Game Review: Run
I have a soft spot in my heart for odd, mashed-up art. Why am I drawn to it? I can’t say why. What I can say, however, is that Run is a simple, addictive game that will blow your mind and tug at your heartstrings for your nostalgia. How? Read on.
Run, by Christopher Whitman, isn’t your average game. In fact, I’m having trouble classing it as an RTS, platformer, or something else entirely. The game combines elements of different genres with a few different minigames that manage to successfully tell a beautiful, thought-provoking story through gameplay and poetry. You read that right- poetry. There’s a platforming element to the game that’s simple (and trippy) that involves most of the game’s beautiful poetry. Something about it’s style and the story it told reminded me of a cross between Langston Hughes and a Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. You see, you’re running across the poems that describe the game’s condition- and the human condition. Much of the game’s story centers on the steady encroachment of technology into human society, the slow, subtle moral decay and the sprawl of the city that has a grip on mankind at large. Are these massive changes for the better? For worse? That’s left to you, the player, to decide. For the most part, the first platforming segment is the simplest. Just running and jumping from word to word. At the end of these segments, you leap into something that slowly stops resembling a sun.
Then too are the segments that come next- these will combine gameplay from famous classics such as Space Invaders and Snake– the game that came with most Nokia phones. What makes these so special, you ask? In these segments, you must collect bits of sunlight (I’ll explain momentarily why)- and you’ll have enemies. As the snake, your enemy is your body- you need to take special care not to crash into yourself or other obstacles. At the same time, your obstacles may be helpful to the next part of the segment, another platforming sequence. It’s very simple and brilliantly executed- you control an 8-bit little man who also collects bits of sunlight. The body of the snake from the last part becomes the platform for the man in the new part- an ingenious mechanic, one that’s employed in the other parts of this game. Once you’ve (hopefully) collected all the pieces of sunlight you could before time runs out, and now you’re now playing an RTS. What? I was slightly baffled at first- then I realized that the sunlight I collected in the dream segment was going to be given to the villagers, who I would now guide as they worked hard farming the land. You have six patches to till, sow, grow and harvest from, and twenty-five villagers to do it with, and a maximum of two minutes to do it in. At the end of your time, anything you harvested will be eaten. If you fail to collect enough food, villagers will die, and the game will become harder: now, your villagers will be spread more thinly, and you’ll have to make hard, fast decisions and calculations about how to distribute them over the land.
I’m not going to spoil the game’s story and meaning for you, so I’m going to have to stop describing it- but I can tell you more about the game’s graphics, which are essentially alright. Nothing mind blowing- they seem a little rough around the edges, in fact, but they’re decent. Visually, I think the game could use a little more polish, but it’s hardly noticeable- all your attention will be on the story, and your mind will be desperately seeking a solution to keep your villagers from dying any faster. The game’s music was also quite good- I just wish there was more of it. It’s mostly chiptune, 8-bit music mixed with moody piano playing and such- it’s pretty emotional sounding.
Overall, it’s definitely worth your time- my only real gripe is that the game itself is so short- about twenty minutes. But it’s twenty minutes of great quality, and it’s available for $3.99 on Desura. To put it in perspective, that’s about sixteen rounds at an arcade, and that money’s going to go towards funding bigger, more ambitious projects. Not convinced somehow? Try the whole thing via web browser. If you think this is a piece of art that deserves your dollars after you play, then go ahead and buy- if not, you only spent twenty minutes. The game’s available for Mac and PC.
A Few Other Thoughts
As you may have surmised, this is a rather “artsy” game along the lines of Braid, which has managed to become something of a benchmark for artistically inclined indie games. So how does it measure up? To begin with, Run is very, very different from everything. The game’s story centers on the growth of society and the collapse of morals, the loss of things that can’t be described quite so easily. This is one reason why I actually think Run is a better piece of art than Braid: The latter tells a story that’s extremely obtuse, and hard to wrap one’s mind around- the former is something that, simply put, is easier to understand. Does art need to be easy to understand in order to be good? No, not at all- I think a good puzzle thrown into an art piece can give it infinitely more impact. At the same time, Braid is a very needy piece of art- you need to figure things out, you need to jump through flaming, spiky hoops in order to fully grasp exactly what the point of the game is. The whole thing is just so complex- sure, there’s the easily grasped surface story about a princess, about how she- I suppose I should stop myself there for the sake of spoilers. The thing is, Braid has the complicated undercurrent as well that’s just so hard to get a handle on.
Run, on the other hand, is full of poetry that so clearly brings forth its points. It’s so obvious what this art is pointing to- it’s spelled out for you in black and white, and yet it never feels utilitarian or too simple- it feels beautiful and certain. Does this art have needs? Yes- all art has these needs, as they were- you need to have some idea of an urban, concrete jungle in order to fully comprehend what’s behind the poems. Again, there’s nothing wrong with a piece of art that forces its viewers to seek a deeper meaning- but does that art piece force a viewer to dig and dig and dig, as if investigating, interrogating and fighting? Or does the art make the viewer climb a mountain- a challenge with a clear-cut goal? I’m not bashing either approach- but I think that one may be greater than the other simply because it does what I believe art to do best: it communicates an idea, a feeling or a thought. That’s what I believe art’s meant to do. Perhaps you feel differently.