Racing Game Fans, You Have To Try Out The Night Runners Demo

Racing games have been feeling particular stagnant these days. Like many racing game fans, I feel particularly that way too. Sure, Need For Speed is gradually improving, but there’s not many games out there that sparks that same sensation during the heydays of car racing games. The days of Midnight Club and Tokyo Xtreme Racer rule the streets and highways are long gone.

Enter Night Runners. This in-development indie game by Planet Jem understands the appeal of cars, car culture and car racing (of the illegal variety). Its demo, the Night-Runners Prologue, proves as much. And if you haven’t try it out yet, you have to.

Night Runners has you racing around Japanese highways in one-on-one races where money is on the line. The demo starts you off with a fictional car that’s essentially an off-brand Nissan Silvia, but the humble sports car will make you realise something really quick: the sense of speed here is immense.

Feel The Speed

Through a combination of car physics, camera placement and field of view, putting the pedal to the metal in Night-Runners feels dangerous. Going flat out is like asking for a death wish. The car feels blindingly fast at 120 km/h, which isn’t that fast if you’ve played racing games, but is really, really scary (and exhilarating) in real life.

The stock version of the car feels absolutely sketchy at high speeds. It understeers. The brakes take ages to slow you down. The default camera zooms out so that the car is a tiny rectangle in the middle of the screen giving you that adrenaline-pumping sense of speed. And add the trepidation that is traffic where you can barely see if you’re not squinting, it all makes for goosebumps-inducing fun.

Again, the fact that I hesitate to press the trigger all the way down on the acceleration in fear of wiping out from either an oncoming truck or a tight corner is a thing. This is not many racing games do enough, where outside of racing sims, there’s never be a good reason to only lightly press on the gas. I never felt more alive pushing over the relatively measly speed of 200 km/h.

And as you can see from gameplay videos and trailers, Night-Runners is also dripping in immaculate vibes. Its choice of soundtrack is smart, featuring various underrated artists with many drum and bass beats.

The audio design is smarter. Positional audio is made to good use so that the music emanates from the boombox in the garage or from your car’s stereo when at the parking areas. And it gets even better. The music is slightly muffled when driving, until you pass a certain threshold of speed (around 160 km/h) where the bass starts kicking in and the music booms louder. You want to drive fast, but driving fast is dangerous. But you get to jam to cool tunes by the likes of Dazegxd if you do.

And based on the comments and posts I’ve spotted on various social media, most fans agree that the soundtrack selection brings the right vibes to a racing game, unlike a particular recent street racing game.

Who would have thought the simply of holding the throttle can hold so much nuance, and Night Runners is brilliantly designed to make you feel that.

Another Level Of Car Customisation

There’s another element of Night Runners that is doing more than most mainstream racing games does and it’s in the car customisation. There are so many parts to customise your ride. The usual exterior parts and wheels are there. But you can also customise the interior as well as the engine bay.

Look, the performance parts you put on in Night Runners aren’t just making some numbers go up and down. You actually get to see the intercooler, the turbo and the many parts you can bolt on an engine, and they change in appearance. If you want to have a proper look all the time, why not just remove the hood altogether, because that’s a thing you can do. Bumper deletes as well.

A lot of racing games lets you install a visible roll cage (which you can do in Night Runners). But how many games where applying a weight reduction upgrade actually changes the interior? You can remove the carpets, back seats, and the interior door panels to make the car lighter. It’s impressive.

Night Runners also go the extra step when it comes to the presentation in this regard as well. The demo starts with you buying a car at a Japanese car auction, where you only see the car from camera feeds with a spec sheet. Transmission setting, automatic or manual gear shifting, isn’t a settings option. It’s tied to the car, like it is in real-life.

There’s so much that Night Runners makes the car feel like an actual machine that I’m surprised other racing games have yet to attempt all these years. There’s many ways a racing game can still innovate and improve, and this little indie game is proving that it can be done.

That’s not all to say Night Runners is already an easy home run just yet. There are some aspects that feel rough when playing the demo. The interface, which really commits to the VHS tape aesthetic, can be cumbersome. I don’t think a simple “press right or left on the d-pad” to scroll through over 60 different parts is a good idea. The way the shop doesn’t flow well. The use of Crazy Taxi/Midnight Club-style arrow indicator for directions fits for a game where you drive on highways (maybe Tokyo Xtreme Racer’s road sign prompts is better suited for this). The map screen highlights discoverable locations but some of them are just toll booth so I ended up going all my way to discover a place where I lose money (more so if you speed through the toll as you’ll be fined). I’m also not a fan of the big faceless silhouettes appearing when you talk to characters, it brings a horror game vibe rather than a seedy underground racing scene one.

That doesn’t mean I wish every little thing nitpick I have has to be sanded down. There’s a certain charm to its slightly obtuse elements the game has. It’s up to the developer, and its burgeoning community, to figure out what elements are negatively affecting playability that should be changed and what are designed as intended.

Closing Thoughts

Really though, Night Runners can be the best racing game to come out in recent years if it can stick to the vision this demo has provided. I really, really want to see a new player in the scene to show up and show how racing games can be done better.

If you haven’t tried out the demo yet, available on PC (Steam), I implore you to give it a go. Night Runners Prologue evokes an immaculate vibe tuner car and high racing vibes that any racing game must try.

Night Runners currently has a Kickstarter campaign, which its base crowdfunding goal has been met.

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