|Genre||Driving, Arcade, Action|
|Platforms||PC (Reviewed), iOS, Android|
|Release Date||March 10, 2021|
These days, it seems like every game tries to market itself as a “unique experience,” to the point that the term has become nearly meaningless. But every now and then, I find a game that actually does live up to that moniker, and let me just say this: Blind Drive fits that bill, and doesn’t just stop with being unique.
Strong Language: Swearing is nigh-constant, with generally no more than one or two minutes between occurrences. F***, d*** (often paired with God’s name), s***, b****, b******, hell, and a****** all make frequent appearances. The names of God and Jesus are misused as well.
Violence: Every game over is accompanied by a loud car crash, with appropriate soundscapes. Ramming into bicyclists grants an extra life, and is encouraged. At one point, Donnie (your character) is encouraged to run over pedestrians, and they grant extra points. They are heard crying out in pain and fear.
Other negative elements: At one point, Donnie is being chased by the police, and the only way to escape is to ram them off the road. In the game, ice cream is some sort of drug, of which Donnie is happy to partake.
Rating: Not rated
Blind Drive started out as a simple concept: how would you react if you had to drive without seeing? According to developers Lo-Fi People, initial playtests revealed a variety of responses, from abject terror to Zen-like concentration. From there, the Tel Aviv-based team launched into full production mode, and on March 10th, we saw the fruits of their labor: a driving simulator that leaves your eyes completely out of the picture.
A game centered around one basic concept generally goes one of two ways: either it successfully crafts a full experience, or it falls flat on its face. If you read my recent review of Disjunction, you’ll know that I find the bland ones to be frustrating, often because I can see the potential in them. What’s frustrating is the fact that they don’t do enough with the mechanic to make it, you know, fun. Thankfully, Lo-Fi People weren’t content to just create an audio-based driving simulator, and went harder on this game than I could ever have expected.
On its surface, Blind Drive appears to be a fairly standard driving simulator, albeit with the aforementioned twist. However, once you get under the hood (pun intended), you realize that Blind Drive is a mix between a driving sim and a black comedy/thriller audio drama. Donnie, our protagonist, is participating in a “scientific study” in order to make a quick buck. His instructions are simple: get in the car, cuff himself to the wheel, and put on a blindfold. The game opens with him having done so, and he receives a call from the person in charge of the study, a mysterious deep-voiced stranger. That’s when Donnie receives his final instruction: “DRIVE!” The car roars to life, and Donnie is off on his joyride filled with ice cream, sarcastic GPS devices, and vehicular manslaughter.
I don’t think I can overstate how weird this game is. What starts out as a decently understandable story setup quickly evolves into a whirlwind of dark humor and flat-out mayhem. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, as that’s honestly one of the main reasons to play this game, but I can guarantee you won’t be able to predict where Donnie’s little adventure ends up. D. A. Terre’s script is phenomenally imaginative and fun to the very end.
As far as how that story is told, I have mixed feelings. The voice acting is top-notch throughout, which is even more impressive given how insane the writing is. It’s easy to overact stories like this, and the cast reined themselves in nicely without ever sacrificing character. Donnie’s voice actor in particular nails every beat as Donnie goes from a terrified bystander to madly gleeful lawbreaker. All of this is complemented by the killer sound design, which transcends its usual role as additional detail to become a key player in the entire game. The acting and sound design help the entire experience transcend mere game to become an honest-to-goodness audio drama.
But here’s my caveat: there’s just…too much swearing. I think the intent was to ham up the profanity to add to the craziness, but by the end, it just got irritating and kept me from fully enjoying the story. As a writer myself, I can understand swearing used as a tool to communicate strong emotion or deliver a punchline. But when it’s overused, it begins to feel like a blunt instrument, generally leaves my mind feeling somewhat numbed. It eventually felt like the characters were swearing at me, rather than Donnie or the world around them, and it became grating. I realize this won’t be an issue for some players, but I think the story could have been served by turning down the f-bomb-o-meter a couple notches.
So with the story aspect covered, what about the gameplay? This is honestly what I was most curious about when I first saw the trailer. How engaging could steering left and right really be? This is where the sound design truly begins to shine, as your ears become the primary way you engage with the game world. You’ll have to listen for oncoming cars and steer out of the way before they slam into you. Headphones are required, and the binaural audio means that you’ll have to listen carefully to each ear to succeed. Simple enough, right? But it doesn’t stay that simple for long. You’ll have to struggle to hear your commands in a variety of circumstances—over a blaring radio, through rolled-up windows, and in the middle of a giant thunderstorm—obey a sarcastic GPS that gives you last-minute instructions, and even dodge kamikaze dolphins underwater. Did I mention this game was off its rocker?
