Drive Any Track is a fluorescent futuristic racing game where the tracks are generated by music. Any audio file on your computer can be imported and transformed into a track, as long as it’s an MP3, OGG, or AAC. Don’t worry, lossless fans: FLAC support is being added in a future build. I’ve just spent an hour testing a variety of music, and the results are mixed. As you might expect, some tracks work really well, while others don’t at all—even when it seems like they should. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes in the game’s so-called MEGA engine, but when it works, it does a decent job of translating a song into a drivable track.
There’s no need to accelerate: you speed along automatically, ‘racing’ the track itself. To keep up and stay in sync, you have to avoid obstacles and collect tokens to deploy a speed boost. Make too many mistakes and you’ll fall behind and have to re-sync, losing points in the process. It’s like an endless runner crossed with Sony racer WipEout. Tracks are laden with boost pads, loops, and ramps, and the difficulty level—rated out of five stars—is determined by the song itself.
I started by trying to break it. I imported Squarepusher’s Anstromm-Feck 4, a ludicrous rapid-fire blast of sped-up Amen break and distorted synths. I expected this to earn an easy 5/5 difficulty rating, but it was, disappointingly, only 2/5. And it wasn’t very much fun to play either. I think the sheer amount of stuff going on sonically in your average Squarepusher track is probably too much for the engine to handle. I tried some similarly hyperactive Venetian Snares too—my favourite track, Gentleman—but the results were just as disappointing.
The tracks look great: a sea of twisting, pulsing neon, dwarfed by urban skyboxes that look like the opening scenes of Blade Runner. I try another track, The Sweat Descends by Les Savy Fav, and it works much better. The ratatat drums and scratchy guitars seem to fuse with what’s happening on-screen in a much more noticeable way. I see the track morphing to mirror changes in the song. As the drums speed up at 1:07, for example, it transitions into a loop. I actually feel connected to the music. It seems songs with clear changes in their waveforms make for the best tracks.
But I still haven’t managed to find a song with a 5/5 difficulty rating. I try Slayer’s blistering Angel of Death, expecting that to work, but no luck. I must have imported 15 songs and none were rated higher than 3/5. But, even so, the game still presents a stiff challenge. Getting through an entire track without hitting any barriers and collecting every token is a real test of focus and reaction times. But it’s a pretty simplistic, arcade-like game, so there isn’t much depth to uncover. It’s all about chasing high scores and topping the online leaderboards.
I test a few other tracks. Guitar music is the worst at generating interesting tracks. This Charming Man by The Smiths and Post Acid by Wavves are two songs I love, but that make for dull, repetitive Drive Any Track courses. Oh well. It makes sense, though. The MEGA engine seems to respond best to music with exaggerated sonic spikes, quiet moments, and sudden drops: dubstep, dance, and so on. But the developers say they’ll be increasing the ‘musicality’ of the game in future updates, so hopefully that will mean the engine caters for a wider variety of genres.
Drive Any Track is an enjoyable score-attack racer with a lot of potential, but the fun you’ll have with it depends entirely on the music on your hard drive. When it works, and the sound in your headphones syncs perfectly with the music, it can be strangely hypnotising. I love the way the lights on the track pound and pulse in time with the drums. But then you’ll import another song and feel nothing. Dig through your music library and you’re bound to find a track that translates well, and if you’re the first to do so, your name will be etched forever on its online leaderboard.
Drive Any Track is out now on Steam Early Access.