It isn't often that Atari brings new games to the Play Store, which is why I wanted to take a closer look at their upcoming release Night Driver. If the name sounds familiar, well, that is because it's an old arcade game originally developed by Atari back in 1976 that was also ported later to the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. This soft-launched mobile version is supposed to be a reimagining of the original racer, with all-new graphics and gameplay. It's also a free-to-play title with plenty of in-app purchases. So don't get your hopes up too high just yet.
I am just going to say it right here. Night Driver is not a good game. Not only is it heavily balanced towards a ton of grinding so that its many IAPs look appealing, the amount of other annoyances placed into the game to push players towards those IAPs is simply criminal. There hasn't been a single moment that I have enjoyed anything about this title. Sure it may look the part of a slick '80s racer, but when all things are considered, it's just another blatant cash grab that takes advantage of a fondly remembered property.
As far as the graphics are concerned, they are serviceable and shine in a few areas, such as the car models. The overall theme is very reminiscent of a neon-filled '80s movie, which seems odd since the original game was released in the mid '70s. Heck, even the release of the Atari 2600 version is dated at 1978. So the theme doesn't make a lot of sense as a callback to the original in any way. But whatever, this is what Atari chose to run with. The theme works for this style of racer and it looks good in action, so I can't really complain.
The sound is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the roar of your engine and the squeal of your tires are perfectly acceptable and help to round out your overall racing experience. On the other hand, there is a dubstep soundtrack that consists of one song, and it plays every single time you race. This gets annoying rather quickly. Luckily you can turn off the music in the game's settings, which I would recommend. Your best option would be to race with your own music playing in another app, maybe something along the lines of this, which is definitely more fitting.
The gameplay, when considered on its own, isn't all that bad, though it is very simple and gets boring pretty quickly. Basically, you race around a few different locales while drifting around corners and dodging vehicles. You can, of course, upgrade your cars as well as purchase new ones so that you can race faster and longer.
There are a few different racing modes to choose from. One of them is a challenge mode that consists of timed races, item collection races, as well as a survival race mode. Now, each area in the game has these three race types available to them in this mode, though you will have to unlock those stages in the default endless racing section first.
In the endless racing mode you will want to race as far as you can throughout an assortment of locations. As you reach the end of one, you will have a choice of two new maps to race on, much like how the classic Out Run arcade game works. When you do reach these new maps, they will be available to you in the challenge mode as well as selectable as a new starting point (for the cost of a travel token) in this endless racing mode
Oh, and there is a classic racing mode available as well, though you will have to upgrade a car to level 2 before it is unlocked.
If you enjoy mindlessly racing and drifting from one location to another with a few different available goals depending on which mode you choose, Night Driver is an alright racer, if a bit boring and uninspired. But sadly there are also a couple more issues to consider outside of the core gameplay, which I will detail in the sections below.
For me, the entirety of my enjoyment (or lack thereof) comes down to the controls, and well, the controls suck. By holding your thumb on the screen, your car will advance. Moving your thumb horizontally will steer the car. To turn corners, you will have to drift around them. You do this by swiping your thumb down while simultaneously keeping it firmly pressed to the screen so you can continue to advance in the proper direction. The problem is, as you try to swipe down your car will steer wildly across the road thanks to how sensitive the controls are. Some cars are better than others, but even then, the controls are too unwieldy, which ruins the game.
The monetization is another area that I feel destroys any hope of fun you could have with this title. There are a plethora of loot boxes, two types of in-game currency, and a ridiculous travel token that is necessary for starting a race on any map other than the starting location in the default endless racing mode. On top of that, you also have wait timers attached to upgrading all of the different components of your vehicles. So not only do you have to pay in-game currency to unlock an upgrade for your car, but you also have to either wait for a timer to countdown or use a different in-game currency to remove that timer so that you can use your upgrades in an immediate fashion. Just about anything you need to do to advance in this game points towards spending real money on in-game currency. But when you see IAPs that range up to $99.99 per item, this is no surprise.
Honestly, I had a pretty tough time finding anything to like about Night Driver. The music is annoying, the controls are awful, the gameplay is boring and monotonous, and on top of that, the monetization is outrageous. Sure, the theme is kind of cool, and it is nice to see an old property revived for present-day, but at what cost? It is easy to see that Night Driver is simply another in a long line of uninspired free-to-play racers on Android, and frankly, it just doesn't offer an enjoyable experience.