Distinctive Developments Ltd.
Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
Age Rating: 12+
You are being chased by an unknowably malevolent evil, the wind howling and swirling around you as you madly weave, dodge, and dash your way between trees and gravestones. You cannot stop running for anything, lest the evil catch up and consume your soul, so you struggle onwards in an ultimately futile effort. This is the essence of Dead Runner, a new game by the UK-based Dinstinctive Developments, which puts a unique twist on the continuous running formula popularised by Canabalt.
Unlike Canabalt, however, Dead Runner is played from a first-person viewpoint. The game is controlled entirely through tilting. The angle at which you tilt your device determines how quickly you dart left or right across the forest, while you continue endlessly pressing forward. You slow down if you hit a bush; die if you hit a tree or gravestone.
There are two modes on offer: distance mode is a pure endurance run in which you simply stay alive for as long as possible, while points mode places a greater focus on strategy, with numerous glowing orbs scattered around the environment that will boost your score if collected. Your speed automatically increases over time (albeit at a much greater rate in distance mode than in points mode), and the forest becomes progressively more dense with hazards. There are 24 achievements – ranging from range from simple (go 100 metres) to the incredibly challenging (get 150,000 points) – and OpenFeint leaderboards available for people interested in competing with friends or strangers around the world.
Scoring in distance mode is entirely based on how far you manage to get. In points mode, however, it gets a little more complicated. Your score gradually increases as you advance, but can be boosted by yellow orbs, which give 1000 points; green orbs, which offer a 3x score multiplier; and purple orbs, which offer a 2x score multiplier. The score multipliers last only a short time, and drastically increase your speed – so that it becomes extremely difficult to capitalise on their benefit. A strategic element emerges in trying to figure out which orbs to go for, and how many risks you’re willing to take in search of a quick points boost.
While points mode is certainly an interesting distraction, it lacks the exhilarating feel of distance mode. Given the game’s horror theme, it is hardly surprising that it thrives on tension – and that is what distance mode is really about. The creepy music and foreboding visuals take over your senses as you rush through the environment, desperately evading one clump of trees only to have to dart sideways to avoid tripping over a gravestone, before praying that you can squeeze through the tiny gap set before you. There is no end to the forest. Your fruitless flight from the mysterious evil that nips at your heels is very much in vain, but still you run.
At its best, Dead Runner is incredibly immersive – you may even find yourself forgetting that you’re sitting in a crowded public area as all the world outside fades away from your senses, only to be brought violently back when you just as violently slam into a tree (which you could’ve sworn wasn’t there). But therein lies the problem. As well as the game draws you in, it just doesn’t do enough to keep your attention.
The music is creepily atmospheric and foreboding, but it is not supported by other sounds that are associated with the theme, such as panting or footsteps, and the sense of urgency is as much provided by the ever-increasing speed as by the haunting atmosphere. There is a general sensation that the game could have been something more. It’s certainly a fresh take on a quickly tiring genre, and, for what it is, it’s a good game, but Dead Runner is more of a welcome distraction than an experience that will take over your life.Dead Runner,