Demo Driver 8: Just Get Through
In the oldest days of video games, this is what it was all about. We didn’t get an introduction to what we were doing. There were no explanations. If you were very lucky, there was an ending screen or two that tied everything that you had done into some sort of overarching narrative. More often than not, though, what you had was games clearly from the same food group as Just Get Through, challenges without context.
This is made somewhat more forgivable when you consider that the game is a one-person effort, and even more so when you admit, however grudgingly, that the game does a more than halfway decent job of living up to the spirit of what made older games fun without being tied into nostalgia or the trappings of the games. You start out by spawning in the middle of a cavern network with no real indications of what you should be doing, and no answers are forthcoming. All you can do is try to find the next portal. Or die along the road.
Eventually, you will die along the road.
The good news – if you want to call it that – is that it’s by design. The road isn’t leading anywhere. It’s just a road. You walk down it for as long as you can, and when you can walk no further you accept defeat and you die. Like so many older games, it’s fundamentally an endurance test to see how long you can last, but with the added benefit of randomly generated levels that increase in complexity as time goes by.
Fortunately for you, you can lob TNT around to destroy traps, walls, and other impediments. Less fortunately for you, your TNT supply is limited. Still less fortunately for you, TNT is as harmful to you as it is to everything else, meaning that a badly-placed throw can cost you both a life and a valuable stick of explosives. Not a big deal early on, but when you find yourself running lower on bombs as the levels get far larger, you may well miss the stick of TNT that seemed so inconsequential before.
Every few levels, you get the opportunity to upgrade something from three choices. Make your TNT stronger, or make it explode on impact. Increase the maximum number of lives you can carry, refill some of your lives, move faster on the ground. Minor upgrades, one and all, presented to you in random order. They’re not meant as rewards or unlocks, and unlike in games like Risk of Rain they’re not enough to majorly alter your playstyle. They’re enough to keep you going a bit longer.
The bright side is that this all feeds into the central concept of the game. You’re forever moving forward, doing your best to avoid dying and running out of lives. You get some maps that are absolutely terrible and some that are pretty damn trivial, including one that was as easy to navigate as blowing a hole in a wall and leisurely strolling over to the portal. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint, and your goal is to keep yourself as high as possible.
But at the same time… it’s not very meaty. There’s not much more to the game beyond scavenging for what you can and taking part in the consistent rush forward, struggling to avoid the doom that lurks not far from your door. Given the right setup, it’s quite possible for you to lose ten lives in a single level even if you were doing fine beforehand, and if you don’t have the tools necessary t get through the next few levels your next chance at a potential recovery might never come.
Everything has to be gauged carefully. Yes, this jump would be easier without the blade, but do I have enough TNT to spare on that? I enjoy that aspect. But the fact that the game has nothing beyond that slow bleed of resources makes it feel somewhat more tedious, especially when you’re guessing about what upgrade will be most useful for you over the next few rooms with no way to actually ensure you get what you need.
Part of the fun is that roguelike element to it, the guessing at randomness and only learning after the fact if it was the right decision. But in order to keep the game functional, it means that your choices don’t have a whole lot of individual impact.
Further complicating things is the fact that the controls are both weird and not nearly as precise as I would have liked. The game is in love with wall-jumping – you get one jump off of a wall after landing on it, so you have to jump back and forth between two walls to climb, but you can boost yourself up a bit if you’re near the top. In theory. I found that more than a few jumps just didn’t register, or the game decided my wall jump was actually meant to be a tiny hop off of the wall, thus costing me another life at worst. Considering how many trap formations involve precision wall-jumping prowess, this is a pretty major blank spot.
At the $5 price point, of course, it’s not as if you’re out of dinner for the month if you decide you like it. The game is not brutally or unfairly hard by any stretch of the imagination, and the fact that it’s the work of a single designer is impressive. It does the whole endless run genre as well as I’ve seen, and I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t fun. But the controls are a little less than reliable, and the premise could start wearing thin to the point wherein you stop trying to get through the levels properly and just die to be done with the game.
Of course, for all I know the road on the later levels has an atmosphere that’s 80% sawblades.
It’s a nice throwback in all of the best ways, it’s a fun title, and it only makes a few missteps. Just don’t get too attached and play it in small bursts if it’s your sort of game.