REVIEW: They Always Run

When I came across They Always Run during my 3 AM random Youtube musings several weeks ago, I just knew I had to play it. A linear action platformer where you play a three-armed cloaked bounty hunter journeying across the galaxy to knock some heads? That seems like the game a Mandalorian fan in-drought like me needs to play while we wait for the third season.

Platforming in this game is serviceable.

After getting my hands on a review copy and spending a total of 5 hours with the game, I can say confidently that this is not the game I was hoping for. The review copy I received was prefaced with a warning that it had bugs which is a valid warning to make. But I wasn’t expecting it to have that many issues. Akin to an open-beta test, the seemingly final state of the game feels bare for several reasons. They Always Run is an incredibly unpolished affair that betrays the excitement instilled by its premise and visual flair.

You play Aidan, a bounty hunter who comes from a race of three-armed humanoids that gets embroiled in an intergalactic conspiracy that may concern his past. With the help of a few allies he meets across the galaxy, Aidan is forced to take on unwanted bounties to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. The game offers a variety of oddities and interstellar worlds. Nothing we haven’t seen but enough for the world to feel distant.

Right from the get-go, you’ll feel a serious lack of QoL features. From the game “feel” to the way the sound design/score comes and goes, it just feels off. The walk animation of the protagonist is so slow and for some reason, the game limits you to walking anytime you’re in the spaceship. The transitions between each story beat and level are so jarring; the game literally just jumps to a new level without oftentimes no segue.

Myriad Pro just isn’t a good sci-fi font.

I’m a huge sucker for games and apps with good UI design. Having it good is evidence of cohesive vision and having it cohesive makes for a more immersive experience. When your UI looks haphazardly put together with fundamentally bad layouting and poor choice of fonts, it cheapens the experience. Sadly, They Always Run has it looking generic. The game’s interface looks straight out of a cheap 90’s sci-fi bargain bin novel. Texts are overlayed where they shouldn’t be. The menus look so dull and unimaginative. For a sci-fi bounty hunting game with a quirky world, having your UI look pedestrian and mundane is a huge blunder.

Combat does get fun at times.

A lot of the game’s more palatable qualities can be found within the game’s actual combat mechanics. Playing a three-armed assassin, the game somewhat gets the job done and delivers a serviceable combat system that gets fun to play as you progress up the awful-looking skill tree. There’s a depth to the mechanics at play here; having a third appendage allows players to creatively get out of rushdown scenarios when enemies gang up on you. On top of that, you also have options to use guns mid-combo. And then when you start unlocking the Spider-Man grappling hook abilities? Every skirmish becomes a challenge to do the craziest combos yet.

But then the jank starts creeping in and poops on the party. The fight animations are so rigidly done that it underlines the lack of flow with the combat system. It’s a total shame since a game like this would benefit from a system that allowed seamless movement and transitions. Cancel animations don’t exist in this game; I can’t count the times I died because I couldn’t roll out from an animation frame. Modern action-heavy platformers need that feature. It also doesn’t help that the hitboxes are so all over the place that your attacks don’t always register.

A prime example of the audio bugs and how scenes just transition abruptly.

They Always Run could have been a decent game as it has promising aspects. The art style is great. The characters look interesting. The bounty hunter premise is fun (though it could’ve been done without the linearity. Imagine being able to simply pick which bounty to chase) Sadly, the lack of polish prevents it from reaching its potential.

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