Sarah's Run (Preview)
Sophie Houlden knows what Unity can do, and she wants to blow your mind with it. Sarah's Run is a short puzzle platformer about a girl named Sarah with some unusual abilities. Although there's no story since the game is an unfinished preview with only ten levels, because the full name is actually "Sarah's Run: Escape from Capital Evil", you can probably anticipate that you are in some sort of unsavory place and you are running to escape from it. Check out how much of a detective I am!
Use [WASD] to move, the mouse to look around, and hold down [shift] to dash. (Note that if you don't like this control scheme, you can press [ESC] to see an alternative one that uses the [arrow] keys, or even use a controller if you have one.) Pressing the [spacebar] lets you jump, and pressing it again in mid-air will make you double-jump for a little extra distance or height. If you've played any platformer within the last ten or fifteen years, that little move probably isn't going to stun you, but Sarah's got one more trick up her sleeve. Press [E] to activate "Super Mode", which makes Sarah glow white and ignore the laws of gravity; until the timer bar at the bottom of the screen runs out, she'll be able to use ramps to run along the walls and ceiling to reach previously inaccessible areas. Once the timer runs out, or if you press [E] again, she'll revert back to normal, and fall back towards whatever the proper orientation of gravity has to be.
Of course, the levels aren't all gravity-defying parkour. To get to the exit, you'll have to find and activate the number of switches required to open any doors you might come across, and figuring out how to get to them requires a bit of thinking. Electricity is something you'll want to steer clear of, since it's instantly fatal; stepping on it will force you to either restart the level, or return to the last checkpoint you activated. Later levels will also introduce you to barriers that disable Sarah's special ability until she can find a trigger to restore herself, moving platforms and treadmills, and more. It's like if theme parks were inherently evil!... hahahahaha, if.
Analysis: Unity is an interesting platform in that it tends to result in different reactions from different people. For gamers, it tends to be greeted with an anticipatory wince whenever the name comes up; the plug-in necessary to play has a bad reputation for being fussy with browsers and freezing up like an eight-year-old at her first ballet recital. As a result, it doesn't really get the positive attention it should. Which is a shame, because as developers like Sophie Houlden have shown us, the platform is capable of some pretty impressive stuff.
Despite being "just" a preview, Sarah's Run offers up not just a nice chunk of gameplay, but a chance for Unity to strut its stuff on the catwalk. The presentation here is simple, clean, and the way the world spins around you as displayed by the depth of the visuals is impressive for a browser game. After a while, however, the pistachio green and tiled surroundings and short trance-techno loop begin to feel repetitive, and the constant swings in perspective which were butter-smooth on my machine might be too much for an older computer to handle.
Controls are simple and responsive, and the gameplay is easy to jump right into. Most of the puzzle aspect comes from figuring out how to use your environment and gravity to get where you need to be, which can involve a lot of experimentation. Whenever I got stuck, I began to default to hurling myself off of random surfaces at different angles, a sort of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach that, surprisingly, would often result in sweet success. The ten levels here probably won't keep you busy for too long; each stage is relatively short, and because of the way they're designed, there's no way for you to really get lost. You'll always know where to go, all you have to do is figure out how to get there.
Sarah's Run: Escape from Capital Evil is currently on hold while the developer works on another title, but if you're interested in keeping an eye on the product you may want to read the development blog which contains far, far more technical talk than my puny critic brain can comprehend, but is fascinating nonetheless. Since it looks like the finished product will be a pay-to-play affair, you should definitely check out this free preview and cut your teeth on Sophie's work. While it doesn't really break any new ground, it's fun, easy to play, and a fantastic showcase of Unity's capabilities, to say nothing of Sophie's own talents. It'll be interesting to see how the final product looks in comparison, but right now there's still plenty to enjoy.
Thanks to Jordan for sending this one in!