In addition to that, you won’t always be dodging cars. Donnie eventually starts taking out the competition, but you’ll have to use your ears to determine if the oncoming vehicle is one you want to take on or not. Cyclists offer you health for slamming into them (don’t worry, apparently they deserve it because “they think they rule the road,” as your “scientist” friend says). At one point, Donnie is being chased by cops, and the only solution is, naturally, to wait until you hear them pull up beside you and ram into them as hard as you can. Whenever you hear the sweet tinkling of an ice-cream truck, slam into that bad boy for a rocky road you won’t soon forget. And later in the game, keep an ear out for those ice-cream-addicted pedestrians and give ‘em a good whack with your bumper for extra points.
Every turn, impact, GPS talkback, and story beat is complemented by beautifully detailed sound design. You hear the terrain change under your tires. You hear Donnie’s handcuffs jingling with every turn of the wheel. You hear his body shift when you hit a turn too hard. It wasn’t difficult for me to “see” what was going on at any given point, whether it was a “cutscene” or regular gameplay. The game even has a blindfold mode, turning off the HUD entirely so it’s ALL ears. I’ve done a little sound design for theatre in the past, and I’ve always been intrigued by the information we can pick up with just our ears, so it’s nice to see a game take full advantage of that.
And that is what I love most about Blind Drive: the way the game built upon its core concept so creatively and fully without ever overstaying its welcome. I beat the whole campaign in less than two hours, and it’s probably possible to beat the game in less than an hour if you’re good enough. But in all that, you never go more than one level doing the exact same thing. There’s always some twist or new obstacle that you’ll have to deal with. Every moment I began to tell myself that I was getting the hang of this driving blind thing, the game said “psych!” and threw something new at me. I couldn’t ever tune out, and given that I wasn’t actually looking at anything, that’s impressive.
However, gameplay-wise, there are a couple of speed bumps (I’ll stop, I promise). There were some genuinely unfair moments, typically when the game just didn’t give me enough time to react. I began to get a sense of how long I had to dodge obstacles, but there were times I felt like I got hit just after hearing the warning. Other times, the GPS flat-out told me the wrong direction to go, leading me to lose a life by turning the “wrong” direction. Although, thinking back on it, I can’t decide if that was intentional design, as the GPS is supposed to be sarcastic, so maybe she just told me the wrong direction to be difficult. Either way, the game penalized me a life for doing what it said, and that was frustrating. Still, these hiccups were few and far between, and most of the time, the game was challenging, but ultimately felt very fair, a delicate balance that many games attempt, but few truly succeed at finding.
As much as I’ve praised this game, I do have to give one last disclaimer: this game’s sense of humor is not for everyone, including myself. You’re probably saying that, when I chose to review a game with the tagline “black comedy,” I should have known better. I get that. But there’s something about hearing a woman yell out “my baby!” as I barrel toward her for a few extra points that started to make me feel kinda gross inside after a while. Considering that, combined with people constantly swearing at and around me, and I’m reminded of why I’ve never touched a Grand Theft Auto game and why I never plan to. I’ve never found the idea of gleeful violence and destruction of innocents, even fictional people, something in which I enjoy partaking, especially as a Christian.
Blind Drive is a polished gem of an experience. The insane and hilarious story was enough to keep me engaged on its own, but combining that with a polished and fleshed-out gameplay mechanic that never overstayed its welcome puts this game on another level. As far as replay value goes, I can’t say I personally have much of a desire to go back to it, as the story was my main reason to keep going. But if you’re of a score-chasing mind, the game is short enough to complete the entire campaign in one sitting, and there are achievements for beating the game without crashing or even without getting hit. Achievement hunters will easily get their $10 worth of this game on PC, and it’s even cheaper on mobile, setting you back only $4.
I do have to reiterate the content warning, though. Besides already knowing the story, that’s honestly my main obstacle to going back. If games like GTA don’t bother you, then you have nothing to worry about, but it started to get to me a little by the end. Still, I cannot deny just how impressed I was by this game’s presentation and sound design, and how well they were implemented into its gameplay. If you’re looking for something quick, unique, and satisfying, then Blind Drive is a perfect fit, and for not too much cash either.
The Bottom Line
Blind Drive takes a unique concept, polishes it to its fullest extent, and delivers an entertaining and engaging experience the whole way through—though its objectionable content may leave some players with mental road rash by the end.