Scene opens: Lines of office workers, little more than silhouettes, queue up before a security checkpoint, being scanned as they enter a large building. Each waiting worker is indistinguishable from the rest; the only points of color are the neon headpieces that wrap around the serfs’ necks like collars on work horses.
A deep voice booms over the crowd in an even tone, as a talking head delivers the following speech from displays overlooking the gathered masses.
“Welcome…. to our Brave new world.”
“A world… free of strife.”
“There is no need for you to rush. You’re already where you were meant to be..”
“There is no need for you to think,; the pressure’s removed. All decisions are made..”
“We offer you comfort..harmony…and ORDER…”
“Requiring only that you… OBEY.”
We bear witness as one drone struggles with the message, screaming in agony before ripping off his collar and coat. Alerted by the commotion, security responds quickly, but the now-collarless rebel is off at a dead run. Security pursues as the hero nears the end of the floor. Accompanied by the shattering of glass, our would-be hero smashes through a window and barely lands on the roof below. A security grunt also makes the leap… the chase is on.
Vector places the player in the shoes of this freshly minted “anarchist” as he attempts to break free from a an oppressive corporate controlled system. Set in a dystopian near-future, The art style evokes feelings of being little more than a tool; an implement to be used and replaced at the whims of the 1%. Players will notice this in the distinct lack of color; both the player, the pursuing hunter, and the environment are composed as simple black outlines. The only color in the game is in the background, giving stark contrast to the mostly dark world that the freerunner inhabits.
The gameplay is simple enough. Your character continually runs forward with a hunter hot on his heels. Standing between our renegade and a happy end are numerous obstacles, ranging from rooftop gaps to water towers, from cooling units to dangerous drops. Your arsenal consists of a large number of parkour moves designed to help you navigate these hazards while retaining your speed. Being caught by the pursuing hunter results in a speedy death and a quick restart.
The experince evokes shades of Mirror’s Edge (albeit 2D) and Trials, with gameplay coming fast and furious. Players can restart a level with a simple button press, keeping breaks in the action to a minimum. You will restart, likely often, as you progress through each new stage. Players are critiqued on their performance, causing rapid restarts in the pursuit of lower times, new routes, and missed collectibles/tricks.
The levels contain some amount of puzzle solving as well. Often, the most direct path is not the best path. Exploring alternate means of egress will often show you entire new routes, occasionally netting you more credits and access to new tricks. Additionally, a keen eye is required to differentiate background items from those in the foreground, which actually impede movement. There are also certain levels where you must follow another free-running rebel, as they take the only path out of a set that leads to the exit. Failure to keep up or taking a wrong path will lead you to custody or death (which in this case are essentially the same thing).
Progression through the storyline is gated based on level performance. Each level has a time goal, a bonus/trick goal, and a completion goal. The first is obviously tied to your time; the second is awarded for collecting all “bonus” cubes during your run as well as exercising all special tricks (purchased with credits acquired during play), while the completion goal is there just for finishing the level (a feat in and of itself as the game progresses). Each met goal gets you a star; collecting stars unlocks new levels.
Vector is a minimalist offering, but is very much greater than the sum of its parts. The art style and story background come together to create a fantastic setting. I found myself surprised at the amount of storytelling that could be accomplished via pantomime from the simply character outlines. The parkour tricks have been lovingly recreated, and the animations are universally fluid. The themes of oppression created by the setting, music, and visuals come together to form an experience that is easily appreciated.