Let’s face it, driving is really quite hard. Having to react quickly enough to avoid angry Audi and BMW drivers, being beware of mobile phone addicted teenagers deciding not to look up before crossing the road and putting up with cyclists who can’t decide if they are vehicles or pedestrians is not for the faint of heart. Now, can you imagine doing all of that whilst blindfolded? That would be bonkers, right? And yet, that’s exactly the premise for Blind Drive.
Blind Drive begins with a poor unsuspecting man, named Donny, being blindfolded and handcuffed to the wheel of a car. He thinks he’s part of a science experiment, but when the sinister voice of his ‘Ghost Face’ mimicking captor is heard over the radio, it’s clear that Donny is about to have a very bad day. All of this is communicated through audio only, your visuals limited to the outline of a blindfold and a simple HUD located in the middle of the screen. It’s fortunate that the voice talent is spectacular and the script rock-solid. Dialogue is free flowing, fast placed and laugh out loud funny – brilliantly evoking the game’s clear influences of ridiculous B-movies, Grindhouse cinema and Quentin Tarantino.
But how does Blind Drive actually play? Well, to quote the game’s tutorial; as long as you have ears then you can play this game. You really should ensure you have some decent headphones to make the most of the stellar sound effects. As your car speeds along a dark void of uncertainty and oncoming traffic, you’ll be able to hear the fast approaching sounds of cars, bicycles, cows and motorbikes. All you have to do is identify whether the sound is coming from the left or the right and then tap a key to move in the opposite direction; it’s that simple. Or at least, it should be. Developer Lo-Fi People takes great delight in messing with your brain, varying the pace and tempo of oncoming vehicles and adding background sound effects to keep your ears on their toes. Which is quite the confusing and disturbing metaphor – no-one wants to think about ears having toes, that’s the stuff of nightmares. Particularly hairy toes.
Anyway, if you get a chain of dodges going you’ll rack up points to go towards your high score. However, if you mess up three times and lose all your lives then you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint. Fortunately the checkpoints are generous and plentiful. Which is a good thing, as Blind Drive can be a deceptively hard game. Being able to get right back in to the action avoids too much headphone gnawing frustration.
Through the course of the journey, your captor will call and chime in with some new information – no story spoilers here, but things get pretty messed up, pretty quickly – at this point the player can chill out and just enjoy the dialogue, but not for too long, as the game will switch up vital elements of its mechanics. I must admit, going in to play the game, I wasn’t certain how much mileage could be achieved from such a simple premise, but I clearly don’t have anywhere near the level of imagination that Lo-Fi People possess.
First off, car chases. Yes, blindfolded car chases are absolutely a thing; a terrifying thing. During your blind drive, police cars will pull alongside your vehicle in an effort to ram you off the road. This effectively inverts the game up to this point, as you have to drive into the police cars when you hear them get closer, broadsiding it off the road. Also, your captor has control over the speed of the vehicle, turning the occasional honking car to dodge into a petrifying cavalcade of enraged motorists. Then there’s ice cream vans. For reasons known only to your captor he will sometimes demand you get some ice cream. How do you do this? By listening to the iconic jingle of a roving ice-cream seller and ramming into him at just the right time. Do so and the resulting sugar high will result in a hallucinatory multi-coloured trip, bestowing extra life and super fast speed upon your car.
If this all sounds thoroughly bonkers, then it’s because it is. It works though, creating a thrilling roller coaster ride of an arcade experience in which you’ve no idea where the game will take you next. For example: during one scene poor old Donny has skidded off the road, ended up in the sea and is now sinking to his doom. Oh no, I thought, what a depressing end to the escapades of Donny. Fear not, because it is revealed that the car has – wait for it – a submarine mode. Soon this automobile that would make even James Bond envious is hurtling through the ocean depths, dodging unsuspecting dolphins and other unwitting sea creatures. It’s bizarre, it’s brilliant and, thanks to the superb sound design, entirely believable. If you’d asked me before playing Blind Drive what an underwater car ride would sound like I’d have had no idea, but now I know – it sounds like pure unadulterated fun.
Every time I thought that Blind Drive must be out of new ideas it kept throwing more audio madness into the mix. The exceptional sound design is pushed to the limit as you drive through rain storms, have to put up with an annoying fly buzzing around your head and even take on a boss or two. Boss fights really shouldn’t work, but Lo-Fi People has achieved the impossible and crafted a series of brilliantly compelling encounters. Taking on a shotgun wielding farmer is an early thrill, your ears craned as you desperately await the crack of a bullet before dodging frantically.
In short, Blind Drive is one of the most original and fresh gameplay experiences I’ve encountered in quite some time. On my first play through, an hour whizzed by in the blink of an eye. Which is a bit of a problem, as with a game time of only a few hours Blind Drive feels like it’s over far too quickly. This is a game that leaves you wanting more and, while it lasts, Blind Drive is a treat to be savoured.