So, the moment has finally arrived. After seven years of rumors, drama, and delays, Cyberpunk 2077 has been released. As you slide the disc into your console of choice, however, the inevitably enormous day one update brings your gaming plans to a halt. While your internet is probably better than my dreadful rural Australian connection, most of us will have at least a little time to kill. Rather than twiddling your thumbs, spending a few rounds within the thumping electronic world of Vecter is the perfect choice for getting in the cyberpunk mood. A slick, speedy, free racer designed by a single developer, Vecter can be as casual or complex as the player chooses.
Vecter is a high-speed racer set within a wireframe world. The racetrack is absolutely littered with obstacles: large spinning windmills of pillars, a valley full of scattered spheres, giant pits to be leapt over with a speed boost. Crashing into one of these structures will result in the driver’s death, either sending you back to the starting line or the last checkpoint depending on the mode. Pickups can enhance the player’s chance of survival — such as collectable extra lives or improving maximum speed by crashing through breakable walls — but for the most part, progress comes through trial and error.
At first, Vecter can seem impossibly difficult. Training and casual modes spread the obstacles further apart, but due to the high velocity of the ship I would often headbutt the same pillar over and over. A path between safety and danger is often a matter of millimeters, requiring extremely precise movements to survive. After a while, though, the rhythm of the game snaps into place. The controls are simple but must be handled delicately: taps to the left and right rather than giant lurches either way. Having the foot slammed down on the accelerator is careless too, unless you know the map well and want to improve on your previous best score. When the strategy all comes together, flying through a course feels like a dream, a true test of gaming reflexes.
While self-improvement is always a great motivator, with the game celebrating every time a personal record is bested, the ghosts of other players offer great motivation to try again. When initially learning a map, the path of these phantoms tends to be good advice: If everyone else is going to the left of the windmill, you probably should too. As you progress along the track, you can also see the points where other players have died, with passing those spots sending you a rank up the leaderboard.
Seeing the scoring laid bare on the track is such a compelling method to bring out the competitive spirit. I am not usually a competitive gamer, but I was absolutely determined to surpass a rank that I could see just on the horizon — so much more enticing than a wall of numbers. The truly talented players earn better ships for high scores, ones that balance out the advantage of having higher speed by being more difficult to control.
Vecter has a wide range of different game modes. The differences between each are rather small but can help with someone learning the game. Training and Casual are less dense than the competitive modes and also provide a checkpoint every 100 km rather than sending the player back to the start. Top Dog and Hardcore are the multiplayer modes, with a fresh, random seed used for each mode every day. Hardcore is generally trickier than Top Dog, but occasionally a lucky seed will make it the more approachable of the two maps. The ship also starts with several lives in Hardcore, which makes a difference when you are having one of those “crash into the first obstacle every time” days. Alternatively, the player can choose their own seed, offering an infinite map of possibilities.
Aside from the online multiplayer, Vecter can also be played in local co-op. The screen is split vertically and is quite easy to read — the minimalist graphics meaning little is lost with a smaller screen size. While my husband and I started out playing aggressively, we quickly found the mode to be more fun as a cooperative experience, scouting out the best path through a track together. Pick-ups do only spawn once in this mode, however, so constantly snatching the first life on the track might cause some marital disputes.
This array of modes, difficulties, and options leaves Vecter open to play it as you like. The hardcore player can chase the top of the leaderboards, and filthy casuals like me can aim for not-last. Dipping in to try out the new map of the day is a nice interlude between other activities, or you can choose a specific seed to master every nook and cranny. Seasonal events keep things fresh; right now, the courses are dotted with Christmas trees. The game is tricky, but approachable, offering something for most racing fans.
Cyberpunk is all about the style, and Vecter is simply dripping with that neo-future aesthetic. The wireframe graphics look amazing at high speeds, a perfect fusion of retro and modern techniques. The soundtrack is full of great electronica, high-energy synthwave that is visualized on the horizon with dancing lights. The included music list is fairly short, but Vecter offers several methods to provide your own backing track. Music files can be copied into the game’s folder for a bit more variety, and any YouTube video can be set as the game’s background.
I had to experiment with the YouTube function a bit before I found something that was not way too distracting, but a playlist of Pendulum fit quite well. A “sound only” option for the YouTube mode would be a plus, so bands I like that have ridiculous film clips could be included in the mix. Other than style, I liked that a lot of the visuals were customizable, making the game more accessible for players who might be colorblind or photosensitive.
I first played Vecter a bit over a year ago when the game had just entered early access, and it is wonderful to see the progress made at full release. Other than a great deal of polish and bug squashing, the new modes make the game approachable while still keeping a keen edge of difficulty. The game invokes that urge to have just one more go, a moreish display of dexterity. Most impressive of all is that the game is still free, its continuing development supported by Patreon. If you enjoyed Vecter, consider joining the Patreon or purchasing the donation DLC pack.
Next week we will be playing Peckin’ Pixels, a management game about chickens. The game can be played on itch.io. If you would like to share your thoughts, discussions are happening in the Discord server.