I don’t play a lot of platformers, metroidvania or otherwise. I don’t like falling off of things, and I don’t like searching for the way in a game very much because I already suffer from having no sense of direction in real life. I like my escapes from reality properly signposted or intuitive. I preface with that because despite my apprehension, I had a truly good time with the demo for They Always Run. I read about it before I saw any gameplay and man, how do you not become intrigued when a game offers you a “three-armed mutant bounty hunter”? That’s like mixing Terminator, A Fistful of Dollars and Venom and then making a game out of it, an idea that’s as ridiculous as it is cool.
And They Always Run is cool, stone-cold, from its great name to it’s futuristic Western vibes. The demo starts with one of the most recognisable scenes from any Western. Protagonist Aiden is just enjoying a drink at a saloon (he don’t want no trouble, no Sir) when he gets interrupted by a group of dudes in what look like mech suits. “Aw, you spilled my drink” is the last thing Aidan says before things are popping off and a tutorial introduces you to TAR’s speedy combat.
While you always have your double swords at the ready for some quick slicing and dicing, parrying is likely the game’s most important skill. You can’t take many hits, and this is a sidescroller that regularly throws enemies at you from both sides of the screen. Counter when your foes’ weapons glint and you’ll take out two of them at once in a bloody and beautifully animated combo. You can also throw boxes, which is helpful against snipers aiming at you from an elevated position, and break an enemy’s hold using your third arm. You also sometimes find enemies in the world that, after a scan reveal to have bounty on their heads. Defeating them and sending them through an interdimensional portal will net you a reward.
The animation is great across the board, whether it’s in the stylish, fast-paced battles that take me from sliding through an opponent’s legs to nimbly jumping out of the way of a laser or leaping across a gap between steel grates as I climb, I’m able to build up a lot of speed and move with great fluidity. For maximum coolness, They Always Run also uses a bullet-time effect when you successfully perform a counter or knock out the last enemy of a wave, but it doesn’t feel overused. They Always Run is a very good-looking game in general, from its backgrounds painted with wide brush strokes to the way light will sometimes creep into a cave or clashing weapons throw sparks, there is a lot of love for detail here.
Then there’s of course the matter of the third arm. To be honest, I expected more from this, mostly because of the way it controls—Using a gamepad, you move the arm with the right stick while also pressing the right trigger, and that’s just awkward. The robo arm does offer a bit more gameplay variety by letting you scan your surroundings, destroy buried nodes that might keep a door closed, or in one particularly memorable example, allowing you to fix some wiring Aidan wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. But the thing is so awkward and noodly it was more reminiscent of Octodad to me than a cool robot bounty hunter, and while that gave me a good laugh, I’m sure that wasn’t actually what developer Alawar Premium was going for.
What does work is the Western vibe, written all over They Always Run whenever someone opens their mouth. It’s another thing that makes me laugh. I can see this game unapologetically cannonballing into every Western trope headfirst.The way people talk sounds like it could come straight from a Western —in this mission I was chasing a baddie called The Rat, and he’d shout taunts like “not today, Three-Arms!” before disappearing on me again, and when I dodge an enemy, they shout things like “you can’t run forever!”. Alawar Premium sure knows its hard-boiled Western barks.
The demo slice of They Always Run was good fun. It appealed to me because of its relative simplicity and systems that are easy to pick up, but that simplicity also makes me wary of it potentially becoming stale unless it offers some form of variety. As it stands, I’m looking forward to more. They Always Run is set to release sometime this year, and you can wishlist it on Steam.