Arcade racing games are certainly nothing new to the game industry. Be they classics like Out Run or newer titles like Distance, chances are you’ve played plenty of arcade driving games at some point in your life. One somewhat newer trend that is becoming increasingly common however, are games designed to be accessible.
By “accessible,” I don’t mean a game being simplified or dumbed down to appeal to a greater audience, but rather a game that features a robust suite of options to allow people with disabilities to play them.
There was a time when it was surprising for a game to even have colorblind options, but now we are seeing an increasingly large number of games with other features that allow people to play them. The Last of Us II became a bit of a meme for the sheer number of options it had covering a wide range of disabilities.
Blind Drive takes this accessibility a step further, by being a game that someone who is literally blind can play. For those of us that still have our eyesight, however, it’s still a pretty fun and very unique experience.
Developer: Lo-Fi People
Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: March 10th, 2021
Price: $9.99 USD
In Blind Drive, you play as Donnie, a rather naïve and clueless guy who responds to a shady temporary job ad for a company looking for test subjects for “scientific research.” This results in Donnie being blindfolded and handcuffed to the steering wheel of a supped up car.
A mysterious voice calls Donnie with one simple instruction: Start driving. Now placed in a precarious position with a sinister voice telling him to listen to its instructions if he ever wants to see his grandma again, Donnie is forced to go along for the ride by dodging incoming traffic as the car moves on its own.
If you couldn’t tell already from the premise, Blind Drive‘s story starts out bonkers, and just keeps escalating from there. You quickly learn that Grandma isn’t exactly the sweet and caring old lady Donnie thinks she is, and you’ll gradually be exposed to a completely absurd criminal conspiracy.
The absolutely ridiculous story is definitely one of Blind Drive‘s high points, and it’s helped along by some hilarious dialogue and genuinely solid voice acting. The humor and story are about on the level you’d expect from one of Adult Swim’s better absurdist comedy shows. It doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously, and constantly bombards you with its insane premise.
Donnie being blindfolded and forced to drive isn’t just a story gimmick either; it’s the entire concept of the game. The Blind Drive experience revolves around listening to the sounds of oncoming cars or other hazards, then perfectly timing a dodge to the left or right.
The game has a minimalist graphics style, and an interface that consists of a black screen with a few special effects. These include explosions or the lights from a pursuing police car.
You’ll gain points whenever you successfully dodge something, which plays into the game’s achievements for getting high scores. Hitting anything makes you lose health, and your life gradually regenerates as you drive. You can take three hits before crashing and being sent back to the previous checkpoint.
The game has a basic UI by default, but there is also an optional “blindfold” mode where every aspect of the UI is turned off, so you’ll have to mentally keep track of your health as well.
While Blind Drive‘s core mechanics are simple, that doesn’t mean the game is easy. Figuring out how close a car or hazard is based entirely on sound is pretty tricky. You never really understand how important sound cues are in games until you play one where sound is your only indication of oncoming death.
Despite the simple premise, Blind Drive still does an admirable job of coming up with new twists for the basic formula of “press left or right based on sound effects.” There are some levels where the car speeds up, giving you less time to react.
Other times, the game will throw new challenges at you, like a level where an annoying fly is buzzing around the inside of the car. There are also a few segments where you have to avoid cars while also listening to a sarcastic GPS giving you directions.
Besides dodging traffic, there are other things you need to listen out for. Running over bicyclists restores life, while ramming an ice cream truck gives you a shield that negates the next point of damage you take. The game is so bonkers that I can’t even honestly tell you that these mechanics make sense in context, but I’ll just lie and say they do.
There are some high speed chase sequences where you have to ram pursuing cop cars before they run you off the road, by waiting until you hear the sound of the cop pull up alongside you.
This is expanded upon in a boss fight where you have to dodge shotgun blasts from an angry farmer, while also avoiding cows and trying to locate him so you can run him over. There are even more absurd twists later on in the game that I don’t want to spoil.
While the game is pretty challenging at times, Blind Drive is also quite fair. The entire game consists of one long drive. Every few miles you’ll reach a checkpoint that both gives you a new respawn point, and acts as a way to introduce new gameplay concepts and advance the story. You can easily get right back into the action when you die, and there are also three difficulty settings to tweak your experience with.
It will probably take you about two hours to finish the game, though there is a fair amount of replay value. One of the big goals in the game for those of you who like a challenge is to complete the entire drive without dying, or even harder, to do so without hitting anything at all.
Seeing as how Blind Drive is all about picking up on sound cues, a high quality set of headphones is an absolute must to get the most out of the experience. Not only do you need them to more easily pick out sounds, but also because it lets you enjoy just how great the sound design is.
While sounds certainly have been exaggerated a bit for ease of gameplay, they all sound spot on and really help immerse you in the experience. It really feels like you are driving down a busy interstate, blindfolded, while speeding directly into incoming traffic. At least, I assume this is what it would sound like, and don’t particularly care to see for myself in real life.
*Editor’s Note* The developers have recently reached out to us to say that the voice menu feature is actually on by default if the game detects that the player’s PC has any type of voice navigation software turned on when the game is launched.
Despite Blind Drive‘s emphasis on accessibility, there are a few notable exclusions. The game features a voice menu option to help blind gamers aid in navigation, but this feature is turned off by default. While I personally don’t particularly care since I’m not blind, it seems like an odd choice considering the developers emphasis just how accessible the game is to blind gamers.
The larger issue is that Blind Drive‘s voice acting is only available in English, and there are no subtitles. The developers have said that they tried subtitles in playtesting, but found them too distracting.
While I can see their point, it does mean that the game is effectively unplayable if you don’t speak English. I don’t just mean that non-English speakers wouldn’t be able to understand the story, but there are points in the game where you have to listen to spoken directions to figure out what to do. It’s another one of those weird decisions that runs contrary to the developer’s message of accessibility.
Minor nitpicks aside, Blind Drive was a surprisingly fun and refreshing experience. I went into the game without any expectations whatsoever, and was happy to find such a unique and enjoyable experience.
The gameplay is really simple; but tense, challenging, engaging, and the overall concept isn’t quite like anything else out there right now. When combined with its completely absurdist humor and story, Blind Drive offers a compelling experience worth playing through if you are looking for a very distinctive game that can easily be completed in one sitting.
Blind Drive was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Lo-Fi People. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.