Review: Blood Drive (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Blood Drive
Genre: Vehicular Combat
Developer: Sidhe Interactive
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 11/02/10

People have been trying to really refine the “drive around and shoot at other drivers” concept since RC Pro AM, if not earlier, but Twisted Metal really can be considered the high point of the genre. That’s not to say that other developers haven’t made their own attempts to refine it, as Full Auto and Blur have shown, but Twisted Metal did something that gamers loved, so much so that Sony’s bringing it back around for another go on the Playstation 3. We’ve even seen a few games emulate the experience here and there, from Vigilante 8 to Rogue Trip to WWE Crush Hour and beyond, each emulating the concept to variable degrees of success, though none to the degree of Sony’s baby. Blood Drive is, in many respects, another attempt at emulating this sort of experience, though with a twist: this time, zombies are involved. Zombies have become something of a fix-all for gaming over the past few years, thanks in no small part to the success of Left 4 Dead, and games one would not normally expect to see zombies in are suddenly sprouting the wretched living dead like herpes for one reason or another, so it was only a matter of time before we saw a car combat game with them in it in some form or another. That said, while Blood Drive certainly seems to have embraced the idea of putting zombies into Twisted Metal, it doesn’t seem to have anything interesting to do with this concept, and as such, doesn’t make an especially compelling argument for itself outside of the “Twisted Metal… WITH ZOMBIES” promise.

Blood Drive has a very minimal storyline: you play as one of the playable characters in a car combat game show of sorts run out of Las Ruletas, a Las Vegas analogue in a post zombie uprising environment. Your goal is to win the various tournaments that are offered, so as to compete in other tournaments. That’s… that’s it. There’s no overarching storyline to speak of here aside from the few blurbs that pop up about your characters, which mean just shy of not a damn thing in the context of the game, so it falls to the game modes to carry the experience. Things fare a little better here, as there are several different game modes to choose from that fall into four categories: the single player Tournaments which place you in increasingly difficult challenges against the computer opponents, the single player Challenges which are just individual missions against the AI, the Single Event Matches which are just one and done matches against the CPU, and Multiplayer for online play against others in various game modes. There’s no split-screen multiplayer, unfortunately, and it’s somewhat difficult to get into a game online as it seems like there aren’t a lot of people out there, but there’s an adequate amount of things to do with the game, all in all, and you’ll find something to play around with if you’re looking to do this thing.

Blood Drive is a fine enough looking game, though it’s not taxing the system resources to any significant degree. The car models all look nice enough and explode in a satisfying fashion, the weaponry looks acceptable, and the game environments are all different from one another to be interesting. The game manages to handle having multiple vehicles and zombies on-screen without too much trouble as well, and there aren’t any significant frame rate drops or visual slowdown issues either. However, the visuals aren’t very high resolution, all in all, and the zombies themselves are ugly and unimpressive, both in general and when being splattered all across the screen, and if half of your gimmick doesn’t look too hot, you’re in a bad spot. The voice acting in the game is generally fine enough, as each character has some voice acted lines that fit the characters perfectly fine and don’t sound too absurd, though none of it is especially memorable, either. The music is your standard generic heavy rock faire, and while it fits the theme of the game just fine, none of it is something you’d want to listen to outside of the game. The sound effects are fitting, as things exploding sound like things exploding, gunfire sounds sufficiently powerful, and nothing sounds out of place in the least.

Blood Drive essentially plays like a racing game with shooting elements, so the controls shouldn’t be too hard to figure out if you’re a fan of the racing genre, or alternatively, Twisted Metal. The left stick steers while the right stick looks around, the right trigger accelerates, and the left trigger brakes and goes in reverse. The face buttons control your regular attacks (A), your Rage attack (X, which we’ll get to shortly) and your boost ability(B), while Y does nothing. The left bumper acts as your emergency brake for power sliding, the right bumper lets you immediately look behind you, the Up direction on the D-pad shows who’s winning, and the down direction self-destructs your vehicle if you get stuck or whatever. You’ll be able to pick all of this up in no time, though it might take a little longer to understand how the game expects you to use these controls. You’re basically dumped into an arena and tasked to do whatever particular event the game has lined up for you at the moment, then let loose to do as you see fit. Littering the track are various power-ups, which include various weapons for your vehicle, repair kits, boost charges, and other fun things, and running them over lets you make use of them. Weapons, such as miniguns, rockets, missiles and so on allow you to fire on the various zombies and other competitors around the field, boost charges allow you to turbo boost around for fast engagement of or escape from enemies, repair kits fix your vehicle, and the various other power-ups are fairly self explanatory. Within a couple matches you’ll have a pretty good idea of how everything works and how to best use your driver of choice, though the game has a little more to offer than the basics mentioned above.

First off, let’s discuss the drivers and the Rage attacks. Each driver’s vehicle is set up in a specific fashion with different statistics, gauging their speed, durability and so on, so you can pick the vehicle that’s best for your style of play. Each vehicle ALSO has its own Rage attack, which is a special attack unique to that driver. By shooting enemies and zombies, taking damage, and so on, your Rage meter builds up, and when a Rage icon lights up on the meter, you can unleash the attack. Each character has a different attack, which might fill an area with noxious gas, unleash a shockwave to deal area of effect damage, make the vehicle’s ramming damage increase, or what have you. You can charge up to three of these attacks for use as you see fit, and while they’re not super powerful, they can help you turn the tide at a critical moment. The zombies also add something of a unique element to the experience, for a couple of reasons. Many of the missions you’ll face involve killing the zombies, for instance, so the game isn’t just another “blow up the other drivers” sort of game. There are special zombies that show up that can do heavy damage to your vehicle, and regular zombies can also damage you a little bit, meaning they’re not just targets, but also hazards you’ll have to deal with if you want to survive.

