City Car Driving

FBT obeys the law of the highway. The highway to hell, obviously.

I am an excellent driver. I’ve only crashed twice. Once when I thought the car ahead was going to make the light so I put my foot down only for the coward to break and get my beloved yellow Mini clubman 1100 with a racing manifold, wide exhaust and GB alloys up his backside. And I put a foot-wide dent in the side when attempting a reverse handbrake turn in a carpark to impress a girl. She wasn’t impressed. Oh and shattered the windowscreen doing donuts on a gravel road. There might be others, but blameless incidents back when I was a boyracer aside, I’m a good driver. And to prove it, I took the official online theory test.

Shit. Okay, I’m going to use City Car Driving to relearn how to drive and then retake the test.

I’ve played walking sims and train sims, but I’ve never played a road vehicle sim. I get the idea, trucking across Europe or keeping a bus to time – but I just don’t trust myself to take the challenge seriously. The GTA in me would force me to drive a bus like Dennis Hopper was involved. So, can I obey the highway code? And what’s a Puffin Crossing?

CCD is pretty basic; it was released in 2008 but even then, detail was a thing. It’s the gold standard for car sims, but the plain look makes it feel a bit flat and not very immersive. There’s the usual environmental choices and different regions; US, Russia, Australia, ‘EU Region’ and Germany(?), but no UK – not that you’d notice. I’ve not been to Russia but I’m fairly sure it doesn’t look just like EU country. The only difference is if they drive on the wrong side. There’s a training course, so of course I start with freeroam.

Yeah, even in freeroam this game is a hard task master. Forgot seatbelt, didn’t indicate, going too fast, changing lanes, running someone over. Some of it is undoubtedly me, but a lot of it is the game. It doesn’t give you any hints about the region’s traffic quirks; who knew you can’t cross lanes in Australia when the line is solid? Oh, that’s a UK rule too? Well, I’m learning.

It also doesn’t give you a headsup so learning is difficult; you go a pixel off point and you’re penalised. On top of which, there’s so many buttons; low beam lights, appropriate window wiper speed, gear changes, indicators – apparently it’s all good manners, but you’re only told after the fact. I don’t remember this many buttons on my Mini’s polished walnut-finish dashboard that fell off when you turned sharp left. It might be marginally easier with a controller, wheel or even in VR, but to be honest I doubt it.

Biggest issue (besides my heavy foot) is the physics. The floaty cars in GTAIV are more responsive than this and that came out the same year. Okay, that had a bigger budget, but a car sim should really spend time getting car simulation right. You don’t get that feel for the car as in real life, I’d be better off with a tonka toy on those street mats kids have. I’m never going to pass my theory test.

It’s also not helping that English is not this game’s first language. Some of the naggy pop-ups made no sense, and I picked an automatic car after struggling with key-gear changes. Still couldn’t change gear. The manual explained; “when you called the menu of settings being in the location and changed this setting, then after returning to the location you will not see this change”. I don’t recall that in the theory test.

You can alter the traffic settings and I tune them all up to riot-level but really, not a lot happens; I even tuned up tyre blowout to 'often' and it never happened. There's a drunk-driving option too, but that just adds a blurring effect. One thing I do discover, I’m a better driver when I’m breaking the law than when I’m behaving.

Freeroam is the freest roaming I’ve ever seen. I ran over a granny (entirely by accident) and simply got warned I’d had an accident. It happened in front of a cop car, which didn’t even stop. I even hit cop cars and just got scolded for having an accident. I wasn’t expecting a dash to the nearest Pay n Spray but I’m not sure what this is actually simulating.

Collision detection is a little off, you can’t knock things over, boundaries are random and cars sometimes seem to float when there's wet road reflections which really isn't helping my concentration. In one freeroam I drove off the map. I tried Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre but didn't seem to help. The game just told me off for leaving the highway.

To be totally fair to CCD, I should have started with the tutorial. Here, the game patiently talks me through key-combos, road events, dangers and techniques, the whole shebang. Well, it’s teaches but I don’t learn. Too many keys! It should just be one appropriate action key, that would feel natural. The only one I aced was the slalom. Clearly, I’m just a natural joyrider. Eventually I reach my test. Here we go.

The test is insanely fussy and unfair even if you honestly try. Plus, one mistake and it’s back to the start no matter how far you made it. I give up, but find back in freeroam there’s missions; ‘Ruber’ is taxi mode and CarGo (best car pun ever) is for transporting goods. But the question is, has this experience taught me to be a safer driver?

CCD has made me a worse driver. Thing is, I just tried to turn it into GTA, when it really does work as a tutorial. Well, if I learnt to drive using CCD I’d be dead now, but it’s heart is in the right place and it does bring home just how complicated driving is.

I'm not sure it's a driving sim, the locations are too generic and it's more of an obey the rules sim, but it’s also made me realise that while games like GTA and Saint’s Row reward instead of punish for being a roadhog, they’re also accurate driving experiences – mad drivers, insane NPCs, irritated cops, destructible cars; going for a spin in GTA is a lot more real than this, but CCD has a charm to it; it genuinely made me want to ace the test and I found real fun in trying to obey the Highway code. CCD still has an active modding community and genuine love in the gaming world; in the real world, maybe I should just car pool.