No speedrun-focused game has sunk its claws in me like neon-dripping Distance. I remember trying it out with my brother when it was first released in beta, and as I made my way through the rather short Adventure Mode, I remember enjoying it but wondering whether this was meant to be the meat of the game. By the time the credits rolled, I was left intrigued but disappointed that there wasn’t more to this arcade racer filled with twists and jumps and winged cars and such potential for craziness. As it turns out, all that craziness was waiting for me in the Arcade Mode, and the leaderboards.
See, I don’t normally look at the leaderboards in these time attack games. But Distance slowly drip-fed me this love and appreciation for the perfectly timed jump, for learning the optimal boosting patterns, for squeezing between those two circular saws and shaving a good 20% off your car so you travel even faster. So when I saw the leaderboards, where players were finishing the level in seconds instead of minutes, something deep and primal inside me stirred and said: “I must dedicate my life for the foreseeable future to learning this witchcraft”.
And thus Distance opened up into this absolutely wonderful journey of exploiting the shit out of each level in order to get the best times possible. The thing is, each of the levels is surrounded by these far-off skyscrapers and structures that obviously aren’t part of the level really… but they still obey physics, and with your super-duper wing-touting wall-running car, you can reach and traverse them pretty easily.
So there arrived this moment of revelation where I realised that each level was actually so much larger and more complex than the tracks alone. Westworld-style, there was a deeper level to this game. I mean seriously, just take a look at some of the game-breaking insanity you can pull off.
At first I felt bad. I had little experience speedrunning games in this way, and I felt like I was cheating the developers, who had spent time crafting all these beautiful tracks. But the more I played and watched other speedrunners, the more I realised how much of an art there was to perfecting your times using all these exploits.
I’m now happy to say that at one point I was in the top 10 or so in the world for several of the levels in Distance. Of course, lots of time has passed since then. Levels have changed, and new optimal pathways have been discovered. But that awakening to this new aspect of the game is something that sticks with me, because feelings like that don’t come around too often.