Blood Drive isn’t just about blowing up your opponents, either. The game offers multiple play modes, from the standard “blow up your opponents” style one would expect, to modes that challenge you to blow up the most zombies or the most everything, race through the most checkpoints, retain the Golden Skull for the longest amount of time, and so on, so there are different ways to challenge yourself. Each driver is going to better suited for one type of mission over another, mind you, but that’s part of the challenge of the experience. In an interesting twist, the game adds a Modern Warfare 2 styled perk system into the game, where at the beginning of each challenge you’ll be asked to pick a set of three bonuses to help you out. This could mean adding a random weapon to your vehicle from the start, or upgrading your engine performance, or maxing out your boost or Rage from the start, among other things, and there are several options to choose from. The benefits of this option not only mean that you can outfit your character with the options that best suit your style of play and character chosen, but you can also change from one challenge to the next, in case maximum boost would be useful in a checkpoint race while maximum Rage would be useful in a killing spree, for instance.

The Tournament mode encompasses seven tournaments, each longer and more challenging than the last, and there are six challenges available to the player to complete on their own, which unlock more maps to be used in the Single Event mode. The online multiplayer offers the option to find or host matches, and offers support for up to four players simultaneously, so you can challenge your friends online if you all have copies of the game. There are multiple achievements to earn and collectible tokens to find in the various missions for the completionist, and you can always go back and attempt to improve your scores in the different challenges and tournaments as you see fit. The game doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of unlockable content, unfortunately, and it lacks multiple difficulty modes or offline multiplayer options, which is a shame, as these options would offer added depth and replay value to the experience. As it is, there’s a decent enough amount of things to do in Blood Drive to keep you interested for a bit, but with only a handful of playable characters and maps to play on combined with no obvious unlockables and no way to play with friends except for online, there’s not a big helping of content all in all.

Aside from the lack of content, Blood Drive also simply isn’t particularly fun to play. Part of this comes down to the controls feeling not particularly responsive all the time, leaving you missing a shot you would have otherwise had or ramming into God knows what on occasion because the car got air off of something it shouldn’t have. Part of this comes down to some occasional collision detection issues, where you’ll get stuck on ramps or in other parts of the environment and have to self-destruct to right yourself. Part of this comes down to the difficulty level, as there’s a steep learning curve when starting off against the computer that you’ll have to go through a few sessions to get used to since the Tournament mode only lets you pass if you place first overall for some inane reason. Part of this comes down to the fact that finding an online game is like pulling teeth, since nearly no one is playing it online it seems. But the biggest part comes down to the fact that the experience has been done, and done better. Now, you could point at Twisted Metal: Black as a recent, and very good, version of what this game is trying to be, but even something as poorly received as WWE Crush Hour had more personality and interesting elements than this game offers. Blood Drive seriously feels like the developers brainstormed until they came up with the “Twisted Metal… WITH ZOMBIES” concept, and then were so satisfied with that concept that they just made that. Yes, there are zombies. Congratulations. So what? Lots of games have zombies. Red Dead Redemption has them. Borderlands has them. Call of Duty: Black Ops has them. All of these games are full fledged games that stand on their own merits. Blood Drive leans on its zombie addition like a crutch, basically cross breeding Twisted Metal with Dead Rising 2, game world and all, but it has nothing interesting to say about this concept and the novelty of the experience is gone in about an hour, leaving behind a game that simply… exists.

Blood Drive is a game that would probably have been fine at a budget price or as a Live Arcade title, but as a full-fledged, nearly full priced release, feels lacking in enough areas that it’s hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t salivating as they wait for the next Twisted Metal game to come out. There are enough game modes to keep the game going for a while and the visuals and audio are serviceable and get the job done well enough. The game is easy enough to learn how to play for both genre fans and new players, there are a few novel gimmicks to the experience that you can certainly have some fun with it, and there’s enough content to keep you busy for a bit at least. That said, the game lacks in replay value thanks to a lack of obvious unlockables, same console multiplayer and multiple difficulty levels, leaving only the gameplay and online play to carry the experience. This might be fun in a more robust game, but it’s difficult to find anyone online to play with, there’s no real variety to the experience to speak of, there are some technical issues that mar the experience, and at the end of the day, the game lacks in originality or depth, basically choosing to rely on its gimmick instead of really trying to do anything with it. Blood Drive is a game Twisted Metal fans will find scratches the itch well enough, but everyone else can safely wait for a price drop before letting their curiosity get the better of them, if they have any in the first place.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: POOR
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: POOR

FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Blood Drive seems like it’d be a fun time, between the Twisted Metal gameplay and the addition of zombies to an already fun concept, but the game doesn’t seem to have anything interesting to do with this concept, and the end result is a game that’s passable, but not much more. There are enough gameplay modes online and off to play around with and the game looks and sounds fine enough, though it’s not stellar in either category. The game is easy enough to play and offers some mildly interesting additions to the formula that make it not feel quite like its predecessors, and there’s an adequate enough amount of things to do with the game, between the tournaments and challenges to clear, the achievements and tokens to find and unlock, and the online multiplayer. However, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer within the first hour or so, and between the lack of unlockable content, the lack of same console multiplayer and the one standard difficulty level, there’s not a lot to change that up. Further, between the inability to find anyone playing online and the lack of variety in the game, the technical issues that pop up here and there, and the general lack of originality all around, Blood Drive ends up feeling like a game that hasn’t had much effort invested in anything other than the initial planning session. Those who are fiending for another Twisted Metal style game will find some fun in the experience, but everyone else will basically find the game to be mildly amusing for an hour or two, and shallow beyond that, at least until it drops in price.

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