Review: Carmageddon: Max Damage (PlayStation 4)
- Release Date (NA): July 7, 2016
- Release Date (EU): July 8, 2016
- Publisher: Stainless Games
- Developer: Stainless Games
- Genres: Carmageddon
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
- Also For: Computer, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Those of you
who are about to die are squeamish would do best to close the tab now; the game was never going to be for you anyway.
Filetrip gallery of images from this review. Click any images you see in this to enlarge them.
Install size: 13.56 Gigabytes.
Career mode will take maybe 15-20 hours to unlock everything on normal if you don't redo old races, 100% would take a bit more. Multiplayer, the option to replay career levels endlessly and set up your own levels of your choosing will add to that.
Many years ago there was a little game franchise called Carmageddon. It joined Mortal Kombat in being one of things various moral guardian types got worked up about at the time. In this case you play as a driver in a near future world where you can do laps, if you are boring, waste all your opponents, or find and kill all the pedestrians. I did not know it at the time but it was inspired by films like Death Race 2000.
The moral guardians were however right and the desire for all that blood and carnage made me the man I am today; trying to get IPX networking working on Windows 98, and later playing with 3dfx emulators, was a large part of what saw me learn how computers work.
It was followed by
some DLC an expansion pack called Splat Pack which added quite a bit, a sequel called Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse now, and then the publisher yanked it from their hands to give us TDR 2000. The gameplay type kind of died with it – sure you had pretty good car combat with Twisted Metal, Burnout has its ultra clean crash modes and “takedowns”, Split/Second came along and did a few things, Watch_Dogs had that bonus minigame and as minigames are now being discussed you can see how little there was. So basically nothing came along that quite replicated the formula and fun of Carmageddon.
Kids today, when I were a lad and you wanted cheats you had to go down the library to go on the internet or scan magazines.
Suffice to say I am a fan and when I heard that the original devs were still going (they spent the years since making the really good Magic the Gathering games and porting several arcade classics to XBLA) and had acquired the rights to the series and were planning to make a sequel I was excited. The move to kickstarter in 2012 to fund it was something and the result was 2015's PC Carmageddon: Reincarnation. The reception of that was not overwhelmingly positive, not James Pond IOS or Cannon Fodder 3 bad, but not a classic reborn. This PS4 version is then an “enhanced” port of that, and it is quite obviously a PC port when it asks you to pick a save slot and suggests the others for other people despite being on a console where we are all supposed to have our own profiles now. Curiously though there are only control options and not full customisation, the defaults work well though once I learned to not double tap recovery (an expensive mistake).
Opening impressions were not great. There is a phrase in level design, and similar ones exist for most creative endeavours, that runs “make the first level last” and I am not sure if they forgot that here. The trailer made things seem a bit spartan at times and said first levels did little to dissuade that notion. Once I got into the game the level design tightened up a bit, pedestrian groupings got a bit better and things generally picked up. I did go back after some upgrades and such just to make sure it was not me getting better and indeed the earlier levels still did not have much to them. I don't know what it would be like going in cold but there were a few items that the little loading screen hints had to cover before I appreciated what they were good for, and some more subtle things existing ones did.
If you are comparing console Carmageddon entries though then the bar is not very high, click the picture to be taken to the video player/download
Also in the opening impressions I was sent right into a conventional “classic carma” event with the laps, kill opponents or kill all the pedestrians mode. Sweet. Next up in the category (and only thing I could play of the story while it was installing) was a checkpoint event, and finally a straight up race. Now I don't mind the occasional nudge towards certain styles of play within a level or even the occasional bonus mission, I say despite several of them being my least favourite parts of Carmageddon 2, but while this did not get to Deus Ex Human Revolution boss fight levels of jarring and annoying it was not far off at times. Fortunately you can “steal” points and laps by wrecking your opponents. There are some modes later like fox and hound where you have to survive as the fox (keeping moving), or find it and touch it to become it.
You are given a free play mode from the main menu where you can set levels and event types, those you have unlocked anyway, as you so desire so it is not all bad, and you can replay any old level at any time so theoretically you could unlock everything just replaying the classic carma races.
Some of the options for free play.
