Oh, look – another mobile game about sprinting through a never-ending obstacle course. Can Vector bring something new to the endless runner genre, or does it fall at the first hurdle?
There’s a large section of the more vocal angry people on the internet who have a curious relationship with the concept of innovation. If they don’t like the look of a first-person shooter, that’s fine. It’s just another Call of Duty clone, they grumble. Wasn’t going to play it anyway, so nyah. Third-person action? If it’s a fantasy setting, it’s ripping off God of War, maybe Zelda. Sci-fi? Gears of War, and so on. Woe betide Nekki’s Vector, then: you’re running constantly left to right through office blocks and construction sites, leaping acrobatically over obstacles. It’s Canabalt meets Mirror’s Edge. And it was originally a Facebook game! Rubbish, obviously. There we go, all done. Let’s head down the pub.
Yet, Vector is far from a throwaway knockoff. While it never completely escapes its influences or its origins in an internet browser, this is a smart, compelling and hugely rewarding little game that’s good for idly killing time or lengthy, white-knuckle play sessions. Its art and sound design owe some fairly obvious debts, but the production values are still genuinely surprising, far more polished for all their simplicity than most of the competition. It even handles unlockables and a freemium pricing model much better than the vast majority of mobile titles. You might have to grind to see everything, but there’s no real paywall stopping you from beating the game.
A snappy intro sequence shows us a soulless dystopia where hordes of identical salarymen file dutifully into their cubicles to slave away at pointless busywork, reassured by an omnipresent Big Brother that there’s nothing to worry about. Suddenly, one of them snaps, throws his headset to the floor and legs it, angry security personnel hot on his tail. He leaps out through the nearest window with the guards in pursuit and the game begins as he sprints towards the right-hand edge of the screen and his escape to the next level. Fall or hit an obstacle too hard and he dies; slow down too much and the guard prangs him with a taser.
Don’t tase me, bro!
It’s a running game, then, but a more complicated one than early entries in the genre like Canabalt or Robot Unicorn Attack. As well as the glittering skyscrapers and pristine white office blocks, Vector builds on the same control method the portable version of Mirror’s Edge introduced. You swipe up to jump obstacles, but also down to slide under them.
Gradually the game introduces accelerating to a sprint, slowing down to avoid braining yourself on whatever’s in your way, jumping from wall to wall and so on. Timing is key to getting past each new obstacle at speed and staying precious moments ahead of your pursuer.
Vector’s gimmick is the ease with which the hero negotiates the levels, breaking out into full-on parkour moves at key points along the way. Significant obstacles are tagged with an icon indicating a particular stunt that’ll get you past it even faster. Swipe the icon and you pull off the move, react too slowly and chances are you’ll still clear the barrier, but miss out on cash or score bonuses. The stunts need to be unlocked with cash first – they’re not automatically available – and there are more bonuses dotted around to be picked up if you can work out alternate routes or different places to jump. More score at the end of the level means still more cash, and the incentive to replay the level now you’ve bought the skillset needed for a perfect run.
The process can drag occasionally (and Nekki don’t make it very clear that you don’t have to buy the stunts to beat the game), but when it works Vector is extraordinary. The animation is superb, with clean black silhouettes leaping elegantly through a vast array of moves, the controls are nuanced and responsive and the later levels are absolutely heart-in-mouth stuff in places. Nekki even toy with the formula for the genre, with a couple of fantastic set pieces way beyond anything Canabalt and its ilk ever managed.
Even if you hate runner games, I urge you to consider giving Vector a go – if you love the thrill of the chase, chances are you’ll be paying to unlock the premium version very quickly indeed.
Vector, by Nekki, is available now on Facebook, selected Android phones and tablets (reviewed) and iOS devices.