Whenever games attempt to combine various genres into one, it always either ends up a complete failure, or a niche success that finds good traction among the adopting player base. Refract studios created something special with Distance – a survival-themed racer where you explore a mysterious futuristic city, having to avoid numerous obstacles scattered throughout each level in an effort to make it through until the end. It mixes in platforming elements of the sort, with jumping, spinning and flying mechanics introduced to compliment traditional arcade racing, and add a unique spin on the experience. It’s quite relaxing, yet intensely gripping at once as you try to navigate the diverse obstacles, and nail those perfect runs to advance in game further. Whether you attempt to uncover what happened to this strange world, grab perfect scores across each level in Arcade mode, or compete online against other players, Distance offers something for everyone with its engaging gameplay mechanics.
Developer, Publisher: Refract
Release Date: September 18, 2018 (v 1.0); Reviewed on: PC
Testing specs: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070
Available via: Steam
I’ve first got familiar with Distance many years ago, picking it up on Steam Early Access around the time it just got released. Since then, it’s come a long way in building up features around the central gameplay idea, introducing a short but memorable campaign mode, many diverse track sets in its Arcade mode, as well as further iterating on the extensive track editor that was already available from the start of Distance’s development. The visual aesthetic here isn’t made to be pleasing, yet its futuristic neon vibe is bound to click with anyone who even remotely likes sci-fi. It plays just as much of a role as precision gameplay and the game’s brilliant original soundtrack, which all come together in spectacular fashion. I could easily recommend Distance for its visual atmosphere alone, though there’s plenty to go on with all other features.
Level design in Distance is simply outstanding, and through a feature-full level editor, has allowed both the developers and Steam community to create spectacular locations. No two tracks look the same, despite most having a neon-lit city background, and racing along them is an absolute blast. Sure, I’d have to restart each level about 10-20 times as I try to memorize where obstacles spawn to ultimately make it through to the end, but the visual spectacle at hand is well worth repeated attempts. Refract have done an excellent job at diversifying track selection in both Campaign and Arcade modes, but things don’t just end there either. With a powerful level editor at hand, the community has been hard at work over the years in creating enormity of diverse race courses, some of which look completely impossible to beat. Refract made a smart choice here, as Distance’s track creator allows users to build infinite possibilities, and extend the game’s longevity way beyond its already extensive offering of races and challenges. Through the excellent Steam Workshop integration, you’re always kept in the loop about newest releases and top rated race courses, which provide a simplistic way of extending the game’s track list by a few hundred units.
The Adventure mode is the closest I’d call Distance relaxing by a mile, and even there, you must focus on avoiding the numerous things designed to stop the car dead in its tracks, and more likely, make you explode on impact. Exploring the deadly city, accompanied by some of the best techno soundtrack I’ve ever heard, feels almost serene despite intense racing challenges at hand. There’s very light story to accompany intense racing here as well, with a strange AI threat interjecting into levels to create a sense of mystery. Given the focus isn’t on exposition, you won’t find much here, although Distance can easily get by on the racing alone and one can commend Refract for iterating beyond that element.
Whereas the campaign offers a more relaxing trip with challenge scaled down, in the game’s Arcade mode, all bets are completely off. This is where I’d be gripping my controller so hard, and often yell as I try to overcome the same obstacle point for the 20th time, that I need to remind myself I’m simply meant to enjoy Distance for its atmospheric racing and soundtrack. Those chasing the best scores will certainly be at home here, striving to 100% each of the numerous event sets, and set the best time possible in online leaderboards. You typically race against up to five ghosts of other players who already beat the track, trying to set the fastest time possible, although it isn’t necessary to beat others while earning all three medals each time. The modes available include standard Sprint, with respawning available at any point, pure Challenge with no respawns and Stunt that lets you have fun flipping the car in the air for points. Events don’t lack in diversity, and if one were to only play the Sprint mode, even there a myriad of well-designed tracks ensure boredom never comes.
Moving on to gameplay, and this is where Distance showcases its intense approach to arcade racing. It demands precise movement and uninterrupted player attention, with obstacles coming up right in front of you at intense speeds, and being able to avoid them comes down to almost instantaneous response times. Nothing stops you from driving slower, of course, or avoid boosting altogether as you navigate a course more thoughtfully, but then you can simply forget about setting decent times on the scoreboards. Repeated attempts work best instead, and I’d suggest running the track once or twice with no regard for timing before you aim to complete a course as fast as possible.
To do that, you also need to boost the car as much as you can, although it’s a somewhat limited feature as your ride tends to overheat from using it too much. This introduces a small strategic element to the game, where you time your boosts to have range in completing certain jumps, as well as let it off when too many obstacles spawn on the route or your car shows red warning signs. Regenerating rings set along the track reset your temperature, and remove any damage caused by obstacles like lasers, so in many instances it is possible to avoid certain doom. Handling isn’t the most sensible either, with your ride bouncing off walls with zero realistic physics feel, but now I’m just really nitpicking a perfectly working game.
Distance’s blend of platforming elements comes into play a lot when the track changes, with racing surfaces switching to walls or ceiling. It’s a basic concept where you tap the jump button, and then use the left controller stick or arrow keys on the keyboard to make the vehicle rotate. The fast-paced nature of racing here, of course, demands quick responsiveness as you’d have to rotate upside down and race on the new portion of a track, otherwise the car slowly falls to its death. Distance further enables flying, which is both a nice visual spectacle and the means of crossing larger gaps, but it naturally has a downside to it. Flying works like boost, so your ride can only handle it for a limited amount of time, and if you miss gates to regenerate car temperature, it’s bound to explode. Obstacles don’t disappear either, and not every level enables it, so the first few runs are full of trial and error. This isn’t a complaint of course, with Distance laying out its intentions from the very start, and despite few moments of frustration I felt from repeating the same track over and over, that’s why I picked it up in the first place.
If the game’s single player mode doesn’t strike you fancy, or one’s simply completed all it has to offer, Distance also packs in a decent multiplayer mode to continue the fun with friends or even just random people. Online races support up to 12 players at once, challenging each other in regular Sprint, Reverse Tag and Stunt modes, but the features don’t stop there. A maximum of 4 players can enjoy Distance in split-screen on a single machine, which does get a bit hectic but is fun nonetheless, although 2 player co-op works best here. Extensive online leaderboards are undoubtedly included here. And if that isn’t enough, Distance additionally offers full support for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR Headsets.
Distance delivers high-stakes arcade racing that will have you gripping the controller as you race to survive each of its obstacle-ridden courses while also aiming to set best possible times through its online scoreboards. With a diversity of game modes to engage in, as well as virtually endless content created by the Steam Workshop community over the years, now is the better time than ever to give this title a go. Even non-racing fans will find simplicity in its arcade controls, and Distance is worth experiencing simply for its Tron-esque atmosphere, quality soundtrack, and incredible level designs its track editor has allowed for. Despite a brief campaign mode that’s over and done within two or so hours, there’s an enormity of content on offer through user-created racing stages, and furthermore, one can simply have fun in online multiplayer or local split-screen. Distance is one of the genre’s most unique finds, and those who enjoy the type of competition it offers, will find it extremely worthwhile to pick up.