Driving Essentials on Xbox One should never be looked at as a game. And that’s not me telling you this, that’s the team behind it.
See, Driving Essentials has been ported to console in order to help the world better understand the intricacies of driving, giving direction and instruction to allow a higher level of driving expertise by running as an interactive, educational tool. Based on the work that the team at Driver Interactive have been doing for over 10 years, utilising bigger sims for schools and corporate fleets, it’s something that is being aimed at new, teen drivers, helping them develop critical skills in dangerous situations… without actually being in danger on the roads.
As someone who has been behind the wheel of a motor vehicle for more than 25 years and has taken in the tarmac found in various countries, I’d like to think that I know the way of the road reasonably well. It must be said though that I’m really not the target audience here, however I am always willing to gain further insight into increasing my knowledge. And this is where Driving Essentials comes in.
Running you through 10 different lessons of which can be completed in around 5 minutes each, Driving Essentials places you behind the wheel of a left-hand drive, auto-boxed vehicle, as you are put through your paces by a considerate driving instructor, one who is seemingly more than happy to narrate your entire progress. This begins by dropping the basics your way, teaching you the different road signs, stop junctions, what a red traffic light means, and when you should and shouldn’t be indicating.
With a running score out of 100 documenting your driving skills, each and every infraction made will see that score decreased, basically until you’ve been deemed unworthy of being allowed behind a wheel. Run a stop sign, pull out in front of another car, knock a cyclist off their bike, or, god forbid, hit a pedestrian and you’ll see your score dropping faster than you can imagine, leaving you on the verge of failing the lesson and having to take in the whole thing again from the start.
Thankfully, by driving well you can begin to increase this ‘score’ again. Although that is slow progress, and you should instead focus on avoiding the issues in the first place, it can be the difference between pass or failure. And the obtaining of glorious Gamerscore or not.
From the basic initial flurry, further lessons teach you how to scan the road, consider ‘What if’’ scenarios, teach you all about safe following distances and space management and even the effects of what using a mobile phone will have on your driving, seeing you attempting to partake in a Frogger style mini-game as you cruise the ghostly streets. It is after you’ve completed this lesson will you be treated to a variety of still screens and quick video blasts as the Driving Essentials experience hammers home some real truths.
A variety of weather conditions like snow, rain, thunderstorms and night driving opportunities are also present, before the final lesson brings all these skills together to see you driving round a sparsely populated city in order to safely pass through 10 waypoints.
Once you’ve completed your lessons, you’re basically then free to take in some free driving, setting the time of day and weather situations to your liking, and allowing you to drive through rural, city, residential or commercial streets until you feel your driving skills have seen benefit. And once you’ve driven these streets for a bit, will find that the whole Driving Essentials experience fails to deliver anything more.
It has to be said though that the overarching feel of everything found in Driving Essentials is one of simplicity and basic simulator style gaming. See the visuals are terrible – I mean, utterly terrible – and other than the narrator who is a calming voice in a world of despair, the audio effects border on the disgusting. This is no Forza, even the original Forza from back in the day, but then, it’s not meant to be and instead this driving tool should be seen as such – a tool for new drivers to understand how the complexities of driving works. Just remember kids, this is not a game.
I can’t help think that when you factor in the huge price tag being asked, a decent degree of visual clarity would have been nice, and should the development team have been able to find it within themselves to produce a higher quality bit of eye candy, there would be gamers across the globe no doubt more willing to take a punt and see what is what. But it’s not, and one look at a screenshot may well put many off.
There are also times when the whole Driving Essentials experience goes a bit awry. See, numerous times the game has penalised me for stopping on a railroad track, even though I was constantly driving over it, and any touch of the brakes when you find yourself tootling around in the snow is usually deemed unsafe to others, no matter how little you dab them. I fully understand that driving in the snow and ice should be one of careful consideration, but there needs to be a little leeway in the whole penalties aspect.
Further to this the AI controlled vehicles that you find yourself frequenting the road with are utterly bemusing. There aren’t many of them – and there are even less pedestrians to worry about – but still you’ll find conveys of vehicles rolling around at walking speed behind some inconsiderate driver doing 8mph in a 55 zone. Dare to overtake them and you’ll be the one failing your test.
As a tool for the inexperienced driver looking to learn the way of the road in America, taking in real world experiences in a safe environment, Driving Essentials on Xbox One is just about fine; although even then the lack of content is an issue. But for anyone else, it’s a total waste of time. The visuals, the audio, the huge price tag and the problems with the AI and penalty system will fail to ever really draw in any prospective new driver, even if they fully understand that at no point in time is this ever being marketed as a game. In fact, if you don’t fit the target demographic precisely, then this will only be of appeal to a gamer wanting to grab some relatively easy achievements.