Review: Neon Drive

Pros: sleek graphics, catchy soundtrack, surprisingly innovative level designs
Cons: one-trick pony, no depth, not much different from the mobile version

As the lines between mobile, console and desktop gaming increasingly blur, where a game begins isn’t necessarily where it will end up. While Minecraft, Terraria and Don’t Starve have all made the jump to mobile, so are mobile games making the jump to PC.

Joining Bardbarian, 10000000, and Knightmare Tower, Neon Drive is the latest notable mobile-game-turned-PC-port. Everything about this lane-based rhythm runner oozes with 80’s appeal. From the synthesized sound and neon lights down to the arcade cabinet level select screen, style permeates every aspect of this game. Simply put, if Com Truise, Rad Racer and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon had a baby, it would be Neon Drive.

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Let the synthesizer wash over you

But Neon Drive is more than just a runner game; it’s an exercise in creative level design. Each of the seven stages starts innocently enough, with a barrier-dodging sequence synced to the game’s electronic synthwave background music, but the simplicity ends there. As you progress, levels transform in very unpredictable ways:  camera angles shift, your car sprouts wings, or an alien spaceship bombards you with its photon torpedoes (seriously). The amount of ingenuity exhibited in these phase changes is marvelous. And it’s that sense of curiosity of what will come next that will drive you forward.

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It’s more than just a “lane-based runner”

Even though stages transform, the core mechanic remains the same: move left or move right in time with the rhythm. Unfortunately, the synchrony doesn’t always last, as for the more difficult sections will force you to consciously unsynchronize your movements from the music. That said, it is still accurate to call it a tempo-based game, as the speed of the music does inform how quickly you should be moving; A subtle difference, and one that I can see tripping some players up, but fret not.

Distinct from the mobile version, the PC version unlocks all levels right from the start, allowing you to bounce between stages at your leisure. If Level 3 is proving too difficult, simply jump to Level 4. Or you can preview all 7 levels to gain a sense of how much designs vary, even within the construct of an 80’s neon lane-changer. And you will want to see everything this game has to offer. Every backdrop attempts to emulate the material which inspired it, whether it’s driving through Tron, flying through Afterburner’s sky, or dodging Blade Runner’s traffic.

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Remember this scene from Blade Runner?

It’s admirable what Fraoula has accomplished with Neon Drive, to say the least. The aural and visual presentation is so on point that calling it a mobile port doesn’t do it justice. Graphic settings include options for bloom, reflections and fog, as well as your choice of anti-aliasing. The game also controls equally well with a controller as it does with a keyboard. And if you can play on a big screen with big sound, it’s even better. Do yourself a favor though and avoid cheap knock-offs like Outdrive.

 

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