The infinite runner is one of those genres like the cover-based shooter and the instrument-focused music game that really blossomed in the last few years…and then people started getting sick of it…and then the genre was relegated to either the dustbin of history, or worse, the dreaded realm of the ‘casual gamer’: mobile devices. But, like any genre that gets the c-bomb attached to it, the accusation is both unfair (casual isn’t really a dirty word when used right) and inaccurate. There’s plenty of infinite runners that show both innovation and fun design for gamers looking for a bit more challenge and the recent Steam re-release of T.E.C. 3001 stands as a prime example.
T.E.C. 3001 (the initials, according to the developer, stands for Tesla Energy Collector) puts you in the shoes of some handsome Svedka robot, dashing along virtual-reality cityscapes in an attempt to collect batteries for…reasons? Developers Phoenix Games’ website claims you’re here to collect (and I’m quoting) “virtual space energy leftovers for humanity”, which all sounds fun and ’90s sci-fi enough, but how much plot is really needed for a futuristic racing game? And rest assured, despite the platformer aspects and computer-space trappings, T.E.C. 3001 has more in common with F-Zero and Wipeout 2097 than it does BIT.TRIP RUNNER.
Firing up the single-player mode, an appropriately futuristic sounding computer-lady welcomes you to “virtual reality”, and then it’s literally off to the races! Levels in T.E.C. 3001 take various forms. The bulk of the game places you as the constantly jogging robot, jumping and sliding and dashing your way across gaps and down narrow highways, collecting batteries and smashing barriers. Many of them require you to collect a certain number of batteries or get to the end in a certain amount of time. While most tracks give you a bit of freedom to switch between lanes, jump/slide/dash, or do what you need to get to the end unexploded, a few other tracks place you on a straight shot with you in control of nothing other than your speed…and maybe your bladder when things get out of hand.
And they will. T.E.C. 3001 gives a better sense of speed than even F-Zero GX, with the pleasantly Tron-like environments (that’s ’80s Tron, not Legacy) whizzing by in an impressive blur of wireframes and glowing corners while a suitable (if not slightly samey sounding) European techno soundtrack underlines the fact you’re totally in virtual reality in the future. The game really gets the idea across of you speeding across great distances at high speeds and you’ll likely find yourself experiencing a surprising rush of adrenaline during your runs.
Speed may be T.E.C. 3001‘s greatest asset, but it also tends to be its greatest liability. The controls, especially at higher speeds, tend to get…awfully finicky. It’s one thing to have to wrestle with a vehicle’s handling in most racing games, but in this it seems a little unfair even by those standards. You don’t corner so well at high or low speeds and obstacle courses involving a lot of sharp turns tend to become exercises in frustration. In a similar vein, the camera angle tends to make distances hard to judge; between that and the pretty floaty jumping physics, you should expect to have to make jumps more than once. Luckily, the game seems almost aware of your robot’s strange controls and fragile constitution and you’re never penalized too heavily for dying or messing up.