New Zealand developer Sidhe Interactive is behind two of my favorite downloadable titles of all time -- Gripshift and Shatter. Both of those games had a variety of fun mechanics, a great presentation, tight control, and they were just simply fun. Blood Drive, their newest title, is a full disc based release. That's unusual for Sidhe in itself, but this game is definitely something I didn't expect from them. Blood Drive is basically Twisted Metal mixed Carmageddon. That formula might sound like the perfect blend of vehicular based mayhem, and while there's plenty of violence to go around, the experience is pretty flat and unsatisfying.
Getting Behind The Wheel
Blood Drive takes a familiar theme for its premise; you're a driver in a post apocalyptic entertainment show, complete with an obnoxious announcer and a TV show presentation. Single player and multiplayer modes are included. Both modes allow players to use any of the eight characters, each with a unique name, appearance, vehicle, and special Rage skill. These include Jackson, who drives the Moonshiner and who can unleash his Shockwave as his Rage ability. His vehicle is the basic middle-ground performer. Each vehicle is rated based on five criteria: Speed, Acceleration Steering, Durability, and Impact. As you might expect, the eight vehicles available will give you options for the 'tank' class with Brock and his rock truck, or zippier rides like Kelley's Grave Dancer. Eight vehicles may not seem like a lot, but that amount works out pretty well, especially given the diversity between them. Of course, you'll want to use the best vehicle for the event that you're in, so using Superstar's hot rod instead of Natalya's "Big Iron" makes since in a racing event.
There are a variety of event types in Blood Drive. In single player, the heart of the experience is in the Tournament mode. The ultimate goal is to win the Blood Drive Championship, but to do that you need to blast and race your way through a series of Cups. These Cups are made up of a certain number of events including Zombie Roadkill, Roadkill Elimination, Demolition Derby, Total Massacre, Checkpoint Rally, Checkpoint Elimination, and King of the Skull. Some events like Zombie Roadkill are built upon the simple idea that you must kill the most zombies before time runs out. Interestingly, not all of these zombies are the kind that just beg to be ran over. While there are certainly those types -- known as Shamblers -- there are also Lobbers, Behemoths, and Leapers. Behemoths are huge zombies that can actually smash your vehicle while Leapers will wait until you're close and then jump onto your ride to tear away at it until you knock them off by smashing into something.
To help give you an edge in whatever event you may be in, Blood Drive offers up a Loadout option at the start of each event. These Loadouts are tweak packages that you can add to your vehicle. There are ten different Loadouts including "Getting Personal" which will give you double ammo plus weapon upgrade plus an Impact increase, or "Big Time" which gives you a Full Rage meter, a random weapon, and an Engine upgrade.
As important as choosing the right driver and Loadout is, it's also vital to get over to the Weapon and Pickup power-ups in the level. These randomly spawning power-ups are littered throughout each of the game's six areas, or zones. There are eight different weapons and each driver has a specific weapon that is their 'favorite.' Weapons include drunk missiles, a rail gun, harpoon launcher, mine layer, and the ever-useful mini-gun which makes quick work of droves of Shamblers. The bigger guns are definitely best used to clear Behemoths or other competitors. The six Pickups available are two kinds of Repair Kits, Boost, Unlimited Rage, Invulnerability, and Unlimited Ammo. Wisely, Sidhe uses unique icons and colors for these different powerups so you can easily identify them from a distance.
Stuck In First?
On paper, Blood Drive has a lot going for it, but ultimately the execution leaves a lot to be desired. My first impression was the presentation -- the menus are fine, but the TV show style presentation had me concerned. Moments later, I was in the game and wow -- it looks very dated. I'll be the first to tell you that graphics aren't everything, but at the same time when a game looks exceptionally bad or exceptionally good, you notice. In this case, Blood Drive is the former, offering only a murky, aliased visual experience despite some colorfully designed vehicles and areas.
For me, the graphics did a lot to tarnish the experience because it made a huge component of the game -- smashing up zombies -- much less interesting because neither the zombies nor the effect of killing them looked good. And while there may be a dozen or so different Shamblers, but effort put into designing those is largely lost due to overall visual fidelity.
Moving along, the experience suffers in other areas. The most damning of these for me is the lack of fun. For me -- someone who never did play much Twisted Metal or Carmageddon -- I was never drawn into the experience here. The fun factor for me never really kicked in. I also found the control scheme to be fine, but the controls themselves to be a bit loose, whether driving or in targeting. In fact, there's no way to target, so if you're trying to nail a certain competitor or a zombie in a crowd, good luck. Seeing your Weapon pickup get wasted because of this is a letdown to be sure. The gameplay experience is also practically the same from one event to the next: simply drive around and mow down zombies and the other cars. It's a formula that I think could have worked better in a smaller, downloadable game, but when stretched out in a full retail release, it just doesn't hold up after a few hours.
To the summary...