Byte Driver is an arcade classic from the late-seventies (well, not really – that’s just what the fictional blurb says) created by Vector Hat. The highways of the futuristic world of 1999 are plagued with self-aware cars, and it’s up to you to make the roads safe again with the Byte Driver, and its magical ability to hack vehicle. The journey is not particularly long or gripping, but boy, is it arduous.
Much like at least half of the indie games on the market these days, Byte Driver embraces the retro aesthetic and feel of old-timey arcade games: vector graphics, wireframe backgrounds, and a limited number of colours on-screen at any given time. Entering a new level will seamlessly swap the colours around. There’s something oddly satisfying about the enemies exploding and spraying lines everywhere as you zip along, and you’ll be seeing this fairly often. Topping off the package is a synthwave soundtrack – no surprise there – by Rainbow Kitten, which is a fitting and enjoyable listen both inside and out of the gameplay, just the kind of thing to make the experience all the more tense.
Once the game flashes the controls on the screen before disappearing against your consent, the journey begins. A handful of levels are on offer; you gotta keep racking up as many points as you go along, in hopes of making it to the next stage in one piece. Thankfully, the game runs nicely with no hiccups, and the controls are tight and responsive. There’s no pause button or ‘quit to menu’ option, bizarrely, so the only option you have if you want to go for a mid-game toilet break is to mash the ESC key until it ends.
Your energy meter is always draining, slowly but surely. In order keep it from hitting zero, you’ll need to get up close to cars to hack them manually, or by firing a hacker droid to latch on to do the dirty work for you. After a loading bar appears above the target, you get to choose from a few options, which often include a vehicle upgrade, an energy boost, or a new special move. The latter range from a damage-absorbing shield to a laser for zapping enemies, and are all handy for the cause. Oddly, choosing between them requires you to press the ‘A’ button on an Xbox controller, rather than by pressing up and down. Still, hacking while dodging at top-speed is no doubt tricky, but there’s always the option to play with an always-replenishing energy bar for a less strenuous drive – perfect for game journalists from big-name sites.
Cars, laser-equipped Deloreans, vans and angry bikers have a tendency to completely block the road ahead of you, which is a real pain. However, they’re not the only hazards that lie ahead. After you pass checkpoints, you’ll be warned of other things like snipers, mines, and the inevitable boss battle that lies ahead. For that, you’ll need to hack them to acquire a suitable weapon in order to fight back, otherwise you’ll be having to dodge their lasers, mines or whatever over and over. These encounters drag on since hacking for more ammo or health in between whittling away at their hefty health bars is a time-waster.
You may not be thrusted back to level one when you fail, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that the game is tough, and it’s undoubtedly aware. Some of the roads require very steep turns to the sides, often while dodging attacks. It makes your ride feel like its suspension is made of jelly. Providing you have the patience to keep on pressing through it all, it’s not a particularly long game, either, and and could be beaten in a few hours if you’re determined enough. Even then, there’s little incentive to keep replaying it.
On the whole, Byte Driver is a bite-sized bit of fun and frustration. The visuals and sound design are all worthy of any compliments they get, and the need to hack enemies while moving in order to stay alive is a nice twist to test your reflexes. Although, it’s still a light package that doesn’t have a lot of replayability, unless meaningless high scores and points are your kind of thing. Bye Driver is not a necessary, must-try game, though considering its low price tag on Steam, it can be a challenging distraction for a little while, much like arcade games of the past.