When you think of first person shooters, you tend to think of hulking space marines barreling down a corridor. When you think of platformers, mascots of all different colors and sizes spring to mind. When you think of shoot-em-ups like Drive To Hell, convention would make you visualize either airplanes or anime girls, depending on your mood at the time. Thankfully, Drive to Hell is a breath of fresh air, defying convention while also building on a solid foundation to deliver an excellent indie arcade experience. It has unique enemies from the titular underworld, a bounty of bonuses to collect, and a soundtrack that wont leave your head for months. These are the types of games which you just don’t see often in the current age of mobile ports and Greenlight disasters, and that alone should warrant your attention.
Drive to Hell has a minimal story involving taking revenge on a demonic king for the destruction of a beloved bar. You strap into a muscle car as your starting vehicle and blaze down the abandoned byways, mowing down demonic fireflies, snake men, and all manner of cacodemon cousins along the way. You have your standard power-ups (missiles, spread shot, laser), although each is only available for a short while after pickup, encouraging a strategy of dumping ammunition like it’s going out of style. That definitely works to your advantage as enemies enter from all sides of the screen, some just wandering through, others circling you like ships from Galaga. The game is no cakewalk, even on normal difficulty, but you can continue from your last completed stage and slowly but surely inch closer to victory.
Drive To Hell (PC [Reviewed], Mac, iOS, Android)
Developer: Ghost Crab Games
Released: February 1st, 2014
MSRP: $5 on Steam, F2P on Mobile
Graphically, the game just pops with a unique aesthetic that somehow takes arcade sprites and makes them grungy. Running with the tropes of a movie you might have seen in a drive-in forty years ago, the colors on display are dark, with just enough neon mixed in to pique my own personal interest. This also bleeds into the enemy design, which is off the wall in all the right ways. The first time I saw a horned purple Beholder clutching a electrified trident in a a pair of tentacles, I knew I was in for a treat. You do see the same type of enemies pop up a bit too often in each world, and some of them suffer from being simple palette swaps with different behaviors, but those are nitpicks at best.
Drive to Hell overwhelms you with its style, so much so that you might be willing to forgive it for the few quirks it does have in the gameplay department. Your starting muscle car is only one of several vehicles, each with unique stats and special attacks. However, unlocking the other vehicles is a seemingly endless grind for coins that reminds you that the game was originally released on phones. This is a strange oversight considering that the PC version is noticeably rebalanced from its phone counterpart, allowing you to control the vehicle and turning simple aiming and shooting into a full duel-stick shooter. In fact, the coins the only thing that makes it feel like a phone game, and a game of that quality showing up on PC should reward you for reaching milestones rather than expecting the player to mindlessly watch a counter go up.
The small shortcomings of Drive to Hell do little to dissuade me from enjoy its excellent arcade style gameplay over and over. The sprite work is engrossing to look at, and there is a varied challenge for players of all skill levels. Alas, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of Steam releases every day, and it seems that Drive to Hell has been shoved to the side during its week of release in favor of more notable titles. It’s a shame, because I haven’t played a game like this in quite some time, and it deserves to find its own audience. If you yearn for a game with 80s sensibilities that also has no interest in sliding by on nostalgia alone, then load up into the back of this hunk of junk and man the chain gun. We’re going to hell.