At PAX WEST in Seattle Washington, a small but incredibly energetic booth was constantly bouncing all four days of the convention. To the left of the massive, haunted house that was the Resident Evil 7 booth was the PAX Rising booth, new games on Steam Early Access that are currently growing in popularity and form. Games, such as Sword N Board, and Potions, were present. However, there was a pulsating, thumping presence at the both. Bright, vector colors, a deep bass soundtrack, were the first things that attendees heard as they walked towards the booth.
After going around the corner, this booth was revealed to belong to Refract Studios, for their newest video game, Distance. Distance is a futuristic racing video game, with bright neon colors and visual aesthetic greatly inspired by techno-punk films, such as Tron and Tron: Legacy. Hovering around the booth, I saw an empty controller and a moment to play, unknowing what this racer was all about.
The first thing I noticed was just how sharp and smooth the game looked. As I booted up my high-speed race car, the game had a polished sheen, filled with glowing lines, smooth surfaces, and radical designs. As the car began rolling, a robotic voice emerged from the vehicle, activating important systems, such as turbo boost. Without knowing the story or setting, I set off on a wildly futuristic course. As I hit Turbo, my vehicle hit incredibly fast speeds, handling the turns and ramps extremely well. Soon, it became apparent, that I was not on some simple race course, such as other racing video games. I was on a path to a destination. The game introduced me to some of the unique features of the car, such as jumping.
Soon enough, there were hazards along the way. Giant buzzsaws and cutting lasers dotted the racing landscape. However, the longer I survived, the more my vehicle “healed.” As I proceeded through the course, I couldn’t help but notice just how visually stunning the game looked in motion.The entire demo held a 60FPS motion, and never skipped a beat. The artistic visual design was stellar. Suddenly, I was in for two amazing surprises. As I approached a laser grid, my car was horizontally sliced in half. I was suddenly driving half a car and had to avoid other obstacles. But, as I approached a checkpoint, my car healed and particle-by-particle regrew itself. This was a wildly imaginative idea, which would soon grow even better.
Halfway in the demo, the computer voice roared again, ” Flight systems activated,” the computer said. Suddenly, after hitting a big jump, wings deployed from the side of my vehicle, soaring through obstacles and glowing rings. Throughout the rest of the demo, the course alternated with these obstacles, all without load-screen, frame-rate stutters, or any interferences. Of course, I crashed a few times, but it wasn’t anything jarring to prevent me from going forward.
The last leg of the demo became incredibly fast, and I got a moment to see exactly what I was racing in. For a moment, I looked below and saw the curvature of the Earth. This meant that the entire race course laid on the edge of space. Suddenly, distortions on the track lay ahead, like a wormhole to another point in space. The effect of going through these portals was mindblowing! Instead of just going through these portals, the entire screen gets warped and curved, as if it was inverting itself. To best describe this sensation, think of the movie, Interstellar when the crew finally go through the wormhole into another solar system.
Then, things got terrifying.
A tunnel approached, my vehicle glowing vibrant colors. The music faded, the computer voice stopped, all that was left was the hum of the engine. Massive wires wrapped around the tunnel, gray and lifeless, compared to the rest of the station. Distortions began to fill the screen, with sudden electrical scratches. Quick flashes and hallucinations dotted the screen. In these hallucinations, tentacles lash out at my vehicle. The screeches and vehicular mayhem of ghost cars dot the track, and a crimson red sky fills the horizon. The red sky, filled with the lingering of doom and death, give way to a silhouette of an object up ahead. That object appears menacing, organic, potentially alien. As I drive towards it, the roads give way, and the video game interface completely distorts, crashing to a blank screen.
The following words followed:
“Data missing. To be continued.” This was no glitch. The demo was over.
The demo I played, Distance, was an incredible racer experience, however, that ending left me wanting more. Having concluded the demo, representatives of the Distance development team were present. One approached me, asking my feedback on the game. I gave him positive feedback and managed to ask some important questions about the nature of Distance.
Distance takes place in a very deep future, at a time when Earth isn’t devastated but became post-apocalyptic due to the wars, famine, disease, and other paralyzing problems humans, as well as the Earth, have caused. For those that saw the movie, Oblivion, with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, it is a solid comparison. As Earth is no longer habitable, what is left of humanity now resides in a massive space station orbiting the Earth. A fully autonomous, self-thinking A.I has been programmed to maintain the health and safety of everyone aboard the space station. However, a dangerous computer virus, potentially alien in origin, threatens to destroy what is left. Hence the strange looking creature featured at the end of the demo.
The game was heavily influenced by sci-fi films, such as Tron and Blade Runer, which created believable science-fiction landscapes. Tron, in particular, was not only known for giving life to the world inside a computer but also known for creating an emotional synth wave soundtrack that encapsulated what it was sound like to be in cyberspace. The music for distance was composed by Jordan @torcht Hemenway. Together, Refract Studious and @torcht created an amazing visual and audio experience, with a substantial amount of gameplay.