When it comes to the driving game genre, it can be easy to fall foul of the assumption that there aren’t any new approaches left to attempt and that everything has already been done. We’ve got professional-grade cockpit simulations, retro romps, futuristic combat titles, open-world free-roamers, team management titles, and everything in between. On the indie side though – as is usually the case – there’s still experimentation to be found, and developer Different Cloth thinks that with Drive!Drive!Drive!, they’ve come up with something truly new.
They aren’t wrong, in that respect, since the core concept of Drive!Drive!Drive! is one that hasn’t been seen before. Players are set the challenge of taking part in up to four single-lap races at a time, controlling one car while the AI takes over to hold the fort in the other races, which are taking place concurrently on identical tracks situated either above or below the one that you’re racing on. A simple HUD tells you in which position in each field each of your cars is, and you can switch between vehicles instantly by tapping up or down on the D-pad.
On the face of it, your goals appear to differ with each newly unlocked event. Break them down though and as you would expect, most of the tasks revolve around getting all your cars as close to the front of the pack as possible by the time the end of the race comes.
In collection races for example, the objects you need to collect don’t regenerate and are large enough that it’s almost impossible to miss them if you’re at the head of the field. So, you’ll need to be in the lead on as many tracks as possible to collect enough objects to beat the target. “Purist” events give you a maximum number of dropped positions to beat, so if you finish 1st, 1st, and 5th in your three races and the target is to be no further than three positions away from a clean sweep, you’ll have to try again.
Score battles are on the cards too, with points awarded for ramming the idiotic AI (that’s the game’s description of them, not mine) out of the way and performing drifts and jumps, as well as for your finishing positions. More interestingly, time trials are thrown into the mix, with a total time across all tracks being set for you to beat.
These are easily the most challenging and fun to take on as you progress further through Drive!Drive!Drive!’s initial fifty level set. You can switch out to another track when approaching an obstacle that you feel the AI will drive better than you and perform the inverse manoeuvre when you know you can do better than the AI at a particular section. Often, the difference between winning and losing in these events is very slim, so it’s pure tension as you head to the line.
The core concept is intriguing stuff, but as with many new and experimental concepts, the entire thing lives and dies on its execution. That’s where Drive!Drive!Drive! gets things wrong. If you think about it, it’s a knife-edge proposition to begin with. With the AI controlling up to 75% of the game for you at any one time, if it plays too competently, there would be no challenge. You’d just fixate on one car – like in every other driving game – and let the AI win the other three races for you. Conversely, if the AI doesn’t play well enough, the game would be a frustrating mess where the way you drove the car you were in control of wouldn’t really matter as your other vehicles would lose the challenges for you.
Sadly, Drive!Drive!Drive! veers towards that latter option far more often than it should. In a challenge where you’re only allowed to finish three places off the lead in total across three races, you can race your first car to the front, switch to the second and push it into the lead, switch to the third and do the same, then watch as the AI misjudges a jump on the first track and that car now sits in 8th place with a single turn to go.
Switch at the wrong time – bearing in mind the game doesn’t give you enough time or feedback to judge where your other cars are on their respective tracks at any point – and you might take control of a vehicle just as it’s careering around a sharp bend with no walls, causing you to drive right off the edge and effectively putting paid to any chance of beating the entire challenge. Then there are the times when you’ll switch and catch your own AI driver doing something dumb, such as spinning out of control and subsequently being so confused by the wall they’re now facing that they just try to drive into it until you step in to set things right.
AI issues aside, the handling model is a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to your own car. Given that the game’s tracks contain a great many jumps, it would be handy if the physics for taking off and landing were reliable. That’s not the case, sadly. Landing a jump – no matter how you try to position any of the game’s 10 unlockable vehicles as they fall back to earth – seems to be entirely down to randomness. You might be in the lead going over the final jump and see the game decide that what looked to be a perfect landing was actually an horrendous mess that should cause you to spin, roll, or, more infuriatingly, stop absolutely dead for seemingly no reason as the opposition cars tear past you at full speed.
There’s also no reliability in the handling model in general. You can get used to drifting easily enough, but each of the worlds features differing levels of gravity and yet there’s no indication anywhere as to how strong the grip of your tires on the track will actually be. Try a slide around a corner that you would have nailed perfectly in the second world on the fourth, and you’re liable to just barrel over the edge of the course.
This all isn’t to say that Drive!Drive!Drive! is without merit. When it gets things right, the action isn’t a million miles away from being the fast-paced track-switching thrill-ride that it initially sets out to be. It’s just that in almost every event you play, something incredibly frustrating tends to happen, from the AI losing an event for you, to opposition cars crashing in such a way that they form an impenetrable wall on the track, to your car randomly launching itself into the air over the tiniest of bumps.
Visually, the low-poly futuristic approach works well, even if the various worlds that unlock as you progress through the game do tend to blend into each other – with a couple of notable exceptions – along the way. Off-track, the game provides some nice options. Once the initial set of 50 events is completed, a second, more-challenging set of 50 that are only for the most dedicated drivers are unlocked. A full track creation suite is on offer too which is surprisingly capable, allowing you to build some absolute monstrosities and upload them so that other players can test their mettle against your imagination.
Outside of track-sharing, an online multiplayer mode for up to four players is available but is so sparsely populated that getting even a two-player game going is practically impossible. If you’ve got a few friends with the game who want to battle it out, that won’t be a problem of course, but it’s surprising to see such a thin player base this early on in the game’s life.
One of the causes for this limited amount of players may be the asking price. Drive!Drive!Drive! is a new concept that – even if it was perfectly executed – would be tricky to explain to potential buyers. As it stands, the game is far from flawless and is priced at $20. While that isn’t a wallet-breaking amount and would be more than fair if the game played as well as it should, those looking for a driving fix on their PlayStation 4 would be easily able to pick up just about anything else for the same or less money. Given that Drive!Drive!Drive! is as frustrating as it is to play, they’d be well advised to do just that.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Drive!Drive!Drive! is an interesting concept and definitely has bags of potential, but the execution of the final product and an entirely dead multiplayer scene means that it's easy to overlook for the asking price.