Vector: Free Running (with option for paid running)
Vector proudly hails itself as the first mobile game to be based on parkour. It’s a bold claim and one that can be so easily disproved with a quick internet search, if not a browse through your game library. Although somewhat derivative of games such as the O.G. of side-scrolling runners Canabalt, and more directly the IOS version of Mirror’s Edge, Vector does the running, jumping, sliding thing as well as any game in the genre.
The well directed short intro, visualized as Kafka by way of iTunes advert, sets up a compelling reason for your nameless and faceless character to go on the run; something very few games of this type would even bother with. Part of a futuristic, totalitarian society with echoes of 1984, Brave New World and THX 1138, a cubicle worker, our hero, cracks and flees the oppressive regime. He escapes the uniform drudgery only to be relentlessly pursued by agile enforcers. The plot is minimal but very effective, and more than you would expect for a game of this type.
Later elements, such as the member of some kind of Resistance group who guides you through secret passages and blind falls, serve to keep the game rooted in the fiction, so that you are constantly immersed in the sense that there is a reason to do what you’re doing. It would have been easy to have just presented the levels as a series of platforming trials, so whatever the developers do to give the game a sense of purpose is appreciated. The fact that I developed enough of an attachment to the Resistance guide that their eventual fate actually touched me, speaks for how even just a little characterization goes a long way.
The story shouldn’t be over emphasized however, this isn’t The Witcher or Walking Dead. Vector is however, an endless runner that brings a surprising amount of variety to the template. The fluidly animated main character vaults and twists and sommersaults gracefully through the levels. Each movement is seamlessly knitted together creating a real sense of kinetic play. Even when you misjudge a landing or fall short of a handhold, the character responds naturalistically, and is up and back in to the action straight away. I especially liked the animation when you character gets his legs tangled in office chairs. Throughout the levels there are certain points where special freerunning moves can be initiated, that bolster the already substantial repertoire. These moves must be unlocked by purchasing them with coins gained throughout the game, either through grinding, or in app purchase. To achieve a three star rating on any level, you must perform these moves. The stars ultimately unlock the later levels so acquiring the extra moves is a must. Alternatively you could spend your hard earned cash on a nearly pointless weapon to fend off enemies, or a stylish orange tie. I recommend the tie.
As you get deeper in to the game, you’ll encounter a greater variety of game mechanics, some of which will see you doubling back on yourself to grab all the collectables in a level, or negotiating multiple paths. Relentlessly pursuing you throughout the game is an armored guard, your acrobatic equal in every way, and possessed of the steely determination of Cameron’s Terminator. Listen, and understand. He can’t be bargained with. He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are zapped by his Taser.
It’s a simple addition to the game, but the fact that he’s snapping at your heels throughout the level adds a real sense of urgency. Several times I found myself holding my breath as my on-screen avatar struggled to pull himself up to a ledge, evading electric justice by mere pixels. The satisfaction as you complete a level by running to safety behind an impassable door, leaving your pursuer out of breath and pissed off, is a moment to be relished.
The attention to design extends beyond the nitty-gritty of the gameplay itself. Levels are constructed with a keen sense rhythm and flow, and constantly find new ways to challenge you. Considering that the input is little more than well timed swipes either up or down, Vector manages to squeeze out every possible variation of timing and context you could imagine, and a few you can’t. Lesser games confront you with obstacles that must either jumped or ducked; not so Vector with it’s precisely timed leaps, falls and slides all of which must be employed counter intuitively at times to get a perfect run.
Some games let themselves down when blown up to tablet size screens (the one I use is a Pipo M3, a dual core, 10.1′ model), but Vector’s sharp graphics really get to shine with more screen space, and the controls don’t suffer as they can do with some games, being as they are both simple and intuitive.
I wasn’t expecting much of Vector, the screenshots looked decent, but it did look like yet another side-scrolling endless runner, but it didn’t take me long to really appreciate this game. It’s easy to play yet difficult to master (a sign that the game’s good), and worth the purchase alone just for the thrilling leap of faith you have to do when jumping from one improbably tall skyscraper to another, and you’re momentarily suspended in the void with no knowledge of where you’re going to land, only to coolly smash through a window, effortlessly roll along the ground and back on to your feet then carry on as if nothing had happened.