Proun is a little indie number that came out for Windows on Friday 24th June, it’s an “abstract racer” and I highly recommend taking a look. It’s been released on a “pay what you want” model (including free!), so there’s really no excuse not to try it.
Let’s have a closer look…
Let me first enumerate my first experiences of the game, shortly after release, on Friday evening:
I download and install the game, max out the screen resolution and graphics settings (what little there are), and fire it up. I select a single race, on the first track, and on the only unlocked difficultly level (the slowest one: “Fast”).
The games first abstract landscape appears, the countdown timer and music start, the race commences. Instantaneously my daughter (aged 5) is stood next to me, she asks “What are you playing?”. After a moments hesitation (because I had no idea how to actually pronounce “proun”) I reply “A racing game”. “Can I play?” comes the response. I remember seeing that the game supports split-screen, so I interrupt my race, “Yeah, sure” I say to her.
Now, my daughter isn’t yet capable of playing a game using WASD or the arrow keys effectively, so I shut the game down and spend 5 minutes digging around in my hardware collection before finding a gamepad for her to use. I connect it up, fire up the game again, tweak the controls so player 2 is controlled by the gamepad and we start playing split screen.
About a lap in to the race, my wife appears behind me holding an empty mug. She was probably going to ask me if I wanted a cup of tea, possibly there may have been biscuits available, but instead I get “What are you playing?” in a slightly comedic tone. “A racing game”, I say, “Want to join us? It does three players”. “Yeah! Mummy, play racing with us!” goads my daughter, pretty much forcing my wife to join. I cancel the current race (again) and tweak player three’s controls to be the arrow keys. I fire up the game’s first track for the third time.
Now, my computer’s pretty much crammed in to the corner of our living room; my wife’s perched on the toy box and using WASD, I’m sat on my computer chair, with my daughter sat on my knees, she’s got a game pad and I’m reaching past her for the arrow keys. We race. My daughter doesn’t seem to care that she keeps crashing in to everything and is two laps behind. My wife doesn’t seem to care she’s losing to most of the computer ghosts and is almost a lap behind. I discover the boost function and start using it to crash and lose as much time as I gain. Each of us is sat in our own little bubble, watching our portion of the screen, individually twirling and zooming our own ways through the brightly coloured abstract landscapes until each race is done.
Half an hour passes before we realise what has happened and have to stop for me to start prepping dinner. It was one of those moments that just makes me remember why games are my first choice of entertainment media.
You’ll have a seen a few screenshots above without much context, so before I start on the more serious bit have a look at this trailer so you get a better idea on what the game is all about:
As you can see from the trailer and screenshots, the game features very unique and rather beautiful abstract landscapes and looks simply fantastic. The soundtrack is a pretty good fit too. The game’s mechanics are really all you see here. You’re controlling a ball along what is kind of like a rope, you rotate around the rope left and right (which slows you down a little, so less rotation is good) to avoid obstacles that block the track. If you can go long enough without slowing or crashing then you get manually deployable temporary speeds boosts, there’s a few fixed boost points on each track to mix things up a bit. Then it’s just a case of the fastest time wins. It’s simple, it works.
Since my first play I have now played the championships to unlock the game’s higher speeds (“Sonic”, “Super Sonic”, and “Bloody Hell!” “Speed of Light”) and the single unlockable track; paid a bit to support the guy behind it and unlock the bonus track; and have played quite a bit of split screen with the daughter (only 2 player mostly as the wife is less interested and has Sims to burn drown starve look after). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each moment. Even the time spent playing at the slowest speed, so that my daughter can manage, is satisfying; it’s like taking a gentle relaxing stroll instead of going for a run.
Proun’s biggest downfall is that, at the higher difficulties, it becomes less about your reactions and intuition, and more about remembering where the obstacles are and placing yourself in the right place before you get there. Arguably, it’s going to be the same at the top level of any racing game (just replace “obstacles” with “corners”), but it just feels more prevalent here because getting it wrong normally results in a dead-stop as you smash in to an obstacle.
However, this does give the game that sort of “I must do better” type of internal frustration. Every time I hit an obstacle I’m cross with myself – not the game – for the error, and I end up in that kind of cycle where I just know that I can do this, know I can pass that obstacle at full speed, know I can manage a clean run, so why do I keep hitting that bloody red thing on every lap?!? I find myself retrying the same race several times, just to try and prove to myself that I can do it, it encourages you to strive for that elusive perfect run – a trick that any good racing game should manage – and for some reason I can’t really put my finger on, this doesn’t get tedious as quickly as you might expect.
Proun is very short, but very sweet. It’s beautiful to look at; the music score is great and fits well; the gameplay is fast, fun and bordering on unique; and it provides some friendly competition by way of split screen or high score tables, although there is no head-to-head multiplayer other than split screen.
There aren’t many tracks (3 to start with, 1 unlockable and 1 bonus if you pay something), so unless you like shaving time off your best laps, competing on high score tables, or you have a few friends or family to play split screen with, you probably won’t find a lot of replayability here. There are community made tracks appearing (there’s two available already, make sure to check the website and forum), which will go a long way to help here. If a community forms that can start producing many more quality tracks then Proun could have a long future ahead of it, but don’t let concerns about it never building momentum stop you from checking it out.
Ultimately, I highly recommend that almost everyone should go and get Proun right now, even if you generally don’t bother with racing games. It’s small and you can play the full game for free (minus the bonus track. Although, if you opt to start with the free option make sure you find the smaller, less-obvious, torrent link on their website; unfortunately the web shop they’re using still requires personal details for the free version), so even if you drop the game after a hour I think you’ll find it was still time well spent.