The Uncomfortable Line Between Free-To-Play And PremiumS

When one downloads a free game for their phone or tablet, there's a fair chance they'll be getting an experience that isn't all it can be without additional purchases. That shouldn't be the case with $7 premium title like 2K Drive, yet here we are.

To be clear, not a single additional penny is required to unlock everything 2K's ambitious driving game has to offer. There's never really a cash charge for acquiring each of the game's more than 25 cars, or racing in its 100+ events spread across more than 25 tracks in five different environments. If one is incredibly patient and very forgiving, the $6.99 entry fee is all they'll ever need to pay.

Players earn coins and stars to repair, upgrade and purchase new cars. Those two currencies can be purchased, but they're technically easily acquirable in-game through racing and completing goals.

So why am I getting such a freemium vibe from this premium game?

For one, the initial cars available are horrible — slow vehicles that don't have a chance in hell of winning without serious upgrades.

The Uncomfortable Line Between Free-To-Play And PremiumS

Look at me, in a Nissan Cube in the middle of the Salt Flats, wearing a helment. The only reason a Nissan Cube would be in the middle of the Utah Salt Flats is if it had somehow broken down there. The reason for the helmet is obvious.

There are moments like this:

The Uncomfortable Line Between Free-To-Play And PremiumS

Where other premium racing games would leave events inaccessible until you own the requisite vehicle, 2K Drive does this. I have only one coin. There is no way I can afford a Camaro at the moment. Not with costly repairs to handle.

So I am stuck with horrible vehicles at first, which handle horribly and have no hope of winning a race without boosts, which again are a staple of freemium titles. I guess the idea is to grind races until you can upgrade, but losing time and time again is frustrating.

Getting past the initial hump is hard, but once one starts unlocking more advanced vehicles the game is rather enjoyable. The physics aren't as tight and natural as Real Racing 3, and it certainly doesn't look as good — there are moments when 2K Drive is downright ugly — but it's trying really hard.

The Uncomfortable Line Between Free-To-Play And PremiumS

And really, 2K Drive is much more than just racing. It's about immersing yourself in car culture — catching up on the latest news, visiting iconic locations from the history of motorsport and motor science, taking a ride in a rocket car — looking at the experience as a whole it makes a lot more sense than it does as a $6.99 driving game. Lucid Games, made up of former Bizarre Creations folks, put their combined passion into the app, and it shows.

At times the game's ambition gets the best of it. The grid, where racing events are interspersed with the latest car news, is a bit of a muddled mess, with blurry photos representing articles on popular auto websites.

The Uncomfortable Line Between Free-To-Play And PremiumS

Load times are rather long. Some of the game's special events take far too long to start — the one where you're trying to avoid missile lock-on from a helicopter didn't really need four establishing shots of the copter before it started, for instance.

2K Games has been pretty good about the way they've handled free-to-play. The free Haunted Hollow gave players a flat fee to purchase everything. Sid Meier's Ace Patrol gave players a full campaign that left them begging for more.

2K Drive gets it all a bit backwards. For $6.99, players get a game that's not as good as it would have been if they'd simply bundled together the $9.99 founder's kit available for purchase at the in-game store and called the whole thing $17. Instead of delivering a compelling experience and then offering more, 2K Drive starts off feeling like a freemium title, making the real race the one between player enjoyment and regret.

2K Drive

Genre: Racing

Developer: Lucid Games

Platform: iOS

Price: $6.99

Get 2K Drive on iTunes