Distance is a brand new game by Refract Studios, the creators of the freeware hit Nitronic Rush. Following much of the groundwork laid by its predecessor, Distance is a spiritual successor that's worth a look. Check it out after the break!
Before starting this preview, it's worth noting that this game is HEAVILY based off its predecessor, which I would suggest playing for the full experience. Nitronic Rush is completely free, and can be downloaded here. Also worth mentioning is that this preview is based off multiple builds of the beta, the most recent of them being 3295.
Distance is a racing game at its core. However, instead of racing against other cars, a feature which is reserved for multi-player, you try to survive an incredibly deadly track and get the best time you can. Your car is equipped to handle anything thrown at it, but it requires some precise timing to do it right, and plenty of skill to do it in a way that's flashy.
The game controls very smoothly, and car handling is not an issue at all. The arrow keys move your car, WASD is used for rocket jets that allow precision control (and tricks, when in the air), shift is boost, space is jump, and pressing space in the air causes your car to fly. My only complaint with this control setup is that the flight controls use inverted Y controls by default, which work fine in any game except for this one. You'll most likely be holding the up arrow down so that you accelerate on the ground, but keeping it held once you take off causes you to instantly nosedive and crash. If there was a small time frame where after taking flight that the up arrow had no effect, this issue would be fixed completely.
As you might have noticed in the screenshots, the car itself acts as the heads up display. There's a box that displays your time, a compass, and your car will fall apart as it takes damage. The yellow bar is the boost and flight meter. Boosting and flight fill it, and filling it will cause either of those actions to stop, which is deadly in the air. There's checkpoints in the air that reset it completely, and checkpoints on the ground will reset it and repair your car.
Graphically, the game looks wonderful and is well optimized, even in this early state. I managed to run the game at lowest possible settings on an old rig and managed to get a steady 40FPS in most areas. The game's art style creates an amazing atmosphere, and there are levels that take advantage to that. One of the levels in story mode reintroduces the red virus areas from Nitronic Rush, and turns them into a descent into madness. Another area is a soothing night drive through a futuristic city, and acts as the eye of the storm. Distance is a beautiful game, and not because of high resolution textures or anti-aliasing. It's how it uses its visual themes.
When it comes to the soundtrack, it's passable and fits the game. While I loved Nitronic Rush's soundtrack, Distance's soundtrack focuses less on being catchy, and focuses more on creating a futuristic atmosphere. It fits the game perfectly and is by no means bad, but could be improved.
In terms of overall level design, the game excels for the most part. The game can be very intense, and you'll find every narrow dodge to safety more satisfying than the last. The levels are fun to go through, and it's possible to make the game harder for yourself if you want to. Any time you're in the air? Pull off a trick. The game focuses much less on flight than Nitronic Rush did, and much more on ground areas with trick potential. There's also plenty of new level elements with lots of potential, too. There's transport orbs that can teleport you onto a ceiling, walls that can disable your flight ability, and a cube that will drag your car into it. There's also roads where you are supposed to jump and flip to drive on the ceiling, but my car would always refuse to latch on to said ceiling.
Distance includes other modes, as well. There are four different arcade modes, each one supporting multi-player in either split-screen or online format. I was unable to make online work. Sprint mode is a time trial race, Stunt mode is a high score competition for tricks, Speed and Style is those two modes combined, and Challenge mode is seeing how far you can go without dying. It's a well-rounded selection, offering something for everyone.
[UPDATE] Our readers reminded me that I forgot to mention a very important part of Distance- the level editor! Distance's level editor is highly complex, yet mostly easy to use. It appears to be the same tools used by the developers themselves, and allows you to place any part or building from the main game. There's plenty of potential for tracks, and Steam workshop is supported for both sharing and downloading extra levels. Refract Studios is even highlighting some of these tracks in the Distance advent calendar, which can be found here.
All in all, if you enjoyed Nitronic Rush, you will love Distance. If you haven't played Nitronic Rush, I would suggest doing so right now. Distance is still very much like its predecessor- if you don't like Nitronic Rush, you won't like Distance. As mentioned earlier, you can download Nitronic Rush right here. Give it a spin if you haven't yet!