel, and what we ended up with is more like the story from a comic book, which suits much better.”
Some initial reviews of have said the story isn’t too special, and while I sort of agree, I think it serves its role of enriching and contextualizing the experience. Yes, the cyberpunk story here is a bit generic, but that also makes it a sort of cyberpunk comfort food, if ever there was such a thing.
is like watching an episode of ; if you’ve watched three or four before, you know all the beats already long before they happen, but it starts to feel oddly pleasant to have the same story you’ve enjoyed before presented in familiar-but-new variations.
The general is just as important as the narrative beats, and has that down pat. Said Goss: “The visual style of the game was influenced by movies and games like but also a lot of other indie games. The narrative makes some nods to but was also influenced by current news around climate change and advances in AI.”
But how does play? Like a weird, inventive take on , of course.
Gameplay: Extreme digital future motorsports
I used to say I don’t like hard games—I played about three hours of before deciding I’d had enough, and while I understood and appreciated everything was trying to do and why it was good at doing it, I gave up quickly because it stressed me out. And yet I have played hours upon hours of , a game that is practically belligerent in its difficulty, pointing its finger and laughing at you as you repeatedly fail spectacularly.
I’ve realized over time that I just don’t enjoy games. While there’s some crossover between “stressful” and “hard,” they are not synonymous. I stress about important decisions all day at my job and personal life. When I’m sitting down to play a video game, I’m looking for a flow state that will take me out of those worries to a place that elegantly unfolds learning and mastery, because the rest of my life is far messier than that.
All that is to say that is just my kind of game: it strikes a perfect balance—it can be quite difficult, but it is never too stressful.
That’s partly down to how dying works—like , one of the face buttons of the controller is permanently mapped to restarting the level, and the levels are very short. You die a lot, but you get into the habit of hitting that restart button (triangle on the PS4) mere frames into your death animation. So the stress never manifests, because after you build that reflex, you never really have time to think about it, get anxious, and worry: you just keep going until you get it right.
is full of inventive additions to the formula set forth by other games like it; it actually owes a special bit of credit to an oldie called . Most of the new ideas here owe to the setting’s weirdly wonderful bike designs. Each time a new wrinkle or element was added, I found myself snickering at how clever it could be. That’s a good sign.
“Setting the game in a cyberpunk future let us do a lot of things with the gameplay that wouldn’t make sense in other contexts,” Goss told me. “We were able to invent new technologies that let our bikes defy gravity, boost into the air, spin very quickly, and hang from rails. This let us create new kinds of gameplay that you don’t see in other extreme-sports or stunt games.”
If you’re really good, you can finish ‘s story in one or two sessions, though I suspect the final big track will be a timesink for even highly skilled players. But the real fun is mastering the game, replaying tracks with new objectives or to get more points on the leaderboard.
I’ll admit my scores are middle-of-the-road, but I’m working on it. I might have to hit triangle on my PS4 controller 5,000 more times, but I am determined to climb those leaderboards.
3 with 3 posters participating