Vigilante 8 with Zombies Twisted Metal Z Carmageddon 4 Blood Drive is the latest attempt to resurrect the once titanic genre of car combat, with the added zest of zombies! Yeah, this isn't really a new thing or an original idea. However, a game like this (found at a bargain bin price well below even the original $50 retail price) could be good for a few gits and shiggles. Unfortunately this game's handling physics and lack-luster presentation make this one hard to enjoy even as a campy experience.
The game features so little a plot that even the arrival of the zombie apocalypse and the formation of the Blood Drive tournament aren't explained. Beating the game with each character allows you to view their “victory movie”, but without an actual story arc or any hint of an individual character's story to begin playing through the tournament the game fails to even hang the proverbial carrot on a string in front of you to coax you into unlocking these.
The cast of characters with their own quirks and themed vehicles is, again, nothing special. You get your usual variety featuring the obligatory muscle car armed to the teeth and armored to beat the band, the nimble but under protected buggy, and the hard-hitting yet lumbering construction behemoth. They each have their own unique special powers and are supposed to vary greatly in handling mechanics. Unfortunately, the handling is generic. Regardless of which vehicle you choose you will find yourself spinning out of control, often from the slightest upsetting by the environment, the pounding of a few enemy attacks, or even an excessive build-up of zombies on your grill. These things will often have you careening into walls and the impact will send your vehicle flying inexplicably skyward.
The game modes are simple fare, not unexpected for this genre. You have things like the Demolition Derby, checkpoint rallies, and zombie killing. In modes like checkpoint rallies and demolition derby zombie kills don't count for points but they do count for supplying Rage, the fuel for your chosen character's special ability.
The physics are a major frustration factor in some game modes. King of the Skull has players vying to hold onto a golden skull longer than the others. You have to ram the player carrying the skull in order to gain control of it. The game's dodgy controls, which make precise maneuvering next to impossible, make it difficult for you to successfully ram the player carrying the skull and then make a clean escape from the melee before you lose the skull again. It also kills you in checkpoint rallies when you have to navigate your way into a tight spot, through a horde of blood-thirsty competitors, or around a series of obstacles to reach the next checkpoint.
The game also features a challenge mode with various challenges to...uh...challenge you. Challenge! challenge. Ok, I'll stop saying “challenge”. These modes are also hamstrung by the game's glitch-ridden physics. Some of the trials (see, I didn't use the C-Word) include a roadkill survival mode in which you smash your way through endless hordes of zombies and every 100 undead you smash into paste reward you with a time bonus. There's also a Roadkill Scoreboard game in which you have to smash 200 zombies as fast as you can. The awful physics make completing the assigned tasks in this mode an exercise in frustration instead of an endeavor you would like to undertake.
Made it through the rest of that paragraph without using that word again!
Another major problem found so often in car combat games with awkward handling is the difficulty. In games like this I've noticed that the AI opponents are able to overcome the problems with the physics to the point that they seem immune to any of the trials and tribulations of the game's awkward mechanics. This makes it particularly difficult to have a fighting chance with checkpoint rallies or king of the skull events. Even in demolition derby events you will spend valuable time hacking away at a larger opponent's health only to see an AI rival sweep in and land the killing blow, thus giving them a kill that was rightfully yours. Pack that with the control issues and it makes for something maddeningly frustrating, rather than delightfully challenging.
This game first appealed to me as a fan of B-Movies, the tag line on the back of the box is “Brains, Stains, and Automobiles” (for those of you unfamiliar with the reference here, it's an old comedy with Steve Martin and John Candy called Planes, Trains, and Automobiles). I've often found that the cheesy and silly gore-drenched offerings can provide a surprising level of amusement as long as they never make me pay more than $19.99 for the privilege. I have a DVD collection stocked full of boxes proclaiming an alarming number of movies on a disproportionately low number of discs for an insultingly low price. These terrible schlock-strewn collections are normally good for a laugh with their horrific acting, sub-par stories, and terrible writing. Every once in a great while you find a diamond in the rough, a wonderful movie with a terrific story.
Often bargain bin games like this (when they are executed with a more tolerable level of mechanical issues) can be good for some enjoyment because their over-use of cheesy dialogue or over-the-top gore and violence (for a good example of this check out the PS3/XBox 360 reboot of Splatterhouse) appeals to the B-Movie lover in me. Unfortunately, with the handling problems and obvious difficulty issues this game fails to deliver even that level of entertainment. And without any hint of a story the game offers no real incentive to even try playing through it.
In the end, if you find a copy of Blood Drive languishing in a bargain bin in the electronic section of your favorite superstore or occupying space on a shelf at the video game retailer you frequent I have to advise you to leave it there.