Game Info:

Developed by: Refract Studios
Published by: Refract Studios
Released: December 9, 2014
Available on: Windows, Mac OS X (reviewed), Linux, PS4
Genre: Racing
Number of players: 1-4
Price: $19.99

Thank you, Refract Studios, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

The engine fires up as the vehicle materializes at the head of the race track. The timer counts down as you press on the accelerator. As your car begins to move, you press the turbo button for a bit more of thrust. Within seconds, your vehicle screams across the green-lit streets. A ramp appears ahead of you, off to your left. It's an impulsive decision, but curiosity overcomes you. You steer to the left. The ramp has to lead somewhere, right?

Distance is, to put it simply, a racing game. The player controls a silvery, high-tech race car along a variety of futuristic tracks that appear to be inspired by the movie Tron. But looks can be deceiving – there is more to the game than a lot of more realistic racers. The car that the player drives is designed to jump, extend wings and fly, or even use thrusters to rotate the vehicle's body while in midair. Of course these are necessary, because some of the courses don't always have a track to drive upon. 

One of the thrills of this racing game is the ability to drive along the walls, and even the ceiling. In some of the more complex courses, this is even required. The road falls away or has been collapsed, so the player needs to do some tricky navigation at times to make it to the finishing line. Although the landscape does seem to be a futuristic city, there are a few tracks which appear to be in a post-apocalyptic setting... or perhaps in the middle of a nuclear reactor during a meltdown.

Sparks fly as you bounce off the wall and hit the ground. The road must be sloped downward, because your vehicle accelerates even further. The road takes a sudden curve upward and then simply ends. Your vehicle leaves the road and flies out into the open air. You expected this to happen. With the press of a button, side panels open and your vehicle's wings extend. You activate your right thrusters to correct your balance and steer the vehicle toward the silvery ring suspended in midair. There may not be any road, but you can still tell where to go.

As previously mentioned, the vehicle has wings that can extend and retract, so it could be a simple matter to fly from one end of the course to the next. However, the developers have added a simple mechanic to prevent players from, in effect, cheating their way to the goal. The car has a tendency to overheat when it uses the turbo thrusters, and especially when the car is flying. In some courses, where flying is necessary, silver-grey rings appear to not just indicate the direction to go, but also to cool the vehicle down. The flying sequences are certainly entertaining, and the ability to fly makes it possible to recover for those disastrous instances where the player mistimes a jump and goes flying off the track.

The car shudders as you jerk the wheel away. You had been concentrating so much on dodging the lasers that you failed to notice the sawblade in the middle of the road. The right half of your car is completely gone, and sparks fly as you floor the accelerator and wrestle with the steering wheel. You see red light reflecting on your bumper. All you have to do is make it to the green regeneration rings before the laser reaches you and finishes the job. Ten meters... five meters... two....


Strong Points: Variety of entertaining tracks and challenges to try; nice graphics; great techno soundtrack; level editor to design your own courses
Weak Points: No computer opponents and few other opponents to challenge make for a lonely experience
Moral Warnings: Some car violence

In addition to the broken road and other obstacles to avoid, there are other physical threats to deal with.  Laser beams appear here and there, apparently cutting apart sections of the road – or whatever happens to be moving along it. Sawblades also are a factor to deal with. Either one of these object can carve pieces off your car, causing all sorts of issues. For example, if you lose the front half of your vehicle, you can no longer steer. Taking enough damage to the vehicle often will result in the car exploding into pieces. This also can happen if you hit certain objects, or fall off the track and hit a barrier of red hexagons below the course. 

Losing your vehicle isn't the end of the race, however. Your vehicle will reappear on the course at the last checkpoint you passed, typically after one of the many green regeneration rings that you will find. These regeneration rings will completely repair your vehicle, whether it's been carved up by lasers or you've fallen to your apparent doom. The only thing you lose is a little bit of time.

One thing to note is that, at the time of this writing, the game is still a beta version. This reviewer had it happen once that, through a nasty combination of sawblades and lasers, his vehicle was reduced to a triangular wedge of metal, one back wheel and a thruster. I was able to move forward – erratically – but not much else. For some odd reason, this did not end the race for my shattered car, and the game continued until I manually reset the course through the menu screen. Fortunately I wasn't too far into that track, but it stood out to me that the game probably should have recognized that I was in no shape to continue and given me a different car. 

