If there was an award for the greatest proof of concept, Ion Driver, a fast and futuristic budget indie title, would win 1st, 2nd and 3rd place every year. Developed by indie studio Moon Whale Studio via the Spanish Playstation Talents initiative, the title describes itself as ‘defying all laws of physics’ – which is true, but not in the way you’d expect.
Strongly influenced by classics such as Wipeout and F-Zero, this title has great aesthetics, with cell-shaded car designs and shiny neon levels that run smoothly in 60fps, and such is their effect that you believe you’ve struck gold. Preventing the ‘Hidden Gem Achievement’ from popping, however, is a drop-off in both quantity and quality so extreme, that this title soon degrades itself to little more than a demo with a price tag.
As soon as you start driving, you strafe into the wall (it turns out R2 isn’t the accelerator) and spawn back to your starting position, for no discernible reason. Utterly confused by the game’s first few moments, you soon realize that the odd controls are but a minor annoyance in comparison to the barriers of the track that spin you off course after even a minor tag and/ or reset your position to a few meters back up the road.
Rational minds might point to the price point of $4.99 at launch as a fair warning – but no risk, no reward – right?
Discovering that the game only has two races, similar cars (in all but design) and the guarantee that you’ll experience at least one bug per race brings you back to reality, but even so, you can’t help but feel a tiny bit disappointed with the game’s influences at least being recreated visually, if not in their slick gameplay.
Avoid the walls long enough, and you’ll discover that there are 11 other competitors to race against, assuming of course that your next rendevous with the wall that flips you 180 doesn’t have you racing in the opposite direction without you realizing. Manage to stay in the middle of the road, however, and your victory is all but assured with the competitors moving at pedestrian speed and can’t be collided with, meaning you are basically racing ghosts in a time trial.
The laundry list of issues is seemingly never-ending but despite this, like a guilty pleasure that you don’t want to admit…….I kinda like it. Making it through a race without hitting the walls while boosting to high heaven is not only difficult but thrilling regardless of how long it lasts or how many tracks it can be played on. Its also good fun trying to beat your own lap times, but that is hardly unique to this racer.
One interesting tool at your disposal is ‘magnetization’ that sticks you to the road when flung into the air by the track and is quite frankly, awesome. It’s only used on the second of the two tracks and isn’t even all that accurate, but sue me, it’s cool. In addition to single-player, there does also exist a local multiplayer mode for those who have friends, but without online leaderboards and the amount of buggy forced restarts, it might not make that bridge worth crossing.
One could hope that Ion Driver is a launching pad for a more in-depth sequel later down the line – perhaps like one of my favorite racers Airace, released by indie team NoWay Studio, which was preceded by a comparatively rudimentary version in Airace: Tunnel. With a world as brilliantly designed as this, I would be very interested in seeing it fully realized.
Ion Driver is a short bug-filled ride that you won’t regret assuming that you know exactly what you’re getting – a glorified demo. Irrespective of the price, a paid-for title shouldn’t be released in this state, but like eating the ingredients of a cake before you’ve finished making it, there are still some redeemable features to enjoy – notably its speed and visuals – before the lack of content starts to disappoint.