Endless runners – the genre originated on mobile, simplifying the controls and design of traditional platforming games to fit touchscreen devices.
We don't see a lot of endless runners on console, although Funk of the Titans turned out pretty well on Xbox One. Now the Xbox One has a second endless runner in Infinity Runner (also available on Windows PC and PlayStation 4) from Wales Interactive.
The aptly-named Infinity Runner is a level-based endless runner in which the player must escape from a gigantic spaceship and the genetically enhanced werewolf within it. Unlike most games in the genre, this one takes place entirely from a first-person perspective. With a somewhat intriguing sci-fi concept and the low low price of just $7, Infinity Runner is a tempting buy. But it's hard to enjoy a game when you can't see it. Read our detailed review with video to learn more!
Infinity Runner's Story mode starts out with our nameless hero, a naked man, awakening from a deep sleep within the spaceship Infinity. A British woman's head appears at the top of the screen and communicates to him via non-lip synced voiceovers, very much like the Guardian Angel in the Borderlands games. Her instructions: run like crazy, because everyone is trying to kill you.
The story unfolds through both British Lady's in-game narration and cinematic sequences that cap each of the game's 14 levels. These sequences betray a very low budget, as they look awful by modern standards. But they do contribute to the game's late 90s/early 2000s atmosphere, which lends a certain appeal. Lady's monologues make for an interesting story, even if it doesn't quite go anywhere by the end.
As the game progresses, it comes apparent that our hero is actually a werewolf. The scientists aboard the Infinity had been experimenting on him and others like him. Their reasons for doing so, and the identity of the female narrator and the super werewolf that chases the protagonist, will become somewhat clear throughout the course of the game. I became intrigued and wanted to know more, but unfortunately the game ends with an abrupt "To be Continued" that denies us a resolution.
Although Infinity Runner is a 3D endless runner, it plays fairly differently than Temple Run and games like it. Chalk that up to the first-person perspective and physical controls. It feels strange to always be running forward in a first-person game, but you'll probably get used to it after a few levels.
Our hero must run through a nearly endless series of corridors and walkways. He'll enter an open area every now and then, but he always beelines through it to the next hallway. Players still need to dodge left and right though, as many obstacles block a portion of the pathway. The left analog stick strafes horizontally.
Intersections can prove deadly to the lunkheaded protagonist, should he fail to turn in time. The right analog stick makes 90-degree turns. These actually killed me more than once. You have to start the turn awfully early; a more open timing window would better suit a game of this style. Also, it can be tough to see which way you're supposed to turn – we'll talk about that in a moment.
The Infinity contains a variety of obstacles that must be slid under or jumped over as well. The Left Trigger slides and the Right Trigger jumps. You can also grab onto ziplines by jumping in the correct spot.
Everyone who works on the Infinity wants to stop our runner, so he'll have to stop them first. Whenever he encounters one or more soldiers, a QuickTime Event (QTE)-style fight begins. These require a series of button presses. They tend to be easy, which is nice because nobody likes QTEs. But the fights become repetitive very early in the game, creating boredom instead of excitement. The game would be better without them.
At specific points throughout the game, our hero picks up an injection that transforms him into a werewolf. This doesn't change the gameplay much, other than causing him to automatically pick up collectibles and defeat opponents. He does get to break through a few walls and run through vertical shafts, mixing up the gameplay slightly.
Dark and difficult
Infinity Runner would be a mildly boring but inoffensive way to pass the time, if not for a couple of major design mistakes. First off, the game is obnoxiously dark. Oftentimes, you can barely see anything. The game even has several sections in which the lights go out completely!
The darkness seems to be a deliberate attempt to disguise the low-fidelity graphics. That would be fine in certain types of games such as horror, but it doesn't suit the twitch-based gameplay of an endless runner one bit. I can't count how many times I ran into a wall at an intersection because I COULDN'T SEE either the wall or which direction led to safety.
Easy Mode alleviates the issue somewhat by adding bright blinking arrows to the intersections. That does make the game more enjoyable and less punishing. But those arrows should appear on all difficulties. Not being able to see should not be a part of the game on Normal or Hard.
The final boss battle also proves frustrating at present. The protagonist has to duke it out with his super werewolf nemesis in a series of three QTEs. The third QTE requires players to alternatingly tap Left Bumper and Right Bumper like 50 times within a matter of seconds.
As designed, the QTE simply doesn't provide enough time to perform that action and you're guaranteed to die. The workaround is to start hitting the bumpers as soon as the second QTE ends, even before the third QTE prompt appears. The game doesn't tell us to do that though, so I nearly gave up before a friend told me what to do.
The Steam version of the game got patched just a few days ago, removing the third QTE entirely. Wales Interactive tells us that the Xbox One should receive the same patch within the next week or two, thankfully.
Arcade mode and Challenges
For a more traditional endless running experience, players can ditch the story and play as long as they want in Arcade mode. You get to select from the seven unique environments and even disable fights if you like. One big difference in Arcade mode is that players can store the werewolf transformation serum and activate it at will.
Endless runners often have missions that reward players for completing specific actions during their runs. Infinity Runner presents these as challenges. Complete three challenges to increase your overall Wolf level. Some of the challenges are standard stuff like running a certain distance or winning 100 fights. But they eventually require you to get all of the collectibles and beat the game without dying on each difficulty, all for no other reward than Achievements.
Infinity Runner offers 55 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. If you just want to increase your Achievement count without worrying about actual completion, the game is a great buy. You'll earn them constantly throughout Story mode.
Some of those easy Achievements involve pointless tasks like disabling subtitles and turning off the game's sound. I know the developer thought they were being nice by throwing in some gimmes, but fiddling with random options should not award Achievements. Use them to highlight specific things you WANT players to do, not turn off the freaking sound!
Most players will get around 40 Achievements and 600 Gamerscore from playing Story on Easy and dabbling with Arcade mode. The harder Achievements involve playing on Hard and completing all of the Challenges. You should only play this game on Hard if you don't like yourself.
As for the Challenges, remember, that involves beating each of the three difficulties without dying. You don't have to beat the whole game in a row this way, just clear each level individually with no deaths. The upcoming patch will add the ability to track which levels have been cleared without dying, which is cool. But still, Normal and Hard mode are such a pain that I wouldn't bother with it.
I really wanted to like Infinity Runner. The game has several cool things going for it, like the werewolves in space theme, the hard sci-fi atmosphere, and a thumping electronic soundtrack.
Problem is, Infinity Runner alternates between being frustrating and boring. We covered the horrible darkness already. And many of the game's obstacles give players no time to react, forcing you to memorize the segment or level in order to survive. You will die a lot, especially on Normal or Hard difficulty. Dying often involves repeating a bunch of unskippable story and fight segments.
I played through most of Infinity Runner on Normal before switching down to Easy, which did improve my experience. But I could never shake the feeling that Infinity Runner should've been an old-school first-person shooter or action game instead of an endless runner. The oppressive darkness could actually work in an FPS game's favor, building tension instead of hindering gameplay. And an FPS with early PlayStation 2-era visuals like Infinity Runner's would still achieve the retro appeal that the developers seem to have been going for. Now that's a game I'd enjoy playing.