The car materializes in another cityscape. It's become routine by now – accelerate, watch for jumps and regeneration rings, avoid the construction equipment... but one thing still nags at you. Where have all the people gone?

Racing in Distance is a lonely affair. There are no computer opponents provided. There are multiplayer options available, either through local co-op, LAN or on-line servers. However, the only server that was up was a sprint mode (race), so I've never been able to test out some of the other multiplayer aspects of the game.  There are stunt courses available and some form of tag, which can be played alone, but without someone to play with or opponents to provide a challenge, these areas can get a bit dull after a while.

The game does include a level editor, though. The editor seems like a more complex, virtual version of piecing together Hot Wheels tracks. If the tracks that Refract provides become too predictable, you can make your own, or download those made by other people and give them a try. Downloading a level is a simple affair – simply click on “Subscribe” in the Steam workshop and the level will be downloaded to your game. 

Static fills the windshield and the controls seem to fight against you. Your sensors are warning you of excessive heat, yet frost is forming on the windows. Something weird is happening, but you don't know what. The surroundings are bathed in an eerie blue light. You speed up a ramp and, as the wheels lift the ground, the scene changes. You see an odd red orb suspended in the air ahead of you. Panels open from the orb, and you witness, in the center, a portal. You can't tell what's inside, but the shapes within send a chill through your body.

Suddenly your wheels hit the ground and the scenery plunges into darkness. Your headlights struggle to pierce the gloom as you swerve around a support pillar. You don't know what you just saw... but you have the feeling you haven't seen the last of it.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 96%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Graphically, the game is sharp. The images are nice and colorful, and aside from a couple camera quirks, it's easy to see what's going on and what you're doing. The HUD is incorporated into the game in a brilliant fashion – it's on the back windshield of your car. In addition to a timer, the images also change to provide other useful information, such as which way is down, or if your car is close to overheating. As you race, your car can take damage, which shows as scrapes, dents, and even glowing patches of metal where a laser carved off your front bumper. The music is a nice techno beat, and fits the mood of the game amazingly well. There is one level in the “adventure” mode that seems to be inspired by horror movies, with creepy music combined with screen-filling static and sudden scenery changes to give a distinct sense of unease as you proceed through the course. I was disappointed to find that this course, “Ground Zero,” was not available to play in “sprint” mode – it seems to be available only as part of the story campaign.

The only problem I have with the graphics is the lack of customization for the vehicle. It would be nice to be able to decorate your vehicle, or even design cars with different body structures to see how they can handle the tracks. I don't know if this kind of things is in the works, but it would be nice to see, in my opinion.

The controls are slick and responsive, and the game did well with my game controller, too. The only issue I ran into was with the thrusters. By default, they are pinned to the secondary joystick on the controller... but I was using a controller that did not have a secondary joystick! Fortunately, it was a simple matter to assign the left and right thrusters to two of my shoulder buttons, and call it good. Also, these thrusters are typically only really needed in the more difficult courses or in those regions that the gravity is deactivated. Other than that, there is little need to even use them.

Aside from the unease of “Ground Zero” and the occasional hellish landscapes that you find yourself driving along, there isn't a lot to be concerned about in terms of moral aspects. There is no voice acting to be heard, and nothing in the imagery that could be deemed offensive. Of course, things may be different for user-generated content, but for the base game, there is little to worry about. My own kids have watched me play through a few of the levels and want to try it themselves. They will have to figure out the somewhat complex control scheme, though.

All in all, Distance is a fun racing game. Although it still has its flaws, it shows a lot of potential for the finalized game, and it's a blast to play even in its unfinished state. While some might be put off by the $19.99 price tag, the game has the potential to be one of those games that will be played over and over and over again, just for the sheer joy of it.

Your car reaches the end of the course and dematerializes through the grid. You sit back and relax. That course was amazingly difficult, with some rather nasty jumps and wall climbs. It took several repeated attempts, but you made it. But the thought occurs to you that there was a ramp near the beginning of the course... could that have been a shortcut to avoid some of those uglier parts? You hesitate for just a moment before moving the cursor to “Replay.” You tighten your grip on the gas as the timer counts down. Maybe you can shave a few seconds off that course....

About the Author

J. Todd Cumming

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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