Choice Provisions / Different Cloth
PS4 / STEAM (PS4 version reviewed)
Creating a game with a unique gimmick can be a dangerous thing to do.
If it works well the result is a truly original game that not only brings something different to the table but could potentially inspire others to follow suit and build on it.
On the other hand, if a game’s built around a new gimmick and it falls on its arse, you’re left with a disaster and the realisation that maybe there’s a reason nobody else had tried it before.
Drive!Drive!Drive! is very much a game with a gimmick, and thankfully it’s one that works for the most part.
At first glance it looks like the sort of futuristic racing game we’ve been starting to see a lot from indie developers recently. The likes of Radial G, Distance, Redout, Drift Stage and Jet Car Stunts all have relatively similar looks, with deliberately low-poly cars racing along minimalist tracks with an emphasis on speed.
The twist in Drive!Drive!Drive! is that you aren’t just racing a car on a track. You’re racing up to four cars, on up to four tracks. At the same time.
You see, each of the game’s courses actually consist of multiple tracks stacked on top of each other. While you’re controlling one of your cars on one track, the AI is controlling your other cars on the other tracks.
The thing is, the AI is shit. As in deliberately shit. Play the game’s Training mode and the very first thing it tells you is: “Everybody is stupid apart from you.”
This means two things. Firstly, while you’re playing on your track it’s relatively easy (at least on Normal difficulty) to fight your way through to the front of the pack and get a lead.
However, it also means your other AI-controlled cars are thicker than an elephant’s knob and as such usually can’t be trusted to take care of racing on the other tracks by themselves.
The gimmick, then, is that in order to successfully play Drive!Drive!Drive! you have to keep switching between the tracks and controlling each of your cars for short periods of time.
Oddly, it feels less like a racing game at times and more like Harmonix’s track-shifting music games (take your pick: Frequency, Amplitude, Rock Band Unplugged or Rock Band Blitz).
In those games, you had to ‘secure’ each instrument’s track so you could switch to other instruments while they played themselves for a while. It’s a similar concept here.
The strategy for success isn’t rocket science: pick a track, fight your way to the front of the pack so you’re in 1st place, see which of your other cars is struggling, switch to that one, get it to 1st place too, repeat.
In practice though, this is easier said than done. Juggling between tracks is a skill that requires you to have your eye on a few things at once: your other cars’ race positions, all of the course maps and of course the race you’re actually controlling too.
As a result, chances are your first few races are going to be dismal failures. More than your first few, actually. I struggled for 30 minutes to get a mere Bronze medal on the very first stage.
Depending on your patience levels, this can be disheartening. Most racing games have gentler learning curves that at least toss you a couple of bones while you get used to the handling. This one launches all its bones into a fucking bin lorry.
Persevere though and, eventually, you’ll get your Bronze. Then a couple of Silvers. And then your first Gold. Then Bronzes again. This is not a game where it just ‘clicks’ and you’ve mastered it, it’s a challenge throughout. Personally, I liked this.
The game’s main Campaign mode takes you through 50 races, distributed evenly between 10 different planets (that’s five per planet, in case you weren’t paying attention).
These races take one of four different forms:
Purist – Try to finish in a good position with all of your cars. Their combined positions are added at the end for your score: for example, finish 2nd, 5th and 7th and your score is 14. The lower the score, the better.
Arcade – Get points for bashing into enemies, doing jumps and finishing in a good position on each track. Bronze / Silver / Gold awards depend on your score.
Time Trial – Straightforward stuff: get all your cars across the finish line in a set time. The timer ends when the last of your cars finishes its lap.
Collect – A load of gems are scattered on each track and you have to get as many as possible. Essentially this one’s just a variation on Purist since the aim is still to get every car to 1st place (otherwise your opponents snap all the gems up).
Of the four, the Purist mode is probably the most entertaining. There’s a real tension as a race nears its end and you can’t take your eyes off the ‘1’s at the corner of the screen, signifying that your other cars are still in the lead.
Trying to gauge whether they’ll make it over the line without your help is stressful as hell, especially when you decide to leave them only to see that ‘1’ change to a bloody ‘5’ right before the final straight.
Long story short, if it’s a relaxing Sunday drive (drive drive) you’re looking for, you won’t get it here.
In terms of presentation, Drive!Drive!Drive! is lovely. As already stated above the whole retro ‘80s style futuristic racing game look has been done to death a bit now, but it nevertheless does a good job with clean, stylised environments (though it does overdo itr a bit with the blur effect when you use your turbo boost).
The same can’t be said for the frame rate, which (on the PS4 version at least) is temperamental. On very rare occasions – mainly the initial camera swoop before the race starts – it looks smooth, but that quickly changes once you get going, particularly during more hectic races.
Visually it’s a mixed bag then, but this isn’t the case with the audio: it’s all fantastic. A brilliant soundtrack by electro prog rock band Zombi gives the game a real retro sound similar to (fittingly) the movie Drive. I would gladly stick this soundtrack on while I’m out walking: get it on Spotify please, chaps.
In all, Drive!Drive!Drive! is an interesting one. Its central premise takes some getting used to and while you may never truly master it – the wonky AI means no matter how good you are you’re always an undeserved spin-out away from a ruined race – it does have that one-more-go factor that will have you eager to try again.
There’s still room for improvement here, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel one day that improves on the main mechanic. As a first crack at it though, it’s on the right track. Well, multiple right tracks.
Drive!Drive!Drive! is available for download now on PS4 and Steam.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free download code for the game from the developer. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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Sounds like a couple of the race missions from Driver: San Francisco.