Review: Race the Sun (PS4)

Race the Sun has had a long, mostly-successful life since its Kickstarter and Steam acceptance, and when it was released last year on PC I enjoyed it immensely.  Over time the game I reviewed evolved into something better, with new obstacles and course elements added to the mix and a community that pushed the level editor in unexpected and amazing ways, but the core idea Race the Sun built out from remained as solid and instantly captivating as ever.  Now it’s landed on PS4, not quite fully intact but with an exclusive mode that attempts to make up for the missing bits, and the sense of barely-controlled speed it even better on a big screen.

Race the Sun is an endless speeder where you’ve got a solar powered ship that has a vertical ground clearance of about three feet.  Thankfully the terrain is utterly flat, aside from the endless obstacles between you and the horizon.  The objective is to fly forever, but once the sun sinks you’re done.  The odds of seeing night are fairly low, however, because the ship is fast and the terrain cluttered with walls, hills, moving blocks, and many, many other hazards that will see your lovely ship turned into an impressive cloud of high-speed shrapnel.  You’ve got no brakes, the sun is sinking, and failure is one poorly-judged move away.  The only thing to do is obvious- fly faster!

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Race the Sun
‘s sense of speed is hard to overstate.  The ground flashes by below while you zip far to close to walls as you’re tempted from the safety by the collectable tris scattered along the path.  Every five tri earns +1x to the bonus multiplier, so hitting a ramp and then carefully angling to land briefly on a wall between two boulders to collect the string of goodies on top is a tough risk to resist.  Other items along the course are the ever-useful boost, which is the only way to go fast enough to briefly reverse the sun’s descent, as well as jump and shield.  Jump is good for a single boost into the air, complete with a few seconds of flight time on the way down, and very useful for bypassing obstacles that you can’t otherwise avoid.  If that doesn’t work then shield is the only other possibility to avoid death, as it teleports you high into the air rather than leave you as a smoking blast-mark on the wall.  Boost is used automatically on pickup, jump can be saved for later, and shield auto-activates if you’re lucky enough to find one.  Use your items well, memorize the course as best you can, and you just might see a respectable spot on the day’s leaderboards.

Each leaderboard is only good for a single day, after which the course is reset in a brand-new configuration.  Race the Sun uses the “randomized from pre-built parts” method of design, which is always a good way to give endless variety to each new layout while retaining the hand-crafted feel.  Every day is a new world in each of the three game modes, and the competition for the top spot on their individual leaderboards is fierce.  Regular mode is open from the start, but you’ll need to earn the other two by leveling up the shipby accomplishing a variety of tasks such as perform a double-jump, complete a level while only turning right, collect a huge amount of tris, etc.  The first new mode to unlock is Apocalypse, which trades out the grey sky of the normal mode for an evil orange/yellow one and has an obstacle density to justify it.  Death is fast because the course is ridiculously tough, but it’s always fun to dive into the deep end of a challenge just to see how many seconds of survival you can manage.

The second mode is Labyrinth, which is currently exclusive to the PS4 version, and it changes the rules a bit.  Labyrinth pulls the camera back while also slowing the ship down, giving you a nice view into the distance and plenty of time to react.  The downside is that, as the name implies, it’s a labyrinth, with closer walls and trickier obstacles from the start.  A cube that moves one space in the direction that the arrow on top points doesn’t sound like much of a threat, but get three of them close together that you’ll need to figure out the best course through where they’ll be and it’s not quite so simple.  Labyrinth removes the time limit of the sun, replaced the tris with lightbulbs, and has an electrical theme throughout.  It’s also the only mode with an end, although it will take some major controller wizardry to reach it.  Labyrinth is a fun little addition to Race the Sun’s arsenal, and almost makes up for the missing level editor from the PC version.

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Closing Comments:

Race the Sun was a load of good arcade-style fun on PC and the PS4 version is a near-perfect port.  The heart of the game made it intact and, while it’s a shame to be missing the player creations, the daily challenge is always worth returning to.  The stark world with its basic geometry seems far too simple to provide so much replayability, but it only takes a few tries crashing into walls, falling blocks, the rotating blades of a windmill, rolling rocks, slow-moving traffic, asteroids tumbling through the space of the Void, or any of the many, many other hazards to leave you wanting another run.  Restarting is instant, and every run is a chance to do better on the infinite plane of Race the Sun‘s high-speed thrill ride.  Every day is a new challenge, and with a bit of practice with the ship’s handling and familiarization with the set pieces that make up the world, maybe you can give the sun a run for its money.

4outof5Platform: PlayStation 4