Demo Driver 8: Vector
You are being hunted. Go.
We don’t need more elaboration than that. We’ve seen countless films wherein the big action sequence is as simple as trying to outrun pursuit. There’s no fighting back against your pursuers, no hope of reasoning, only escape or collapse. They are at your heels, they are coming for you. No time to pause, no time to think, no time to do anything but hurtle forward and try to be as quick and clever about your escape as possible.
Vector is meant to tap directly into that urge, the “flight” portion of fight-or-flight, the need to escape however you possibly can and as fast as you possibly can. No frills, no waffling, no nonsense, nothing except the straight pitch of your character from left to right, traversing obstacles, vaulting railings, smashing windows, slowing not a whit until you have outrun your pursuit. And it does pretty well at that, if not perfectly.
The action in Vector is purely horizontal, and only under minimal control from you as a player. Your character runs along with his pursuers always close at his heels, and contact with them means capture, instantly. At times, even during a perfect run, they will come close to you, maybe even graze you for a moment, but you can regain the advantage. As you approach obstacles, context-sensitive hints show up on occasion, while in other places it’s entirely up to the player what should be done in this situation. Perhaps these obstacles are best jumped over; perhaps it’s better to just vault this and have minimal airtime, letting your pursuer stumble to catch up from a longer jump.
Everything you do is controlled by the directional buttons of your controller or from quick taps of the keyboard. The game was, originally, meant for mobile devices, a thing of quick swipes at appropriate times, but on the computer it becomes a bit more maddening. At times it’s like a series of ridiculous quicktime prompts that you have to respond to, at others it’s more in your hands, but you never quite feel as if you have all of the control you should.
This is made a bit more obvious with the inclusion of stunts throughout each of the game’s stages. Pressing up quickly will activate these stunts, but they’re limited to specific locations rather than being techniques to employ. From a practical standpoint, they’re shortcuts you unlock after you’ve collected enough of the coins scattered throughout the stages. The animations are smooth and nice, they make things feel appropriately nimble, but they’re still less of a tactic so much as a new prompt.
Yet for all that these things are very thinly-disguised press-X-to-not-die interactions, the whole thing is pleasing enough. Rather than devolving into a state of no agency, the prompts allow smart play and practice to give you faster reaction times. While the timing on many of the context-sensitive demands of the game seems largely arbitrary, you’re more likely to be punished for making a bad choice than for missing something as fine detail. Not vaulting a set of tables perfectly won’t result in your death, but running into the side of one at full speed will.
Graphically, the game keeps all of its colors in the background; the foreground objects are stark black silhouettes, with prompts in flashing silver and white. This seems like it would be off-putting but it works perfectly, allowing you to sort of fill in the blank slates that you see running across rooftops and apartments while taking in a marvelous set of sights behind you. It also removes neatly the problem of not being sure if something is a foreground or background element, information that’s crucial to ensuring that you don’t trip up and meet the waiting arms of your pursuers.
There is a thin plot sketched by an opening cutscene, but you don’t care and you shouldn’t. It’s not important. You know that there are guards chasing you, you know that you’re escaping, you know that you’re in a ten-minutes-into-the-future setting just by what you see on the screen. Nothing else matters. Maybe you’re playing a criminal, maybe you’re guilty, maybe anything. I almost wish that the opening scene didn’t exist solely because it’s more fun to realize that you don’t care if the character is a hero or a villain. You just have to keep running. Morality doesn’t enter in.
Between the fiddliness of context-sensitive demands and the sheer minimal interaction, I keep expecting not to enjoy the game, but then I keep turning around and going back to the demo because it’s just such a well-paced presentation. You get sucked into its goals and its overall bare-bones aesthetic. You want to keep running. You have to get away, and while it’s frustrating each time you miss your split-second of input to make a tricky move, the sense when you finally get it spurs you onward.
In some ways, putting more control in your hands would ruin it. Letting you fight back against your pursuit would make the whole thing less elegant. At the beginning of one level you have to make a leap of faith and your pursuit is close behind, but he leaps a moment too late, and you watch him crashing through a series of jagged rocks and trees as you soar to a safe space. It’s quick, happening out of the corner of your vision, and you don’t have the time to savor it. You feel a moment of satisfaction and you keep running, because another group will be along shortly, leading you to jump through elevators and flip along toward the ending.
When one considers that the game has a meaty demo on display, I may not be able to recommend that you promptly go out and purchase Vector, but I can say that the demo succeeds marvelously at both teaching the game mechanics and convincing you why you ought to care or why it’s just going to end up frustrating you if you try. It is not a perfect or brilliant game, but it has a very clear picture of what it wants to do and it does precisely that. The fact that the full game also contains a level editor and the option to play as a pursuer is just icing on the cake if you like what you see, or completely irrelevant if you don’t.