We don’t cover many arcade racers here on PRC.net, but goddamnit we’re going to at least try! Released on Steam’s Early Access platform earlier this year, Drive Any Track is FOAM Entertainment’s attempt at mixing Audiosurf with Trackmania, though the end result isn’t as spectacular as you’d hope, and not nearly as impressive as the technology that powers it.
I first heard about this game through TeamVVV, and given that I’ve got around $100 sitting in my Steam account thanks to Slightly Mad Studios being, well, slightly mad at one of our previous articles, there was no reason not to try this shit out. Retailing for around $15, Drive Any Track takes any audio file on your PC and converts it into a track full of jumps, loops, ramps, twists, turns, sudden hairpins, and the occasional power-up. The game is set up as a huge online leaderboard competition, with the main goal being to score the most points in a single run of whatever song is sitting on your hard drive. Obviously, if you stick to well-known stuff, there are hundreds of ghosts to race against, but if you’re like me and bust out the Need for Speed II instrumentals, you’re at least rewarded with a hefty XP bonus for being the first person to run a lap of the song.
The more you play, the more cars and other goodies you can unlock. It’s obviously not Guitar Hero; for $15, you’re getting something you can play for a few minutes at a time while you wait for your bros to get on Teamspeak for the next online race in your sim of choice.
Before we start shitting on it, as we tend to do this a lot at PRC.net, I have to say this – the game is extremely well made. There are no bugs, glitches, or exploits. There’s a massively detailed XP system that tracks your performance in each individual song, a whole bunch of cars to unlock, and the leaderboards all work as they should, as do the ghost cars you can choose to race against. The menus look like total ass, but each different environment is sharp, and the art style of the game’s multitude of cars are really fantastic. And then there’s the driving. Obviously, the video above doesn’t really do it justice, but the game controls as if you’re driving one of the lower powered cars in Burnout 3: Takedown, with a little more weight and predictability to it. You always feel as if you’re in control of the car, and putting it precisely where you want it to go is never an issue, period.
I really have to stress this – there were a shitload of positive aspects about the game, and I went into it with zero expectations.
But I nitpick. A lot. So here we go.
The technology definitely works as intended, just not as frequently as you’d hope. Above is a shot of Green Day’s Basket Case, which starts off with a rather gentle ride full of off-cambered corners while Billy Joel Armstrong begins the first verse, before sending you flying towards the city below when the full band kicks in. It’s pretty awesome when the game gets it right, as a tight high-speed loop and downhill section during the song’s final chorus drill home how cool everything can be when Drive Any Track is firing on all cylinders. The game ceases to be a copy of Audiosurf with cars, and turns into a hybrid of SSX 3, Trackmania, and just a tad bit of Guitar Hero with score multiplier management.
The problem is, this ideal gameplay scenario doesn’t always occur, and even when it works, it soon becomes repetitive.
Dry Cell’s Slip Away, better known as the intro movie song for EA Big’s Freekstyle, plays out in a largely similar manner. It seems as if there’s only a finite number of track elements the game can select from, and it becomes extremely noticeable when playing several songs within rapid succession. My first night with the game, I played American Idiot, Favorite Son, R U Mine?, and Slip Away all in a row. They all sorta felt the same. They all had one or two loops. They all had a really fast downhill section with a combo of jumps. There was a barrel roll ramp early into the run to help build up your boost. As quickly as I’d gotten into the game and really jumped on the bandwagon with what it was about, I was now on the other end of the spectrum. I was bored.
My next night with the game, I threw the absolute worst combination of songs at it that I possibly could, in hopes that I’d either break the game or find a hidden gem that suddenly made the game challenging, because that’s another big problem that Drive Any Track faces. Whether it’s because I’ve spent way too many years of my childhood and adolescence blasting through the Burnout games, or whether it’s because Drive Any Track is intended for a casual audience, I was never once challenged by what the game threw at me. The five star difficulty tracks, what the game regards as the highest level of difficulty, are a snooze-fest to even the most basic of bitches. This isn’t due to the game’s physics gluing you to the road, as I for once have no problems with how a racing game drives, but at no point does the game even bother to test your skills.
You can fall off the track, but competent drivers will rarely run into this problem. You can nail the wall and lose a few car lengths on the song’s pace, but very few corners require any thought whatsoever. Even the most insane of jumps can be approached by simply nailing the boost button and keeping it pointed straight. It’s a very dull affair, which is unfortunate as the game’s mechanics could allow for much crazier layouts.
Your average five-star difficulty track is basically on-par with the first Grand Prix in F-Zero GX. In short, as quickly as you buy into the game and get excited for what’s to come, you get really fucking bored, unsure if it’s just the song you picked, or if it’s the game itself.
In an effort to break the game and see what kind of crazy shit the song generator would throw at me, I rounded up a handful of the most sleep-inducing Taylor Swift tracks that are only appropriate to play after a nasty breakup and/or emotional meltdown. Blank Space gave me the equivalent of a freestyle motocross track, which was absolutely nonsensical for the song’s minimalist approach – some points are literally just Taylor and a drum beat. Dear John gave me huge boost zones and massive sweeping corners that implied Taylor’s emotional ballad about an underrated guitarist should be used as the theme song for D1GP broadcasts in Japan. I Almost Do, an acoustic piece describing Ms. Swift’s fears of abandonment, had me flying upside down at warp speed.
After the group of songs you see above, it was hard to understand what, if anything, the technology powering the main selling point of the title was actually doing.
For $15, it’s a neat little game you can play when you’re stoned, but it doesn’t offer much of a challenge, and that ultimately hurts it in the long run. Considering the whole game is about going for the perfect lap and gaining the top spot on each leaderboard, the lack of any real challenge makes each song drag on, and before long you’ve moved onto something else.