System: Atari 2600 Publisher: Atari Developer: Atari
Genre: Racing Type: One-Player Racing Circa: 1978

Sometimes, I find myself baffled by the things people will do to watch a number on their screen go up. Playing Night Driver is one of them.

Let's get the facts out of the way first: Yes, Night Driver is based on an early Atari arcade title that was (somewhat) revolutionary because it was the first "3D" racing game ("3D" in those days meaning, behind-the-car, oncoming view). Yes, the 2600 version added some roadside scenery (trees and houses) and put other cars on the road. But the harsh reality is, folks, that Night Driver only barely meets the necessary qualifications for being called a "game" and nothing more.

As you drive the world's worst graphical representation of a car down a twisty, featureless nighttime roadway, you try to go as far as you can to slowly accumulate points. You are (on most settings) timed, and crashing into objects (fence posts, other vehicles) eats seconds off the clock. Don't fret, however! After about ten seconds, you'll have already seen everything there is to see.

That, quite literally, is all there is to Night Driver. It's monotonous, pointless, and I'm hard-pressed to figure out the differences between most of the eight settings. It exists to give players something to do with the 2600 Paddle controllers and nothing more.

Though it certainly moves fast, Night Driver's graphics aren't impressive. In what I'd consider a rather mysterious inconsistency, the player-controlled car is represented by an inexplicable arrangement of same-colored blocks, while the oncoming cars are rounded and even sport minor details. Unfortunately, they happen to resemble giant blue cheeseburgers. What's even worse is that, much like the 2600 Pac-Man, the visuals are achieved by flashing the various sprites on and off-screen in an alternating pattern. The objects are flashed so quickly that, to the human eye, they appear simultaneous, but you can still detect the flicker. It's great if you enjoy feeling like you're just about to have a seizure, but it looks very unpolished. (Don't let my screenshots fool you! I achieved them through Paint Shop Pro trickery!)

Even as a kid I always felt Night Driver seemed unfinished, like there should have been some kind of goal to achieve or a two-player mode. Maybe it was intentionally inane, which could be evidenced by the last game mode that eliminates the timer. Since you can't die and you can never run out of time, you play forever... and ever... Or until you turn the game off and find something better to do.




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