November 2017 update: DRL: High Voltage has been re-branded to “The Drone Racing League Simulator”.  It is no longer a free to play simulator.  Looking for a free FPV simulator?  Check our our comprehensive list of drone simulators here!

After our review of the original Drone Racing League simulator back in March, we were surprised that DRL was releasing another simulator in June – Drone Racing League: High Voltage.  This new revision would be released as an Early Access title on Steam – no doubt looking to expand their brand to new people on the massive Steam gaming platform.

The previous sentence may sound odd if you aren’t playing games on Steam.  An “Early Access” title is a game released before development is finished.  The idea is a developer can release an early version of the game and start growing an audience while working on additions, improvements, and so on.

burning car drl

Burning cars in Atlanta Aftermath.

The best example of this in the drone racing community?  Liftoff.  The team at Liftoff released their simulator as an Early Access title and have been improving it ever since.  The sim has massively changed from its initial release through the addition of new modes, multiplayer, better physics, and much more.

However, Liftoff was a very playable sim from day one.  While it had its hiccups, the game functioned well and brought a ton to the simulator market.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about DRL: High Voltage.

Drone Racing League: High Voltage is a buggy game that lacks the customization and many features of its standalone cousin.  While similar, High Voltage seems like a step back, and isn’t a great first impression for fans of the televised races.

Again, we want to stress that DRL: High Voltage is still in the Early Access stage of development. Aspects of the game are still being worked on and very well may improve or change as updates arrive. This review should not be considered a final review, as we plan to update it like our other simulator reviews.

 

DRL High Voltage initial impressions

In order to play DRL: High Voltage, you need to download or boot up Steam.  Search for the game within the Steam client, click download, and install!  You can now launch DRL: High Voltage from your library.

drl sim ui

Slick UI that showcases some of the things to come!

After booting up the game and watching (or skipping) the intro video, you will be dropped into the main game menu.  First thing I noticed is that you can’t use your mouse for selecting or swapping between items in game.  While not a big deal for menu navigation, I did find myself wanting to customize the display settings with a mouse, rather than tabbing through options with a keyboard.

drl high voltage menu

As with any sim, our first step is going to be configuring out transmitter.  Unfortunately, this is where the real problems started.

While the transmitter binding is easy and just like the original DRL simulator, it seems like the positioning of the axes and calibrating is inconsistent at best.  Without the addition of a trim feature, it was impossible for me to fix on one of my go-to simulator transmitters.  I was able to correctly apply throttle, yaw, and roll, however my pitch was permanently angled forward.  Without a way to trim out this issue or calibrate the stick center, I was unable to fly.

I noticed that inverting the selections massively changed the stick positioning even without moving any input.  However, the on-screen display of the transmitter frequently glitched, leaving the user with a ghosted image.

drl hv stick controls

Hard to tell stick positioning with duplicated overlays.

This was very disappointing, as I previously had a great experience with the original DRL simulator’s binding process with the exact same transmitter.

Moving on to flight

The flight mechanics perform similar to Drone Racing League’s original simulator – more arcade than realistic.  As we said in our previous review, High Voltage performs more like a game rather than a simulator.  If you are looking to have fun on familiar race tracks, this isn’t a bad thing.  However, if you are looking for serious training, you may want to look elsewhere.

Again, I noticed a few inconsistencies in flight, but have a hard time blaming the actual gameplay at this point.  Both transmitters I bound to the game felt off compared to the original version.  I would err on the side of the binding being buggy rather than the in-game physics.

Similar, but with more bugs

Favorite races from season one are back in DRL: High Voltage.  Additionally, the massive Gates of Hell level has returned for your exploration fix.  Joining the mix are season two maps, of which two have been released with more to come.

The team also did a great job building a narrated tutorial mode to teach new pilots how to fly.  However, I experienced multiple texture bugs and glitches throughout this section.  I plan to return to it after a few more fixes.

