by John Markley1
Vector is a side-scrolling action/platformer game based on parkour, the art of rapidly and fluidly navigating past obstacles. Pioneered by French athletes drawing inspiration from the obstacle courses used in military and firefighter training, the discipline of parkour has spread around the world and has featured prominently in films like Casino Royale and games such as Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed. With Vector, developer Nekki brings the art to mobile gaming, with great success.
The premise is simple. In an oppressive future, you’re on the run with only your speed and agility to protect you as you rush to stay one step ahead of your pursuers. Your character runs continuously forward while you swipe your finger up to jump, down to slide, and right to build up speed on straightaways. Special moves are context-sensitive, so doing them is as easy as your basic repertoire. Your goal is to reach the end of the stage without plummeting over the side of a building or being caught by the bad guy tirelessly pursuing you, while earning points by passing through designated checkpoints on your route and performing special moves at certain areas of each stage. At the end of each stage, you’re given a rating of one to three stars and you earn coins to unlock new moves.
It’s fairly easy to get the hang of, and, as you do so, it’s very exciting and satisfying to see your character gracefully flow through his environment. Despite the fact that you’re travelling inexorably forward through linear stages, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom as you play, a thrilling feeling that nothing can bind or contain you. (Provided you haven’t just screwed up badly, at any rate; once you’re crashing headlong into a wall your world may feel a bit more constrained again.)
Stages are nicely laid out and last a minute or two each, long enough to be interesting but sufficiently short that failing and having to start over isn’t a big deal. The challenge is well-balanced, with successful completion of each new stage readily achievable once you know what you’re doing. A three-star rating, on the other hand, is a much more difficult challenge.
The game is visually stunning, despite requiring only Android 2.2. Character animations as you run, leap, and roll are amazingly fluid, and not just “for a mobile game.” The backgrounds depicting the skyline of a futuristic city are great – they’re not ultra-detailed, but they look cool and fit nicely with the tone and atmosphere of the game.
Your character, his pursuer, and the environment they maneuver through are depicted entirely as black silhouettes. Though this was probably a necessary technical compromise to make the highly detailed animation possible, it actually works in the game’s favor. The featureless black outline of your character stands out starkly against the brighter backgrounds, giving his movements a more dramatic look, and the lack of visual detail on the character helps focus the player’s eye and mind purely on motion rather than static detail. It even fits the game’s minimalist story of an anonymous everyman escaping his oppressors.
There are a few technical downsides. The game sometimes lags on some devices, especially when both the player character and his pursuer are onscreen at the same time or when environmental animations, like scattering birds or shattering glass occur. This in turn can make movement look choppier and throw off your timing. This appears to be a problem with optimization for certain devices rather than something inherent to the game itself, so hopefully subsequent updates will rectify things. Loading times between levels are also on the long side. It’s not enough that it gets seriously aggravating, but it is noticeable.
The game comes in two versions, a free version and a “Deluxe” version. The Deluxe version removes the ads between levels, which do get a bit annoying in the free version, and increases the rate at which you earn coins to unlock additional moves. The upgrade is only $1, so if you like the free version enough to keep coming back to it, it’s worthwhile.
Despite some (hopefully temporary) technical hiccups, Vector is a great game. It’s exciting to play, impressive to look at, and does a great job of delivering the sense of freedom and mastery of the environment that the concept promises.
Is it hardcore?
Summary: An exciting, beautiful game that creates an exhilarating feeling of freedom.