Developer: Vector Hat
Released: May 2019
Byte Driver is an arcade driving game by Vector Hat where you hack other drivers and try to survive the onslaught of attacks or your car’s draining energy bar.
Before I go further, I have played the game with the mouse and keyboard, which is not the recommended control scheme. A Xboxgamepad is recommended to play the game, and despite my best efforts to get it to run with either of my two non-Xbox gamepads, I couldn’t get them to work with it. I am currently helping the developer as much as I can to get this gamepad issue sorted out.
The game is based on an alternate 1999 as depicted by an arcade machine built in 1979. Self-driving cars have taken over the highways, all thanks to an entity called the Cyber Mind. You play as the driver of a car called the Byte Driver, who equipped it with a device of her own that can hack into the other cars.
One of the things that immediately stand out about the game is its vaporwave visual aesthetic and vector-based graphics. While modern touches like screen shaking and tilting are present, the game’s art style (along with additional vaporwave-style visuals like background glitching) and music deliver an oppressive and sinister feel, fitting of a story with self-aware hostile vehicles. It’s a sharp contrast from Slipstream’s carefree and energetic direction, which also has an 80s feel to it. Also, I love the dial-up modem noise.
As for the game itself? It’s not a walk in the park. Each level in the game (I am guessing there is five) is split into four different phases, with the last being a duel with a boss. When you move to the next level, weaker versions of the previous level’s boss will be present. That alone makes the game harder the farther you go. On top of dodging the enemies’ attacks, you must also hack these enemies to keep the Byte Driver’s constantly draining energy from running out, upgrade your car’s stats (acceleration, handling and traction), and acquire weapons from enemies (such as laser shots or shields, which you can read more about them here). You can hack enemies by getting close to them or deploying a remote hacker, and you get to keep three weapons for later usage, assigned to different keys (A/S/D for the keyboard, X/Y/B on an Xbox gamepad).
Expect to have a hard time running up against the twisty road, the hordes of self-driving vehicles, bullets, mines and even missiles. Thankfully, during the duels, your energy stops draining, and you don’t need to be driving at maximum speed either, but you’re required to destroy the enemy to progress. If you don’t like the draining energy mechanic, you can turn it off from the settings by enabling “No Stress” mode.
My major complaint about the game is in its controls. You either use a gamepad, which is recommended, or you use a keyboard and mouse together, which isn’t favorable. From my experience, the game does play best with a gamepad, but an issue I’m having with the controller makes me unable to select the weapons I want to hack, making the first level unbeatable. But, with the keyboard and mouse setup, you move the mouse left or right to steer. I find myself going from one end of the screen to the other, which has its advantages, but the low precision makes it hard to dodge bullets, let alone not run into the post guards (which cause you to lose energy). This doesn’t make me enjoy the game as much as I expected, as I believe the game is excellent and challenging all around. Hopefully, the game receives a better keyboard only based control scheme down the line. Still, to be fair, I managed to get to level 4 with the mouse and keyboard, so with enough persistence, you could overcome the weirdness of steering with the mouse.
If you have an Xbox controller or have no issues with steering with the mouse, then go ahead and grab Byte Driver. If you don’t have a controller, I can’t say I recommend playing it in its current state, so it depends on whether you are fine with the idea of steering by moving the mouse. Controls aside, I find Byte Driver’s take on the 80s and vaporwave an interesting one with the hacking and blasting of hostile self-driving cars. It’s a game that is right up my alley.