David is a proudly queer performing artist and software developer. He spends most of his downtime with a controller in his hands and a lazy beagle on his lap.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
May 19, 2021
Sprint through a futuristic, dystopian Detroit in Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, an action-packed endless runner from solo developer Aerial_Knight. Pursued by mindless corporate drones and a mysterious athletic antagonist, parkour your way across construction sites, burning cars, and abandoned warehouses to protect your precious cargo.
You take control of a nameless protagonist in possession of a very important item, the nature of which remains a mystery. A faceless organisation relentlessly pursues you for the item, forcing you to flee through city streets, rooftops, and industrial sectors. This is an endless runner, meaning you’ll be constantly travelling to the right (apart from a few special sections where the perspective shifts). Gameplay consists of four actions. You can perform a high jump, a low slide, a sprint, and a short “hop” that lets you stylishly parkour over obstacles. You’re aiming to finish levels as quickly as possible to get a decent score, so whenever you can’t see an obstacle, you’ll want to be holding the sprint button to go faster. The obstacles themselves are generally bombastic action-movie set-pieces: misplaced construction equipment, skidding (or exploding) vehicles, violent security drones. Their frequency, and the use of “bullet time” when one gets close, adds to the feeling of playing through an extended action sequence from a blockbuster film.
The presentation pops, particularly the jazz and hip hop-infused soundtrack that accompanies your run. Developer Aerial_Knight was inspired by their hometown of Detroit in designing the urban environments you’ll sprint through, and you really get the feeling that it’s a bit of a love letter to the city. Dramatically animated cutscenes bookend each level, and give a loose context for the action. I couldn’t make much sense of the plot, but it didn’t really seem to matter – this is not a game about the story. I did enjoy the bonus levels you can unlock by collecting special coins in each level, and there’s also an opportunity to unlock new outfits for your main character.
It’s a shame that you need to play through Never Yield’s levels on the default difficulty before unlocking harder modes, since it’s the least interesting way to play. As much as I appreciate an easier, more accessible experience, it’s regrettable to lock what feels like the “true” game behind arbitrary completion goals. Even as a player who usually opts for lower difficulty, I found Never Yield’s default allowances for extra bullet time and obstacle telegraphing to be so generous as to kill the game’s pace – it also reveals the game’s generous window for dodging obstacles, which hinders immersion. Sometimes you can press the appropriate action button while the relevant obstacle is literally on top of you. It’s hard to feel like a badass parkour king when you can see your character clipping through the killer drones that should have, realistically, utterly annihilated you. This issue is much less noticeable on higher difficulties, where the game speed is increased and the bullet time drastically reduced, making for a more authentic action speedrunning experience.
The slower pace of your first Never Yield playthrough also exposes a key issue with the game: repetition. While each level provides its own introduction and theming, the actions you’ll be performing in each remain exactly the same: sprint, jump, slide, and hop. Obstacles are colour-coded to let you identify how best to dodge them, which is helpful, but ultimately leads to ignoring the actual setting and just focusing on the next colour. The obstacles themselves are varied enough – you might first be sliding through sewerage pipes, but later sliding under floating landmines or advancing killer drones – but are repeated so often that their novelty is short-lived. Even entire segments of levels seem to be repeated throughout a run, artificially padding out the length of the experience. The roughly fifty minutes it took for me to finish my first playthrough could have been cut down by about half without losing anything.
Criticisms aside, there is a certain keen satisfaction to lose yourself in once you’ve unlocked the more difficult game modes. Never Yield, in the true spirit of an endless runner, can provide a rhythmic sense of flow that masks its repetitive features and allows non-gameplay elements such as the slick visual design and sweet soundtrack to shine through. It feels as though a title like this would be well suited to mobile platforms – playing on Switch, it was easy to jump in and out of runs in between trams, but there’s little about the control scheme that wouldn’t work just as efficiently on Android or iOS.
A few odd design decisions prevent Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield from growing into the action-packed blockbuster it yearns to be. While the title finds its footing once you’ve unlocked its speedier and more difficult game modes, it’s a bit of a slog to get there. For those willing to put in the effort to get to that endless runner’s high, there’s a slick experience to be found here. Although less patient parkourists might want to look elsewhere.