Dirty confession time. One of my all-time favorite anime is the frequently over-looked “Outlaw Star,” which falls squarely into the “space western” category. Space westerns have a space very near and dear to my heart, so going into the game, I was already predisposed to like They Always Run for the setting alone.
That excitement was balanced against a certain amount of trepidation given that I am nowhere near as skilled with hack and slash games as I once was. However, imagine my surprise to discover that Run feels very much like getting to play “Outlaw Star: The Game.”
They Always Run is a solid platformer that despite its flaws and a fairly predictable story still manages to provide enough ambience to make up for its issues. However, your mileage may vary.
You play Aidan, who’s a three-armed mutant bounty hunter who specializes in chasing after the most dangerous criminals in the galaxy. The game pits you against these criminals which you must defeat using a combination of basic platforming skills and a decent command of move combinations. There are puzzles to solve, sort of, and when you do manage to collect your bounties, the game rewards you by doling out bits of Aidan’s dark past. That past directly relates to the empire whose fall has created the power vacuum that gives rise to the underworld that serves as Aidan’s bread and butter. Despite these hints, which tie into a generally formulaic story, Run’s real appeal lies in both the ambience it creates and the combat system.
First off, that third arm is far, far more important than you’d think. It’s capable of punching through enemy defenses like a hot knife through butter, which considering the number of shielded guards I encountered, was a veritable godsend. Unfortunately, the arm has a finite number of charges that you must monitor, or you’ll find it of no use to you when you need it most. Ask me how I know. I confess that I was initially skeptical of the third arm because it seemed like it was going to be a gimmick, and while it sort of is, it’s also not at the same time. You will find using the third arm to become an extremely valuable tool in your toolkit.
The game, like many other platformers, starts you of with a basic set of skills, in this case a simple three key combination, but fear not, you will not be constrained to use only these skills. Run breaks away from the platformers that I’ve been playing by offering a surprisingly deep skill tree. However, Run’s tree is adequately streamlined that you don’t feel like you’re faced with an RPG-level set of choices while still feeling the satisfaction of adding a new ability to your repertoire. The downside of that tree is that overtime, I found using the skills to be unnecessarily complicated, and I truly cannot imagine what it would be like to play this on a controller, especially considering how much the game relies on timing and skill selection in order to make the platforms.
Despite the clunky controls, Run offers such striking visuals that I kept at it, no matter my frustration with actually catching my bounties. The developers clearly put a tremendous amount of thought into the silhouettes the game creates. Alien worlds feel very alien, and Aidan, while powerful, comes across as being very small in this wider galaxy. I liked that vaguely desperate feeling as it’s such a characteristic of the space western genre. The animation is quite simply gorgeous. Aidan’s incredibly unnecessary poncho move beautifully as does the arterial spray when you knife your enemies.
Yes, there will be blood and violence. However, the blood mostly takes me back to the early Mortal Kombats. You never get the real feeling that you’re gutting your enemies, but Run does not shy away from what Aidan is doing. In fact, part of the game’s overall aesthetic is gore, even if it’s stylized. Parents should be aware of that before allowing younger players at the controls. I suspect the vague similarity is not exactly accidental. Run embraces a very old-school vibe, which felt both familiar and refreshing.
However, as much as I love the ambience and art-style, Run is far from a flawless game. The game’s biggest issue lies in some truly weird hitbox issues. You’ll find yourself executing this perfectly timed series of moves that should propel Aidan onto the next ledge, and for no good reason, you’ll find yourself falling to your death. While I do believe the developers have made solid efforts to address this issue, it still persisted enough to make gameplay frustrating more than challenging. The dialogue sections are also far too long, and considering that the story is not the game’s real appeal, they, too, become irritating to pursue all the way to the end.
Speaking of the ending, the nicest thing I can say about it is that it’s ambiguous. If I’m being entirely honest, I’d say that the game feels like it stops an hour before it should, and Run is not a terribly long game. While the ending didn’t enrage me, I can certainly see that it would be a deal-breaker for some players.
Run is undoubtedly a gem that hasn’t entirely been polished yet, and you really have to love the genre and the aesthetic to get past the hitbox issue. The story is pretty basic up until it isn’t, and then, the game leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just been a participant in a weird performance art experience. That’s also partially why I compare it to “Outlaw Star” rather “Cowboy Bebop;” “Bebop” features a pretty clear ending while “Star” very much does not. If this description makes the game sound like a bit of a hot mess, it is, but it’s a glorious hot mess if you like the genre and the setting.
The game does feature blood, so parents of younger players should be advised. As far as being able to put the game down and walk away, it’s certainly do-able at the early stages but becomes less so as you progress. I tended to need a few deaths to get back into the swing of things, and that’s aside from the general frustration of the hitbox issue. The game does not offer anything in terms of replay-ability, but if they put out a sequel, I’ll be there with ribbons and bells.
That said, nothing about this game should work, and yet, it really does. They Always Run retails for $19.99 on Steam.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- I should probably be clear that I am in no way good at this game, but it’s just so gorgeous that I can stave off tossing my keyboard out of the window.
- Aidan definitely rocks a Robocop aesthetic, which adds to the retro feel.
- So, too, does Aidan’s ridiculous poncho. I can’t decide if he’s channeling Cad Bane or Clint Eastwood. Either way, it’s certainly a design choice.
Platforms: Epic Games Store, GoG, Nintendo Switch, Steam