Neon Drive is a stylish game about a fast car and a retro vision of the future, where the streets are lined with neon and annoying shapes do a bang-up job of making your life difficult. But it’s not about racing.
In fact, Neon Drive is more akin to an endless runner, where your goal is to avoid the obstacles and see how far you can progress. The main differences to that premise are that each course has a set structure, they’re not randomly generated, and you can reach an ‘end’. There are seven courses in total, and each is available right from the get go. I would recommend beginning at the start, as each course is more difficult than the last.
Controlling the car is simple. Pressing left or right will shift the super car across the four lanes of the course, to weave in and out of the neon shapes that block the road. Dodging the shapes is difficult. The car travels at an incredibly fast pace, weaving in and out of the shapes requires fast hands, perfect timing and a lot of patience. You will fail a lot. Several of the courses may require hundreds of attempts before you make it to the end. That was certainly the case for me.
Things become really interesting around the middle of each course. After a checkpoint, the gameplay and environment will change into something else entirely. One course sees you weaving a flying car in and out of traffic, another course features the supercar transforming into a jet. My favourite was the fourth level, where the gameplay shifted to become a 2-D shooter, where you fire at asteroids before they collide with the Earth. Each course offers something unique from the last. Upon completing the courses, you unlock two extra difficulty modes, which take place on the same courses, only significantly faster.
Neon Drive pays homage to about a dozen awesome things from the 80s. There are either references to, or aspects of the game likely inspired by Outrun, Blade Runner, Tron, Afterburner and Space Invaders to name a few. Even the course selection screen is presented as a showroom full of arcade cabinets, decorated with images from each course.
What appealed to me most about Neon Drive was its art and sound design, it looks and sounds amazing.The high contrast between the neon and dark colours creates a unique style that I haven’t seen in a game since Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Shifting lanes creates a lens flare from the car’s taillights that lingers behind, neat little touches like that are really appealing.
The original synth soundtrack captures the feel of gaming from the 1980s and is perfectly in sync with the obstacles. If you have musical tendencies you can use this to your advantage by predicting the pattern of the obstacles. The tunes are catchy and will likely stay with you once you have walked away from the game.
If you’re a sucker for punishment, an Endurance Mode is also available from the menu. Basically, this mode pits you against all of the courses back to back to see how long you can survive. There is a Steam Achievement for surviving a whole ten minutes. Good luck! If you are struggling with the basics, a Practice Mode has been promised for the next game update.
I recommend playing Neon Drive with a wired keyboard or controller. My first few attempts at playing were quite underwhelming. I couldn’t even manage to dodge the first blocks within the first course. As soon as I shifted from a wireless keyboard to a wired Xbox controller, everything changed. My cheap keyboard had suffered from terrible lag. It’s unlikely that this will happen with everyone, just something to keep an eye on. An IOS version of Neon Drive is also available, which is basically the same as the PC version but with touch controls, though the graphical fidelity is not quite on par.
Neon Drive is everything that I love about retro gaming. It’s simple yet challenging, and nostalgic without resorting to pixelated graphics. Playing for long periods of time will likely make your eyes bleed, but in a good way. It’s much more suited to being played in short bursts, but is certainly worth your time.
Neon Drive is developed by Fraoula Games, a six man team based in Slovenia who are probably more known for their photo apps than a neon drenched arcade game. Anyway, you can purchase their neat little racer right now on Steam for PC & Mac, or on the App Store for iOS.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer who wishes 2016 featured more neon. Go say hi over on Twitter @DrVane