MechRunner Review

MechRunner, developed by Spark Plug Games, has an interesting premise of being a ‘3D Endless Runner’ game on PS4. It features a transformer-like giant Mech that can swap between a bipedal machine or a hovering tank, with cinematic flair and explosive action. Endless runners are extremely popular on the mobile platform, so I had a genuine interest of what new and unique gameplay features this one would bring as a console game.

Sadly, my budding curiosity met an abrupt end about ten minutes into the game. Despite its few interesting elements, MechRunner, at the core, is just another endless runner game that I have seen and played a zillion of times on my phone.   

The tried and true Endless Runner formula is there: You are placed on a never-ending running path with obstacles for you to dodge and bonus points to collect, as the game progressively gets harder until it becomes inhumanly impossible to beat the game. Once you’re back to the start, you spend points on upgrades and whatnot to try again to see how far you can go next time. MechRunner does not deviate a lot from the standards set by previous endless runners.

MechRunner DOES have some unique tweaks of its own. A three-lane system (left, middle and right) is pretty much the golden standard for most endless running games, where you can strafe from one lane to another to avoid incoming obstacles. However, there are no lanes in this game. The giant mech can freely move and position itself anywhere inside the moving space without restrictions and a feature called the ‘hit-detection’ is used for avoiding obstacles. Unfortunately, this feature has a problem of its own.

The hit detection is very flawed and irritating. It is far from being unplayable, but it is really disheartening to see your Mech lose a good chunk of HP simply because you are two pixels inside a giant invisible hitbox of debris that is clearly not on your pathway. However, I have discovered a clever solution to overcome this problem. All you need to do is imagine that there are three lanes in the path and set yourself perfectly inside the safe lane, just like any other endless runner! So what exactly is the purpose of letting players freely position instead of just using the old three-lane system in the first place?

Another interesting element is combat. Your transforming bipedal war machine is armed to the teeth. It can shoot a barrage of rockets and charge up powerful cannons for more devastating effects while in tank form. You also get access to machine guns and extremely cool-looking swords. Every once in a while, you are blocked by enemies and you need to battle them in a combat mini-game and win in order to continue.

While it sounds really amazing in words, the actual combat is somewhat shallow and monotonous. All you need to do is avoid incoming bullets and return fire with your arsenals. You will want to stay in tank form most of the time since it is very effective for clearing enemies with a barrage of rockets and cannon fire. Despite the fact that you look very cool with energy swords in Mech form, it is really ineffective in terms of gameplay since it is only possible to slice and dice the enemy when in melee range. Furthermore, you can deflect incoming cannon fire with your sword, which allows you to follow up with a ‘cinematic’ Quick Time Event slice attack where you have to press L2 at the right time. You gain more energy points if you kill an enemy with a QTE slice attack. Again, this sounds amazing on paper, but it has no strategic value in actual gameplay. It is almost always better to clear every enemy as quick as possible.

Eventually, your running will end with your Mech broken into smoldering pile of metals, such is the fate of the all endless running games, and you will be back to the menu with a multitude of options to upgrade with the points you collected. This is where the game sinks into lulling dullness. There are several options to expand your points - new weapons, new frames, new maps, or even ‘story’ for those who are interested. However, to put it blankly, none of them are substantial and interesting. It does not help at all when the points you collected in a single run are not enough to buy a single upgrade that you have to go back into the endless track and do the dull cycle of run, collect and die, again and again and again so that you could unlock the next stage. Surely, this could work for a free-to-play mobile game with in-app purchases to gate players behind grind/time walls, but as a paid game on a console, this unnecessary grinding is simply vexing and is the antithesis of fun.

While it is not a horrible game itself, I could not help but feel that MechRunner was a game released on the wrong platform, towards the wrong audience, with wrong core design decisions. During my play, I was expecting something unique and innovative from MechRunner, which would distinguish itself from other mindless endless runners. Sadly, my search was fruitless. MechRunner did nothing that warrants your precious time.

Lv-99 simple sheep