Speaking of bugs, shutting down the game results in a crash.  Every single time.  While not a huge deal, as you were closing the game anyway, it leaves a bad taste and further highlights an unfinished product.

drl sim bugs

Not a great way to end a sim session.

 

DRL High Voltage levels

DRL High Voltage brings back the season one tracks we saw in the original simulator, as well as two tracks from season two.  It is safe to assume more season two levels will be added in future releases.

 

Track Picture Track Name Summary
 gates of hell Gates of Hell A massive cityscape littered with warehouses, shipyard, skyscrapers, and more.  There are tunnels and subways to explore, as well as a variety of race layouts.
 miami lights Miami Lights A faithful recreation of the classic DRL stadium track.  Rip through a huge football stadium and see how you stack up against the original YouTube race.
 lapocalypse L.A.Pocalypse Race through a destroyed underground L.A. tunnel system.  Tight quarters that require a significant deal of throttle control!
 project manhattan Project Manhattan Rip through the interior of a multilevel office building!  Lots of walkway gaps and tight turns!
 ohio crashsite Ohio Crashsite A tight race through an abandoned warehouse.  Lots of small doors, beams to dodge, and a crashed UFO to fly through!
 2016 world championships 2016 World Championship See how you compare to the best on this recreation of the 2016 DRL championship course!
 miami nights Miami Nights A night version of the popular Miami Lights track.  Smaller gates are added throughout the concourse to up the challenge.
 atlanta aftermath Atlanta Aftermath Car gates and flashing lights dot the straightaways and turns in this level.
 drl sandbox DRL Sandbox A blueprint level with scattered assets from the other tracks.  A large level with some great freestyle spots

 

 

Overall thoughts

Realistically, this game needed more polish before release.  We love the Drone Racing League, as they are working diligently to grow the hobby.  Moreover, they are likely the most recognizable racing organization to the general public due to their ESPN deal.  While their televised races have been well produced, the same can’t be said about DRL: High Voltage.  The game is riddled with bugs, crashes, and a litany of other problems that don’t make for a great introduction into the hobby.

The games industry has dealt with this problem for years.  Early Access done right can be great for gamers and developers alike.  The two groups can work together: the devs getting feedback from the gamers and using that feedback to improve their game.  Just look at Liftoff as an example!  However, it can also be abused.  Developers looking to make a quick buck can release an unfinished title on a global platform with empty promises of future development.

That’s not to say DRL is trying to do this.  The game is free to play, has received updates (as recent as two weeks ago), and looks to be working towards improvement.  The issue is that the game’s current state is a definitive step back from their already released simulator.

While we weren’t huge fans of using the original DRL simulator as a serious training tool, it was a great way for fans of DRL to try out drone racing on their favorite maps from the prior season.  The binding process was smooth, the maps were interesting, and the game was relatively stable.

Related Post: How to get started with a drone simulator

DRL: High Voltage needed to release in a state that was at least at parity with their prior simulator.  At this time, we can’t recommend this simulator to anyone.

If you are a big DRL fan and want to race the same tracks as your favorite pilots, download the older DRL simulator instead.

 

Quick Stats:

Price: Free (no longer available – requires a $19.99 purchase for the new version)

Levels: 9, with additional levels listed for later releases

Transmitter binding difficulty:  Extremely difficult.  While transmitter identification is a breeze, fine tuning the controls is near impossible.  This seems to be a common complaint in many Steam reviews, and is unfortunate, as I had great success with the original DRL sim.

Multiplayer: No

Recommended for: Skip for now.  Keep watching for Early Access updates.  Download the original DRL simulator instead if you want to fly some of the DRL official tracks.

Props: Free, additional season two tracks to fly if you are a hardcore DRL fan.

Slops: Transmitter binding doesn’t allow for much customization, lots of bugs and crashes, total amount of features is very minimal at time of review.

Looking for more FPV simulators to hone your skills?  To help you out, you can check out our comprehensive list of FPV simulators here.

 

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