The recent renaissance of digital distribution and indie gaming has given rise to a number of trends, including the resurgence of genres long since considered unfashionable and an increase in accessibility for user-created content. Flippfly Games’ recently-released Race the Sun combines both of these aforementioned trends, bringing together a fast-paced sci-fi racer along the lines of F-Zero or Wipeout and the ability for players to create their own tracks and share them with the world, all under an artistic and abstract veneer.
Race the Sun is simple enough in premise. You have to fly an oddly flat and bird-like craft across harsh monochrome landscapes, dodging falling rectangles and weaving in and out of sinister cone-shaped mountain ranges, all to a subtle but energetic electronic soundtrack. The title is derived from the game’s primary gameplay hook: the sun is constantly setting, so you need to fly as fast as possible for as far as possible, as once the sun is finally under the horizon, your ship limps to a pitiful stop, leaving you stranded in…wherever you are. Luckily, while time is not on your side, the rest of the game is. Power-ups litter the environment, providing you with time extensions, score multipliers, and special abilities like jumping. These abilities can be unlocked by leveling up your craft, but instead of traditional XP-based leveling systems, levels are gained by completing achievement-like objectives, asking you to accomplish in-game feats like using the Jump ability ten times or reaching a certain score. This creates a satisfying loop wherein you find yourself constantly compelled to obtain new abilities and finish new objectives, and you always find yourself being rewarded.
Other than delivering old-school arcade racing in short bursts, Race the Sun’s other big reason for being is the ability to create your own tracks. While the game proper was created in the increasingly popular Unity 3D engine (primarily written with C#, for anyone else interested in that sort of thing), the world itself was designed with a map editor created by Flippfly and distributed in full with every copy of Race the Sun. And while the default track, created with a combination of hand-crafted environments and randomized procedural generation, changes every 24 hours to keep things fresh, these powerful world-crafting tools allow anyone with a copy of the game to come up with their own inventive track designs. Plenty of users have taken advantage of this already and there’s sure to be a steady flow of content well into the future.
Visually and sonically, Race the Sun continues to impress. The art style is sleek and clean; colorful polygon power-ups glow softly against harsh monochromatic environments, which merge Limbo‘s black-on-white aesthetic with the sort of geometric polygonal landscapes of super-early 3D console titles like Starfox, Vortex, or Cybermorph. The interface is clean and unobtrusive, providing constant updates on your current score and any recently completed objectives without ever getting in the way of your flightpath. Really, my only technical complaint lies with the finickiness of the controls. Using the standard keyboard layout (it should work with any PC-compatible Xbox 360-style gamepad, but I was unable to test that as of press time), it works well enough, but the tight handling takes a lot of getting used to – and as soon as you get the hang of it, you find out the hard way that your ship’s cornering varies depending on how high your solar energy levels are. A minor quibble, and one you’ll get used to soon enough. Just don’t be surprised when you find yourself smashed up against huge cubes on your first few tries.
All in all, Race the Sun has a lot to offer for a game that seems simple on the surface. Anyone missing the slightly sillier racing games of the 90’s will find themselves at home with the insane sense of speed (and wholly unrealistic handling/environments), and anyone who finds themselves an armchair track/level designer has plenty of opportunity to show off their skills here. The gradual progression of ship upgrades will prove addicting to any prospective racer, the huge variety of levels will keep everyone entertained, and it doesn’t require a huge time investment to fully enjoy. If you miss the days of F-Zero and you don’t mind abstracted obstacles and environments, then pop over to Steam Greenlight and give this sucker a vote. Or, better yet, head to flippfly.com and just buy it right from them. You won’t regret it.