Preview – Warstride Challenges

Warstride Challenges, a new Early Access title from developer Dream Powered Games, centers almost entirely around a single gameplay concept: zipping through each stage as fast as possible, slickly slaughtering every monster in your path in order to unlock the exit. The game boosts your speed every time you jump, especially after a crouch slide, so you’ll constantly find yourself leaping and sliding at breakneck speed, learning how to deftly navigate sharp corners and cramped hallways. It’s a simple formula, but one that promises a sense of thrill and exhilaration when you execute a perfect run.

Each level begins as soon as you click a button to either jump or shoot, and from there you’re off to the races. The ticking clock at the top of the screen tells you how much time you have to complete the level. In the shortest of stages—which tend to be the early levels, which also serve as the game’s tutorial—you only have a few seconds to complete it, as you are given basic tasks, such as killing the one monster standing between you and the exit. Over time, the game adds new elements, such as switches you must press, new weapons that drop enemies more efficiently, and a slow-time power that you can activate in order to line up headshots without losing your momentum. As you complete stages, new levels become available, including special levels with different objectives, such as fighting off waves of enemies in a single room, or shooting a certain number of pots within a time limit. After a while, you unlock harder versions of levels you’ve beaten before. You do have to complete some of these advanced versions in order to unlock new batches of stages, but you don’t have to finish all of them.

And that’s a good thing—because even when going through the base versions of these levels, this game is hard. I mean, really hard. The timer on each level is short, leaving you very little room for error. On the earlier stages, this isn’t too much of a problem; you’re only asked to do one or two things on your way to the finish line, so as long as you can nail those, you’re good to go, and the slow-time mechanic makes it manageable. But as you progress and the levels stretch into the fifteen-to-twenty second range, the chance that you’ll mess something up increases, and you can only afford one or two mistakes before you simply won’t be able to reach the exit before time runs out. And by “mistake,” I mean practically anything that makes you lose momentum, such as having to take an extra shot at an enemy because you missed its head (or didn’t switch to a more powerful weapon beforehand) or failing to hit the crouch button in time as you approached a low passageway. Miss an enemy and have to backtrack in order to find it? You might as well just restart the level. About halfway through the currently available content, I got too frustrated to continue; I simply did not want to bang my head against a wall trying to achieve yet another perfectly slick run, only to know I’d have to do the same thing over and over again through the rest of the game.

My other main complaint is that, for all the game’s emphasis on speed, momentum, and slick action, there isn’t much room for the player to experiment and settle into his or her own unique groove. The character’s movement options feel too limited, as all you can do is run, jump, and slide. I wish I could do something fancier, like run along walls and jump off them in order to create my own paths through the level. As it is, each stage practically has a set path that you must stick to if you want to get to the exit in time. If you miss a ramp for a jump, for example, you can’t find some other route to get you where you need to go; instead, you must backtrack, wasting precious seconds and ruining the flow and the fun. Another element of this problem has to do with the aforementioned short time clock; even if you could create more unique routes through the levels, there simply isn’t time to pull off some sort of stylish, slightly less optimal move and still complete the stage. Between these two elements—the limited move set and the ever-present time crunch—I felt bound and restricted, punished for not being able to do things in the exact way that the developers wanted me to do.

That’s a bummer, because I actually like fast-paced games with an arcade sensibility. I cut my teeth on old Sonic the Hedgehog games, which emphasized speed and momentum, encouraging quick completion times. The difference there, however, was that I never felt like I had to be an expert speedrunner in order to simply make it through the game. I could take a winding path, slow down to grab a few extra rings, make a few mistakes, and still reach the end in time and feel like a speedster. Warstride, in contrast, places constant pressure on the player to learn the one correct way to win, to do it as quickly as you possibly can, and to do it almost flawlessly.

While I’ve been quite critical in my analysis here, I do see several things to appreciate in Warstride, particularly for players who love speedrunning. Considering that this title is still in Early Access, I’m impressed at the degree of polish that it already exhibits; the developers know exactly what kind of game they want to make, and they’ve already nailed the fundamentals of how to make it. Crucially, the controls are remarkably smooth and responsive. I never felt like I had any cheap deaths due to janky controls or poor collision detection. The load times are quick and restarting a stage can be done with a single button, instantly returning you to the beginning of the level. You can download other players’ ghosts to help you discover the best lines to take to make every jump, or as a means to compete with your friends. There’s even a robust level designer, allowing you to create your own stages and share them with the rest of the world. This feature alone could give Warstride an impressive degree of longevity and replayability if the game can pick up a big enough fanbase over time. And with the game still in development, the developers may more new features as they approach the final release.

For now, though, Warstride Challenges will likely only appeal to diehard speedrunners, those who love to replay levels over and over as they shave fractions of a second off of their best times in pursuit of a perfect run. If that’s you, then I recommend you give this game a shot. If not, then you probably won’t care for what it has to offer.

Michael Mendis

Michael Mendis loves to discuss gaming, Christian faith, and how the two interact. In addition to his main hobby of playing video games, he also enjoys watching movies, anime, and baseball.

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