Record Run is the latest jam from Harmonix, the studio that popularised rhythm-action with games like Guitar Hero, Frequency, Rock Band, Dance Central, and Phase. You'd think the company would know a thing or two about the genre by now.
However, this rhythm auto-runner - which, according to the iTunes description, "puts you in the middle of your music" and promises "gameplay levels created to play along with your music" - manages to be a terrible music game and a cynical auto-runner all at once.Paper chase
Here's the premise: you're an audiophile who must collect vinyls as you run along a two-channel pavement, swiping up to jump, down to slide, and horizontally to dodge, in order to avoid obstacles.
These obstacles include dancing duos, sleeping dogs, ice cream stands, and so on. When this is combined with the cartoon visuals, it's easy to be reminded of the breezy but dangerous urban world of Paperboy.
Superficially, the technologically running the game is very impressive, since it loads quickly and plays smoothly, its controls are responsive, and importing songs takes under ten seconds. However, the one piece of tech that really needs to work flawlessly in a game like Record Run is the engine that creates cool levels out of the songs you provide.
And it does not.
Record Run comes with a few tunes, but the main appeal is that you can import your own music and play with that. The theory is that each stage is based on the track you provide, but I found very little correlation with the tunes I put in and the levels I got out, and often the results were laughably poor.
'Lean on Sheena' by The Bouncing Souls and 'Cochise' by Audioslave didn't have their build-ups acknowledged in the gameplay, 'Can I Kick It?' by A Tribe Called Quest and 'Execution of a Chump' by Gang Starr lost any sense of bounce and rhythm.
'Answer' by Goldfinger was a slow and boring plod, At the Drive-In's 'One Armed Scissor' was straightforward and basic, and Conway Twitty's 'I Can't Stop Loving You' was blisteringly fast and absurdly difficult.Missing records
As a rhythm game Record Run fails hard, and it fares little better as an auto-runner.
Once you know how to handle each obstacle, the sedate pace can't hope to match the difficulty of a Temple Run or Subway Surfers, and the main objective of the game - to collect Records - is hampered by the ineffective music interpretation engine.
To build up the groove meter (which, once filled, doles out record bonuses by entering the Groove World) you'll have to time your obstacle-dodging well.
This is the only way to build the meter, and so if you want the highest score on the leaderboards you'll have to actively try to get in the way of the randomly placed obstacles to avoid them.
You can't collect all the records in a run - unless you buy the magnet upgrades - as they're regularly placed across both sides of the track at once.
Occasionally you'll even see unobtainable records spinning within obstacle geometry, and when combined with the gameplay that ironically feels out of time with the song you're listening to, everything just feels a bit sloppy.
Then there's the IAPs and ads. I'll go into those in detail in the dedicated boxout, but needless to say they give the game a real feeling of cynicism.
Record Run is out of step with what people want from a rhythm game, from what people want from an auto-runner, and from what people perceive to be value for money. If you like playing with your music, play Beat Hazard Ultra, if you like auto-runners, play Temple Run 2, but whatever you do, don't put this on.