Fun, free and frozen, FrostRunner is a simple but addictive first-person platformer – there just isn’t enough of it.
Scrolling through Steam’s new releases can be a lot like rooting through a bin with a particularly draconian refund policy, but every now and again the reams of shoddy garbage part like the Red Sea to reveal a hidden gem all speckled in sewage and detritus. Today’s gem is the free-to-play first-person “speedrunning” platformer FrostRunner, although admittedly it’s only half a gem, at best.
This is no fault of the developers, you understand, who were students at SMU Guildhall, and the game’s store page helpfully informs us that “it is limited in length and support” and also that “additional development to extend the game is not planned beyond project completion”, which is storefront language for, “yes, we know it’s short, bugger off.” Fair enough, I suppose – FrostRunner is free, after all, which is ordinarily a minefield all on its own. But nope, in this case, there’s a full game here, albeit one that you’re likely to fully beat in an hour or two and forget all about.
Still, we should judge things based on how they are, not how we’d like them to be, and by that metric FrostRunner is really rather good. And I’m as surprised as you are considering it makes the bold and almost always idiotic choice to combine platforming gameplay and a first-person perspective, but here we are.
There’s no story here, not even a bit of blurb to contextualize the courses, which I suppose is just as well, and there are thankfully no concessions made to appease those dullards who think any first-person game absolutely must involve shooting things, which was a mistake even Mirror’s Edge made. (FrostRunner is pretty explicitly inspired by that game, even if it is an incredibly stripped-down version of it.) All we have are 36 very short and very icy levels and a lithe protagonist who zips through them as quickly as possible.
Even the zipping is simplistic. You can run, which is accomplished with the WASD keys and is satisfyingly pacey, and you can jump with the spacebar, which is thankfully responsive. Standard mouse-look orients the runner and now and again a left-click allows for literal zipping and swinging between illuminated crystals. (Or, to use their proper name, “grapple points.”)
This all works pretty flawlessly, and that nebulous “feel” that critics talk about so much is, in FrostRunner, a feeling of speed and responsiveness that is very satisfying. Addictive, too. Then again with such a pitiful selection of levels it bloody well better be, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that FrostRunner has a flat-out fun core gameplay loop that encourages practice and mastery.
The levels themselves are designed that way too but to slightly lesser effect. They’re fine, don’t get me wrong, but there aren’t many of them and because several are used to introduce mechanics they’re easily sped through. A timer ticks down as you attempt to beat each level’s “fast” time, none of which are particularly fast, and there are leaderboards to make you feel bad about your performance at the end. Each course also boasts a not particularly well-hidden collectible, and enough of those unlock “insane” courses which are a lot tamer than you’d think, so overall there just isn’t much meat on the gameplay bones.
That shouldn’t put you off, of course – the game’s free after all. It’s well worth a look if you’ve got an hour or two spare, and despite the storefront’s rather unsubtle insistence that what you see is what you get, we can hold out hope for some add-on content that’ll make FrostRunner worth a second lap.
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