App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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When I picked up RUNNER: PREAMBLE, I was not aware that it is apparently a tie-in game that provides some background to an upcoming VR title called RUNNER. In hindsight that makes a lot of sense, but I decided to play this game on a whim because I saw it was free and looked really cool and stylish. And, as it turns out, RUNNER: PREAMBLE is indeed a very cool, very stylish, very free, and very short visual novel experience that is worth checking out for its vibes alone.
Neo noir narrative
RUNNER: PREAMBLE is a visual novel set in a dystopian sci-fi universe where a giant megacorporation builds up settlements on planets in order to strip mine them of resources, leaving everyone who inhabits these planets to be subject to their oppressive will. The game puts you in the shoes of Vice, a man who previously acted as a smuggler but now works for said corporation.
The story begins with Vice coming across some concerning information regarding the planet he resides on and finding himself needing to turn to the smuggler friends he ditched for his corporate gig. It's an all too common setup for these kinds of settings, but luckily the writing behind RUNNER: PREAMBLE gives its world and characters some unique personality traits to keep the entire thing from reading as generic.
With this setup you can expect a lot of neon lights, futuristic motorcycles, mechs, and just about every other trope you can think of found in cyberpunk stories. Similar to the writing, these things are all presented with a unique blend of low-poly visuals and 90s-style anime character portraits, both of which are occasionally glitching out as if your own screen is a piece of cyberpunk tech, which is a nice touch.
To add to that, RUNNER: PREAMBLE is fully voice-acted and well directed for the most part. This gives the game some high production values that you don't typically expect from visual novels generally, much less free ones.
Too short, but still sweet
The biggest thing working against RUNNER: PREAMBLE is its length. This is an experience that's pretty comfortably under an hour. In that time it does a great job of establishing its world and the main players in Vice's story, but it goes no further than that. As soon as you are on the cusp of pushing the story forward, the game ends (presumably because the developers want you to be enticed enough to play RUNNER to find out more).
That said, there are a number of neat ideas layered into RUNNER: PREAMBLE's brief runtime. There are action sequences with time-based decision points and some branching dialog that can lead to unexpected dead ends. Through the game you can maintain a ton of different save files and go back and explore choices to see how things play out if you do things differently in ways that are more convenient than many other visual novel titles I've played.
The bottom line
RUNNER: PREAMBLE is a really cool promotional game for RUNNER and I'm glad I played it. Even though it is very unlikely that I will ever play the game it is supposed to be advertising, I had a good time soaking up RUNNER's world for the brief time that PREAMBLE allowed me to, and all without paying anything.