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Anki Drive review: hands on

Slot car racing thrills with explosion-based spills

Anki Drive is at the cross section of where video games meet reality. Think of this combat-focused racing game as Scalectrix with a hint of Mario Kart and some role playing elements thrown in for good measure. It’s a bizarre mix that comes at a high price – £180 for a track and two cars – but it has the potential to bring split-screen multiplayer gaming fun into the real world.

Ank Drive starter kit

The game is controlled by an app running on an iOS device, with the cars and phones in communication via low-energy Bluetooth 4.0. Each player will need to have their own iOS device, although if you don’t have any friends to play with, your iPhone has the ability to control up to three AI cars as well, meaning you can hone your skills without distractions.

Anki Drive car app

The cars make their way around the track at pretty high speed but you don’t have to worry about keeping them from flying off the road. Each car knows where it is on the track thanks to sensors mounted to its underside. Instead, you use the iOS app to control both the speed and the line which you machine takes by using an onscreen slider and by tilting your phone left and right. Initially, it’s a bewildering task, especially once you’ve taken into account your weapons and abilities, but it didn’t take us long to feel like seasoned professionals at balancing the energy required to use the weapons while positioning the car correctly to take a shot.

Whether a shot fired from your car’s weapon hits or not is based on line-of-sight. If your car’s optical sensor can see the rear of a car in front, the shot will be a hit. If you land enough shots on the car in front of you – which will be slowing down, speeding up and moving from side to side in order to avoid your aggression – that car will become briefly disabled, stopping on track for a few seconds before carrying on. These moments of destruction aren’t exactly spectacular, but they are signposted by the victim’s iPhone screen turning red and an appropriately destructive-sounding audio cue.

Anki Drive cars

It’s impressive that with four cars on track, they didn’t get lost or fall off too often. There were occasions where a car would find itself going backwards or taking a shortcut, but within a few seconds it would recognise its error and return to the correct racing line.

The cars are brightly coloured and despite being made of plastic, feel reasonably well-built. Each one is apparently weighted slightly differently to give them slightly different handling characteristics, although we couldn’t feel the difference. They only last for around 20 to 25 minutes on one charge, and take eight minutes to fully charge, which means there will be many lengthy breaks in your play time because the battery packs aren’t easily removable.

While human opponents, especially new players, are fairly easy to dispatch, the AI-controlled cars are brutal. Even on Normal difficulty, the orange car (known as Hadion) was nigh-on impossible to catch and hit as it employed various tactics to ensure it was always a step ahead of us. The AI opponents are even tougher on Hard difficulty, but it’s fair to say that racing fans will find a lot of replay value in trying to beat a field of three Hard AI cars.

Anki Drive starter kit

The game modes available with Anki Drive are Battle and Race. The former requires you to shoot your opponents into submission while the latter is a race to complete the designated number of laps while trying not to get obliterated. The modes are quite fun to play as a group, although attempting to cause mayhem by physically crashing your car into another usually ends with a pretty unimpressive sequence of the two cars becoming stuck to each other and grinding to a halt.

Each car can be upgraded and modified using credits earned during battles and races. These upgrades are permanently applied, meaning that the more you use a car, the better it becomes. The downside to this is that you can’t create a tournament-style game where every car is reset to its base statistics, with the players able to temporarily apply upgrades over the course of the game.

Anki Drive weapons

Upgrades include speed and weapon power boosts, as well as abilities such as being able to drive backwards around the track or pull other cars towards you using an “electro magnet”. They’re interesting and situational, and using them at the right moment is certainly key.

Anki Drive is a fantastically creative and innovative plaything that has to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated. It is hugely expensive, though, with each additional car costing £50 if you want to play with three friends.

A big advantage Drive has over other real-world game is that a simple software patch can add a whole new dimension to the game, so expect new abilities, weapons and other features to be added in the coming months. With only one track available initially, though, we fear long-term interest in the game may be scuppered unless Anki makes more track layouts available. We also wish the game had an Android app as this would massively increase the number of people you could invite over and play. When we played it in our office, we struggled to get enough iPads and iPhones together to have a proper game. Nonetheless, we’re fascinated to see how the game will evolve.