Going the Distance Review – More than a Plain Plane Game
Developed and Published by Mahelyk, Jory, TheClassifiedX
Available on PC
Going the Distance is an oddity. Something that someone would have never thought of until they did. I suppose that’s how ideas work; they’re a series of things that no one thought of until they did. A year ago if you had told me, “there is a launcher game that is also horror” I’d probably say, “That’s a cool idea, now get out of my house”. I came across my copy of Going the Distance during a great time. I was hankering for a launcher game. If you don’t know, launcher games are games where you launch something and try to get higher and higher distances, upgrading your craft, turtle, luchador as you go. They were mega-popular in the early 2010s, and they seem to be making a comeback.
Going the Distance starts easy enough. Your brother has died, and in his memory, you’re building paper planes and throwing them towards significant places in his life. You do all of this assisted by a goofy little robot your brother built. The robot generally gives you little hints and bits of encouragement in-between throws. Occasionally, he’ll say something insanely creepy. On more than one occasion, it told me to not go to sleep. That’s weird. Other than his occasional strange glitches, the little robot thing is a nice reprieve from the sometimes frustrating early-going in Going the Distance.
I’m not saying Going the Distance is unfairly hard. It actually has a perfect difficulty curve for a launcher game. Early in the runs, your paper plane is trash. It can only go a realistic distance for a paper plane. Every failure gives you money, though. Through this failure cash you’ll be upgrading your plane with things like engines, and armor, so it can better smash into birds without crashing. You can also buy quests, which are secondary things to do during flights to earn more money. The first level sees you throwing a paper plane throughout a neighborhood. You’ll then travel to the big city, where your simple paper plane will be replaced with a full-on cardboard plane that the player character sits in.
Each level in Going the Distance changes up what you’re launching. You go from a paper plane to a cardboard plane, to a full-on blimp at one point. The entire atmosphere of the game is dreamy and slightly unreal. The horror starts small: The robot saying strange things, your destination being changed from your brother’s grave to the spot where he died. It’s a subtle horror that I appreciate above all other forms of horror. It is easy to do a jumpscare. Something pops out in a quiet moment and spooks you. It’s a fine way to do a scare, and there is an art to crafting a well-earned jumpscare. In the case of Going the Distance, a lot of thought has gone into the subtle build-up of horror. There is a certain artistry that’s gone into Going the Distance that’s impressive. It, at times, feels far more melancholy than scary.
I am making a point to not spoil how off the rails it gets. Games like Going the Distance, or Inscryption, trade-in surprise. The eventual descent or change-up is supposed to be unexpected for players, which makes reviewing them as a whole difficult. The best I can do is tell you that the game is horror, don’t worry about that. Mechanically, it is sound. Outside of the spookiness, it’s just a fun game to play. There is a level of skill involved not normally seen in a launcher game. The different upgrades will eventually allow you to do things like add controls over the craft you’re launching. This makes the levels take one a whole different feel. You’re not launching into a run where whatever happens, happens. You’ll be expected to fly around obstacles. There’s even a small drone that you can use on the ground to explore secret areas.
Don’t do what I did. I thought the ground drone was just a way to eek out a bit more distance on a run, so I ignored it. It seemed way too expensive for just a few more feet of distance. Little did I know, a lot of the game’s secrets are hidden in places where your plane won’t reach: Deep in sewers, in-between buildings. The drone is your ticket to these dark and secret places. You can find audio tapes that shed some light on what was going on between you and your brother. You’ll find that at some point, you’ve grown far more interested in collecting these secret tapes, than paying attention to the distance you’re making in your runs. “But I love launcher games and I don’t want to look for secrets!”, you scream between runs of Toss the Turtle. That’s fine! They’re not required at all.
The other big plus Going the Distance has going for it, is that it was released right near the start of Autumn. If there is any game on the market right now that has that vaunted “Fall feel”, it’s Going the Distance. The dreamy set pieces bring to mind chilly fall mornings, sipping cocoa and watching the world go by from your front porch. For that reason alone, you should check this game out. If the Fall feel isn’t your thing, then you should at least be in for a mechanically competent, well-written, hauntingly melancholy adventure with a boy and his robot.