Raging Against the Machine in the Precision Platforming of Randall

It’s hard to understand how much hand-holding goes on in a modern platformer until playing one that stops doing that. Wall jumps? Just hit the jump button within a couple feet and the platforming hero of choice will sort it out for you. Ledge grab? That takes even less work as you latch on automatically. Randall is an action-platformer that doesn’t automate anything and playing its demo forced the revival of skills I hadn’t realized were being neglected.

Randall lives in a world dominated by corporate surveillance, and being already a bit mentally unbalanced the pressure has pushed him to rebel, rather than quietly live under society’s watchful eye. Society isn’t any too happy about this and would quite like Randall to submit to its control, and a carefully worded letter isn’t going to resolve the issues on either side of the conflict. Randall is not a happy citizen and his oppressors are going to be feeling his telepathic anger.

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Grumpy as Randall may be, though, he’s going to need to reign in his ire if he wants to survive the platforming challenges ahead. The developers were quick to stress that the demo wasn’t what the full game would be like, in fact, and that it was a set of challenging levels put together to show off the mechanics quickly rather than a slow build-up for the difficulty curve. Honestly, after a convention where demos were either designed to show off the first level, or later areas were nerfed so people could see more, it was refreshing to get a precision-intensive platforming challenge even if getting to grips with all the button commands took more than a few deaths.

Randall is a protagonist with a good number of moves under his belt and a control system that does what it can to simplify things. Randall can run, jump, and grapple with the best of them, but his unique skills lie in the ability to take over enemies and control them. He needs to stun them first by beating them down, then leap onto the enemy’s back, at which point its attacks and special abilities became his to play with. The three enemies in the demo each came with their own ability, with the guards good for fighting, the bird-thing for flying, and the mole-bot for burrowing. Randall comes with a good amount of melee moves, and the guards he takes over have a nice selection to borrow as well, but the fighting was the weakest part of the game when compared to the high-precision platforming.

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All Randall’s abilities tie in to traversing the deadly levels, and the traps and laser grids require a steady hand and perfect timing to get past. Climbing up a rising and falling wall by means of the wall-slide, timing the jumps from one side to the other to avoid the spikes and lasers, and any miss meaning a restart at a conveniently-located respawn point makes for a very tense series of actions.  Try, fail, try, fail again, then finally revel in the sensation of nailing it while knowing you can do it again if you need to because you’ve learned every split-second section of the challenge.  The same holds true if you’re using a grapple on an enemy to throw them down while gaining extra height, or mentally dominating a mole-bot to burrow under a hallway of mines.  Randall has a good number of abilities and they all got put to use on the way to the demo’s end.  It’s hard to say how the difficulty curve of the demo will compare to the full game, but Randall played well and always kept the player engaged by minimizing any automation of the action, and it’s a good indication that the final release will be a challenge worth tackling.