One type of game that until now has yet to make the jump to Xbox One – some would say thankfully – is the endless runner. Made popular by the likes of Temple Run and a billion other pretenders on mobile devices, the genre has yet to really get a foothold on any home console platform. This is more than likely due to the fact that the quick pick-up-and-play nature of the game type would be more suitable for handheld devices. But what if new gameplay features and a story were added to the mix? Surely that would change things up?
Well, indie developers Wales Interactive seem to think so and have ported their PC title Infinity Runner to Xbox One in order to try to prove their point at a budget price. Infinity Runner tries to separate itself from the crowd by indeed adding new bells and whistles to the mix. Once you awaken, naked and confused aboard a space station, you aren't just running endlessly. Instead, you must make your way through a variety of runner-styled levels with fixed end points, sliding, jumping, zip-lining, and sidestepping your way around obstacles, and fighting with enemies with QTE-style button-pressing challenges as and when you they get in your way. As you play through, you're guided by a mysterious woman who advises you on what to do and feeds you more and more information about your situation as time goes on.
Also in the mix is the fact that you have the ability to turn into a werewolf, although this isn't something that you can do on command. Instead, you happen upon the ability when it'll be needed for an upcoming passage of play. When you've donned your furry outfit, the QTEs go out of the window, as your wolf persona will take out enemies automatically. You can also run along walls when in this form, which adds a limited amount of variety to proceedings.
As far as actually controls go, you use the right stick to take corners, the left to strafe left and right, and the left and right triggers for sliding and jumping respectively. On screen at all times – unless you head into the options and turn it off – is a crosshair, which seems like a strange choice, given that you're not controlling the game with a mouse. Sadly, it isn't the only werewolf's hair to be found in the ointment.
Those who roll their eyes at the smallest errors in grammar will want to turn off the subtitles for starters, lest they explode from seeing spelling errors and the words "too" and "to" mixed up time and again. It may be a small thing of which to make mention, but it's indicative of the somewhat rough finish that Infinity Runner sometimes displays. The most notable of these unsanded corners comes in the form of the framerate, which has a tendency to stutter and jerk – more than likely due to the game loading the next sequence of events – when you're not actively doing very much other than turning corners. When you're facing multiple obstacles, there isn't usually a problem, which is bizarrely the exact opposite of how other games seem to fare.
There's also the fact that the game is very, very short. The price has to be considered of course, but £4.99 isn't that much cheaper than other titles available on the Xbox Games Store, and you'll have breezed through the story in less than two hours. The only times that you'll really have any sort of problem are when the game has failed to explain clearly what you're expected to do. You slide under high lasers, jump over low ones, and then you'll happen upon an obstacle that isn't so clear cut. You'll get it wrong a couple of times, return to the checkpoint, figure it out, and then never have a problem with it again when it crops up. Make no mistake, it will certainly crop again due to the nature of the game.
Once you've beaten the story, you can play through it again on a more difficult setting - which is much the same, albeit with slightly quicker QTEs and a lower life count - in order to pick up more of the waves of achievements that are meted out along the way. When you've picked up more than 10 achievements within the first four minutes of play - one of which is for watching a cutscene - it's almost rude to not carry on and try and pick up all the others. If that doesn't float your boat, you can head into one of the multitude of different arcade mode versions to try and top the online leaderboards. You can try to beat the best time to run a certain distance, get the highest score over a distance, get the highest score in a certain amount of time, or play in the tried and tested "Infinity" mode. Each of these modes loads random sets of obstacles in front of you as you run around the various areas, but since there aren't a great deal of setups for the game to choose from, each run does invariably end up feeling somewhat the same as the last, despite the fact that it technically isn't. If you're hooked, there are plenty of leaderboards to top – even one where you need to score as many points as you can in a hour of continuous running – but it has to be said that this is a poor attempt to add some cheap longevity. Every mode is exactly the same thing, with different scoring methods. If you try to get the highest score for a two-minute run, you're playing the exact same game as if you were trying to cover 1,500 meters in the fastest time.
This means that while Infinity Runner isn't a terrible game, it is terribly short for what it is, even with the extra modes. The soundtrack is very solid, the story is actually interesting, and the sarcastic and natural style of the voiceover should be commended, as it really is executed excellently. The problem is that if you appreciate all of these things and decide to forgive some of the many rough edges, the fourteen levels on offer - all of which last for less than five minutes apiece - just aren't enough.
Ironically, Infinity Runner is too short for what it is. The gameplay is as repetitive as you'd expect but the storyline and non-standard features alleviate that somewhat, to the point that it can be entertaining enough at times. If the prospect of an infinite runner puts you off though, there's little here that will change your mind, despite the developer's best efforts. Depending on your point of view, Infinity Runner could be a decent and cheap enough proposition for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Just don't expect it to last you into Sunday evening.