Iconic 80s anime Akira serves as the inspiration for RUNNER, a breakneck sci-fi arcade shooter which arguably tries to do too much. As a smuggler in an aggressively hostile world, you must outrun robo-cops through seven dynamically generated stages, dual-wielding pistols while you issue a little justice all of your own. Cowboy Bebop’s Steve Blum stars in colourful cutscene interludes, while the game is bundled with a free visual novel that fleshes out the story – as well as a soundtrack visualiser, with full PSVR2 compatibility.
It’s a cool package, then, but the actual game throws far too much at you from the start – introducing a dizzying array of systems and mechanics in an overwhelming “rub your belly, pat your head” fashion. In addition to wielding your weapons, you can also launch missiles, lob grenades, select different firing styles, steer your motorcycle, and generate a cyber-sword, which you can use to deflect enemy projectiles. It’s a dizzying amount of stuff, and we still find ourselves pressing the wrong buttons even after several hours of play.
To make matters worse, the game is punishing, to the point where we swiftly realised we weren’t going to get very far without turning invincibility on. You can find a flow with practice, but the levels are extremely long, and while there are generous checkpoints, we found ourselves feeling physically exasperated at times. We’re probably just not cut out for the runner lifestyle, but there are some really brutal design decisions, like when wielding a weapon with your left hand you can only steer with the right thumbstick; there’s a vehicle you can unlock which allows you to steer while holding your guns, but you’ll need to wrap your head around the system as it is before you get there.
In addition to the synth-driven city pop soundtrack, the neon punk aesthetic looks really nice in 4K in PSVR2, and while the vibrant colours may lead to headaches, we like the chaotic, almost violent nature of the presentation. But ultimately, we found ourselves tiring of the overly long levels fairly quickly, and so the title lacks that sense of replayability that’s so fundamental to truly great arcade releases.