Running Fever is a neat bit of social track and field, even if the competition seems to have their shoes tied together

Once in a great moon (or, you know, every four years) the Summer Olympics take center stage. Athletes from all corners of the globe gather in one central location to compete for the title of best in the world. Oftentimes, the events that steal the show are the ones that take place on the track. The appeal of speed, grace, and sheer strength draw in eyes that try to stay locked onto runners as the move faster than the human body should be able to. That’s the excitement that Running Fever tries to tap into. This fresh Facebook title is an up-and-comer in social network games. But does the game come clean off the blocks or is it a false start?

Starting up Running Fever will place you into a track and field-centric universe full of hurdles–both on and off the track. You’re placed into the running shoes of a once successful runner that suffered a career stalling injury. While you were busy recovering and spraying graffiti in Harlem, an upstart athlete shoots to the top of the rankings, winning every contest he enters. Then you’re offered a chance to get back into the fold. At least that’s what I think is happening here. It’s really kind thrown together and feels like a rough translation of a story. It’s got potential to be interesting, but the presentation makes it hard to follow.

 

Running Fever works a lot like most RPG-like Facebook games do –there are a couple of different locations you can travel to where you’ll manage your character’s life, catch up on news and updates from the game world, and manage quests. The majority of your time will be spent at the track, which is to the game’s advantage. Lots of titles that work with similar mechanics puts you in the unfortunate situation of having to do more menu clicking than playing.

The actual gameplay of this title is interesting. It’s a racing game by definition, but to make things a little more intriguing, many of the races play more like an obstacle course. You rarely see electric fences, water pits, and short cuts in official track events, but Running Fever is full of them. Going into the races, you’ll pick every aspect of your character. Change hair colors, outfits, pick a power-up and equip an item that’ll restore stamina. These will improve your times, keep you from burning out early, and give you a competitive advantage–a legal one, not the Marion Jones kind.

Once you’re on the track, it’s a bit of a free for all. You’ll take to the blocks against what one would assume is other runners playing between social sessions on Facebook, but it’s not really explained if they are real or bots. Based off their actions, they must be real people with no understanding of the actual game. Every race I played had at least one if not all three competitors taking off in the wrong direction, trying to run through hurdles, and doing everything short of drowning in the water. I never had any real competition, but it’s got nothing to do with my skills.

Running Fever

Controls are all keyboard based, with WASD or the arrow keys leading your directional movement and Z and X or Control and Shift available to release skills and power ups. It’s simple and pretty responsive. You’ll never feel too out of control, though odds are good you won’t stay in your starting lane. That’s fine, cutting off other runners isn’t frowned upon here. Do what you’ve gotta do to win.

The real draw of Running Fever isn’t necessarily beating the people you’re on the track with at the time–it’s the people at the top of the leader board. Landing in the top spot in a given event will score you a physical reward of some kind. When I was playing, it was a Galaxy S3 phone, with runners up landing Facebook credits. It’s a fairly unique way of creating competition, and it almost guarantees that some people will start pouring in real cash for in-game credits to try to get a better shot at the gold medal and the prize that comes along with it. This does mean playing for free will likely never give you a real chance at the top, though.

Graphically, Running Fever is a bit flat. Well, the character models are. They’re paper, kind of like the style you’d find in Paper Mario. The design works in a title that feels a bit quirky, and it makes for some humorous moments on the track. If they took a more serious tone, it probably would have fallen flat. Granted, the cartoony approach doesn’t work great when trying to show the gritty life that your character led after his career-altering injury, but it seems pretty fine everywhere else.

Running Fever

All and all, Running Fever isn’t so hot that it’s burning up, but it’s not lukewarm either. The inclusion of physical prizes may be the best encouragement for in-game purchasing of currency around. The gameplay is pretty tight, the tracks provide a bit of variety, and the element of stacking skills and power-ups to get you through races adds a bit of strategy.

It would feel really rewarding to use a sprint burst to pass another runner right before crossing the finish line, but that would require competent competitors–something this game didn’t really offer. That’s no fault of the developers, just the players, but it does take you out of the experience a bit. It’s hard to care about winning when half of the other runners are getting trapped in corners and electrocuted.