Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentleman. Refract’s Distance, coming to PC and PS4, is one hell of a fast and crazy ride that’ll dial your pulse to 11. Using an incredibly tricked out futuristic car, you’ll race through a mysterious Tron-like city full of deadly traps. If you’re fan of games like F-Zero and Wipeout, you’ll be right at home.

PAX East gave us the chance to play the Early Access build of Distance. Developer Jordan Hemenway answered some of our questions and gave us insight into the development behind this game.

Surviving the Distance

Distance has been described a “survival racing” game and a “racing platformer.” Both descriptions are totally accurate. Because you see, in Distance, cars don’t just stick to the asphalt. Cars jump, fly, ride on walls, and do parkour. You’ll need to make use of all of these mechanics in order to master the game.

At its most basic gameplay, you’ll be racing to the goal at the end of the level. Weave through grids of lasers, avoid buzzsaws, jump on to elevated parts of the track, and fly through boosts. If your car is sliced by lasers, it’s not the end of the world– you’ll keep driving on until the next checkpoint, which regenerates your car. The first few levels included in the game’s Adventure Mode will familiarize you with these basics.

As the story progresses or if you dabble in difficult user-created levels, level design will test your skills with these mechanics. “Once you combine the flying with the parkour, you can do just about anything. It’s interesting in the realm of level design to see what we can do with that,” Hemenway suggested.

Mastering the mechanics goes a long way. To the speedrunning crowd, there’s huge potential. According to Hemenway, there’s room to “perfect your play to get a totally perfect speedrun” by managing your boosts, overheating, and the parkour well. In the game’s other modes like Stunt Mode, you’re rewarded for performing some of the coolest parkour tricks you can think of.

From Nitronic Rush to Distance

Distance is the spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, which was made when the crew at Refract were students at DigiPen. Developing Distance gave the team the chance to explore numerous features that they weren’t able to implement into Nitronic Rush.

Hemenway notes that the team really wanted to include “a deeper story mode, a powerful level editing experience, and multiplayer.” Adding these new modes has contributed to a more substantial game with tons of content to enjoy and different ways to play the game. With your friends, racing against each other or aim for the high score in Stunt Mode. You can also explore a vast amount of user-created level content or try your hand at building one yourself.

Story mode is a particular point of pride for the team. Hemenway told me that Distance’s story mode would attempt “a more serious exploration of story in a racing game.” From the visual and audio experience I had with the PAX East demo, I believe that the team has proven so far successful with their storytelling chops.

The Cyberpunk Sights and Sounds of the Future

When you talk about Distance, you absolutely have to talk about the style. Racing down the track is a visual and auditory thrill ride.

Its defining aesthetic is Tron-inspired neon colors. However, what surprised me during the story mode was how dynamic the colors, lighting, and visual effects were. Refract often puts these elements together for incredibly cinematic moments in the midst of a race. I would even say that these visual elements form the game’s narrative storytelling as you progress from area to area.

One early level, for example, made use of pulsing headlights coming from around the map. When I made it to a more dangerous point of the level, the lighting turned to harsher shades of red.

One of the coolest moments in the demo came towards the end. A robotic voice from the car announced that the infection or corruption was spreading. The game would make use of a weird static visual effect from time to time during this portion. So, I was driving through a red hell-like race course that eventually sent you into a long white tunnel. Suddenly, the static intensified. Then all of a sudden, blood splatter-like blots were all over the tunnel– it was like being transported into a horror film.

Sound design went hand-in-hand with some of these cool moments. In the example above, the electronic beat suddenly went quiet. Then when I was outside the tunnel again, a low beat flared to life. Or if I crashed, it felt as if the beat slowed down or was put through a low underpass filter– then the beat came back in full force as I drove once more. There’s a lot of really cool deliberate sound design decisions that reinforce storytelling or cinematic presentation in the game’s racing courses.

Designing Cool Custom Levels

The level editor adds tons of gameplay value to Distance. You can either create your own levels, or enjoy from the huge selection of levels other players have come up with. So far, the game’s Steam Early Access build has seen tons of success around the level editor. Over 1,000 levels are currently available on Steam Workshop.

“What they’re creating is completely mindblowing,” Hemenway told me. “They’re creating their own mini stories, just like a single level and they’re trying to explore how you can use colors, shaping, and framing to make some of these cool moments,” he stated.

One user-created level, “Inferno,” has a reputation as one of the hardest and best designed in the game. He described it to me as the “Through the Fire and Flames” of their community– hard, but no one can complain it’s badly designed. He said,

“That one really requires the grip button and you know that that one requires that in all moments, you’re holding on for dear life trying to snap on to the walls and trying to make sure you’re right where you need to be because you have only so much time to get on the next platform.”

“And then there’s people who are remaking Sonic, F-Zero, and Mario Kart. There’s a certain spirit to that that’s just really fun,” he continued. As proof of how strong their community is, three top members of the level crafting community have even joined Refract’s development team. Hemenway has been excited to see some of the levels they’re cooking up for the official story mode.

The level editor is very friendly to PC users. As mentioned before, you too can use lighting and color to tell your own story the way that Refract’s official levels do. You can also create levels like ‘Inferno” that really force you to pull off a skilled play that makes requires strong mastery of the game mechanics.

We asked about the PS4 version, where the level editor might not make it. Part of it is the challenge of bringing it over. “Getting a PC-oriented level editor to console is a challenge,” he told me. Still, it’s an “important part of the experience” to them and they really want to make sure that the console players will be able to enjoy it to a similar extent. If they don’t succeed, Hemenway said that they’ll consider bringing popular levels to console via download and would even be willing to work out approval to bring levels that recreate levels from famous gaming franchises.

Expecting the Game’s Launch

Currently, you can already pick up the game on Steam Early Access. Refract aims to bring Distance out of Steam Early Access by Late 2017. The console release on PS4 is planned to hopefully launch at the same time as when it exits Steam Early Access on PC.

If you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride, look no further. Distance might be the game for you. Distance is fast, furious, and goes the extra mile on stylish, colorful presentation.

About The Author

Robert R
Sr. News Editor