So there you are, at the head of the pack. You've driven smartly, gently nudged one of your competitors to a flaming death over the edge of a towering cliff, let loose on another with a blast of machine gun fire, and kept your car pointed in the right direction despite slipping and sliding on a road so covered with ice you could play hockey on it. And now, you're stretching your lead. So far, so good.
But what's this? The overhead camera is behaving very oddly. You noticed earlier how it morphs occasionally from true overhead to a chase view and back again. How it zooms in and out seemingly at will, and how you can't -- at all -- change to another camera. But this is far worse: now, as you pull farther in front of your rivals, and as the camera strains to fit the entire, expanding pack onto the screen, you come perilously close to reaching the edge of that screen.
Indeed, your car is so close to the edge that you can scarcely see what lies ahead. Does the road turn right, or left? Is there an obstacle just in front of you, or not? And then, just as you think things couldn't get any weirder, your car drives completely off the edge of your monitor. Though the camera eventually does catch up, the brief disappearing act sends you off a bridge. Race over.
Drive to Survive is a top-down combat racer that is as erratically odd as its pedigree is convoluted. First appearing on European PCs back in 2004 and going through at least two other incarnations -- one as a PlayStation 2 title -- it has re-emerged in North America in 2008 as a budget-priced console-to-computer port.
How much of a port is it? The menus do not support mice. The game itself does not support joysticks or wheels -- not that a top-down racer really calls for a wheel -- and instead works only with the keyboard or a gamepad. You can't even change your control assignments without first exiting the game and launching an external control setup utility. Sheesh.
Drive to Survive doesn't bring a ton of new perks to the genre, though there is a reasonably entertaining game in here underneath the truly bizarre, potentially deal-breaking camera troubles discussed earlier.
Variety is certainly one of its strengths. In Drive to Survive, you could be on the aforementioned ice rink, or you could be off in the desert somewhere. You could be cruising the jam-packed highways of a modern North American megalopolis, zipping along a maze of hyper-elevated roadways, or twisting through a mountain pass.
The cars you drive and compete against change up almost as often as the scenery. From pickup trucks to muscle machines to sports cars, the menu is always evolving. Virtually everything handles and drives like a toy rather than a real vehicle, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a game such as this, but a dune buggy, for example, does feel different from a midsize car, which feels different from a subcompact. That said, one of the game's other faults is that the very same car you raced against previously will suddenly and inexplicably be faster (or slower) in the very next race. Consistency, then, is obviously not one of the game's strong suits.
Variety continues in the game's numerous forms of racing disciplines. The most common (and interesting) is the Battle Game, wherein you fight to the death with up to three other drivers. Here, you race in segments, trying to beat your competitors by knocking them off the track, inflicting grievous harm with one of the many weapons you pick up along the way, or merely by gaining so much of a time advantage that that particular segment ends on a mercy rule. Each participant is then awarded points based upon their finishing position in that segment; one point to the winner, zero to second place, and one negative point to the last place driver. Then the next segment begins. Each segment can be terrifically short or quite lengthy, depending on how aggressively you and the other racers drive, and the unique scoring system keeps things fluid and close throughout.
In the far more typical "Race Game," you drive a predetermined number of laps; sometimes weapons are available, and sometimes they aren't. Other less common variants include "Beat the Bomb," wherein you race solo through a series of checkpoints in a vehicle planted with a ticking time bomb. In "Chase the Fugitive," you attempt to end the forward progress of an unnamed bad guy who's driving a very bad, very fast car.
Sadly, the last two modes are so difficult that it's merely a matter of repetitively restarting or redoing each race until you finally get it right. Making matters worse, you absolutely need to complete them or you can't unlock further events.
On a far brighter note, developer Supersonic did a great job devising and implementing a set of seriously nifty weapons. Scattered randomly throughout most courses just like traditional power-ups, Drive to Survive's weapons run the gamut from machine guns to land mines, oil slicks, nasty rear-firing flame throwers and blinding flash pots. The fact that you must understand each one and know how to use it only adds to the fun.
The shotgun, for example, will impact another driver only if you use it while directly alongside him or her. Land mines will take a couple seconds to engage once dropped, and therefore should only be used on cars that are already substantially behind. Garbage pail-sized mortars are lobbed forward from the roof of your vehicle, hitting the ground and exploding several car lengths in front of you. Dumb bombs simply drop off the back, destroying whatever happens to be there at the time. Machine guns and heat seeking missiles are especially fun for the little targeting reticule that appears in front of your car once you've picked them up. Fighting to stay on course while lining up one of your rivals in the crosshairs is damned exhilarating.
In particularly aggressive events, it's not unusual to see a gaggle of burning, partially wrecked cars blasting the bejeezus out of each other, being knocked sideways, hurtling into bottomless chasms, and generally taking and giving more abuse than is morally right. Adding to the mayhem is a surprisingly sophisticated roster of driver insults. Hearing your rivals blurt, "This struggle arouses me," or warning that you are a "corpse to be" is just too funny. If only they wouldn't do it so often.
But in too many events, you feel the AI competition has an unfair advantage. Sometimes, out of nowhere, they'll be ungodly fast. Other times it seems like there's nothing you can do but repeat the same race, ad nauseam, until you somehow get lucky enough to stay on course long enough not to lose.
Granted, quirky AI doesn't play a role in four-driver, multiplayer races. Here, you can set more parameters than in the single player game and battle other humans rather than superhuman, software-controlled drones. Unfortunately, Drive to Survive doesn't support LAN or Internet play and therefore limits you to inviting all your buddies over to your swinging bachelor pad.
But by far the biggest red flag comes courtesy of that darned camera. Though Drive to Survive definitely has its moments, how a racing game of any description can, in essence, penalize you by pushing you to the very edge or completely out of the frame when you get too far ahead is a question for the ages. That alone is reason enough to take a pass. Though you'll have fun if you can somehow ignore this.
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