It's been a while since we've seen a new game from John Cooney, aka jmtb02, but his new jump-and-run game Exit Path more than makes up for the long wait with a non-stop, single-and-multiplayer feast for the senses.
Similar to his elephant series of games, you'll be running and jumping the screen with either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, trying to make your way through a number of screens, each with its own set of challenges. But that's about where the similarities end. For starters, I can't ever remember the elephant being tempted with freedom in a dystopian future, and I'm SURE that pachyderm never had to dodge vicious death machines at every turn. As if that weren't enough, there are going to be some jumps that are just too far to make on your own, and that's where "flow" comes in. Once you've run constantly in any direction for enough time, you'll be able to hold down either [spacebar] or [shift] and move at incredible speeds, getting enough momentum to clear huge gaps and make it past falling traps.
In jmtb02 tradition, Exit Path is filled with achievements, the reward for each one being a new piece of "flair" that you can use to customize your character, make it a bit more personal (but don't worry, 15 pieces are not required for proper performance). And that personality is going to be important once you get into multiplayer mode, where you'll be playing under an automatically assigned guest name, unless you already have an Armor Games account, which will be used instead. Multiplayer takes you directly to a lobby until the next game starts, and then it's a frantic race to the finish against four other contestants. Winner gets pride, glory, and experience points, and the loser shall live forever in shame. Or just try again. Depends on your determination level.
Analysis: Okay, let's go ahead and get the obvious Portal comparisons out of the way. Yes, there's the obligatory all-powerful controlling force with empty promises of freedom, but that's hardly a new theme. At least this game had the courtesy not to offer us cake. Instead, he offers us screen after screen of spikes, lasers, and eye-popping acrobatics. John has proven himself more than capable of making a wide variety of games, but some of his best work seems to lie in creating fast-paced, action-packed games, and he certainly hasn't missed the mark with this one. The need to move quickly is integrated directly into gameplay, not only with the constantly ticking clock, but also the need to build up "flow" by keeping up a constant momentum. There are also hard to reach collectibles, and a few challenges that you'll have to think about before jumping into, so there are going to be some times you'll want to go a little slower, but even then, there's still an overbearing sense of urgency.
Flash games have always had a difficult time in getting multiplayer right, but Exit Path may be the best attempt we've seen. With auto-matching, auto-leveling, and a wide variety of courses to run through, the games end up being evenly balanced and well-matched, so there's maximum fun with minimal skill imbalance. Granted, you'll want to have completed single player (excuse me, UNIplayer) mode first, so you have a basic understanding of what you're doing, but by the time you've made your way through that mode, you should feel big and empowered, ready to take on any other players out there who think they've got what it takes to be the best.
The controls can be very touchy, and some of the traps you have to make your way through are going to test your patience, but those of you who are already accustomed to John's style should have a lot to love in Exit Path. And for those of you who don't, well, there's always the audit room for you!