Later levels also included some throwbacks to classic levels in both name and design, obviously the stadium from the earlier levels ones, to the chemical plants, to the desert and underground levels and more subtle things like the city levels. Some levels seem to want you to explore as well (or at least I assume that is why with some basic play I was able to get the better part of half a hour on the clock), though seen as that is how you find some unlockables (others you get for doing certain career wide objectives a la the challenges from Borderlands), collectibles and upgrade tokens. Much like the other games you do revisit the same level, just from a different angle, several times. Though the levels got better as things went on there were still a few more... functional levels dotted among them.
A smelly bush, the collectibles in this game.
It is the near future and the environment has been ruined by multinational megaconglomerates, humans have become plague that needs thinning and laws are such that you are the one to do... Come on; it is Carmageddon. You race, you kill your opponents or you kill the pedestrians. If you are especially boring you do checkpoints instead.
Graphics wise it worked. Earlier PC reports had it laggy and with a draw distance/fog somewhere around “Silent Hill”, here if you look for it you can spot the pop in/fog and where the levels were made to negate that slightly. Otherwise it is not going to be close a tour de force of what real time rendered graphics are like these days but at the same time it got it done and was its own thing. About the worst thing for me is the pedestrian models are odd; the original used Doom style 2d sprites in a 3d world and was fine for it, this uses sometimes quite weak 3d models and like most 3d bodges it fails to impress. Cars deform wonderfully and there are a fair few destructible objects in the game world. The game worlds often feature several moving objects as well, and some power ups which can manipulate them in various ways, which often adds to the madness. The magic in game body collector also seems to be moving at a rather slow pace these days as well.
"Some day all those peds will be dead"
There were a few glitches, though they were few and far between, and you can see some of the pop in if you get to the right point, and I did also get a game crash once during my time.
An example of a more noticeable glitch in the game. Not especially common but happens enough to note in this.
My biggest issue at first was the controls. Most older games had a serious arcade bent where this went slightly more towards the simulation side of things. Similarly the speed of races was rather different. Saying you had to maintain an irresponsible speed in the original games would be a poor choice of phrasing, what with the usual phrase being “you are going so fast, what if you hit something?”, but you did have to maintain a fast pace. I was hoping it would get better in different cars and with upgrades that get better throughout. It kind of did and it eventually got to have a certain charm but it never quite hit its stride in either a Mario Kart or Burnout sense where the controls are their own. I think it might have been the lack of the wheelspin command (by the way double tap the accelerator to jump the start lights) and though handbrake and feathering brake and accelerate got some nice powerslides going on it was not the same.
The AI was better than earlier ones where most things devolved into what I once heard wonderfully described as a series of high speed jousts. In all difficulty modes they would try to come at you while you were distracted with someone else, would attempt to get out of being pushed by you and generally put up a decent performance. However in some of the checkpoint modes the AI would struggle with things at different levels to them while I sat there doing doughnuts or something. My favourite was when I was doing a “classic carma” map but seeing what goes if I did actual checkpoints, through some fault of my own I was down to one opponent and they were trying to pick a fight. Trying to then dodge said opponent and hope they did not get wrecked was actually pretty nerve wracking at times. Difficulty modes mostly varied how much recovery costs, how much time you get on the clock for time giving actions, seemingly how much damage you take and how hard it is for you to wreck your opponents and the police.
There are some cheap things the AI does, and it will occasionally be dropped, Mario Kart style, near to you if you get too far away. This is fine but it happened several times when off exploring, and in some unfortunate cases when I was delicately picking my way through a mine field to get at the goodies it hid which involved everything blowing up. In classic carma the enemies do not regenerate damage and will happily use weapons against you.
New additions to the formula. The ability to buy, at not inconsiderable expense, weapons you have previously found during races and have them assigned to keys on the dpad was nice if you found yourself on a map with a lot of anti pedestrian weapons and you wanted to do some damage to your opponents. You can disable this in free play as well if you want.
Carmageddon does not strike me as a game aiming for ultra fair competitive play or anything like that, however I can imagine the weapon creation seemed a lot like “that would be cool, just make sure it does not break the game”. There are some nice parts in most maps where you will be racing along and then can choose to slow down or put yourself in a bit of peril to try to get something nice, or come back with a powerup that allows you to jump onto something. Many favourite weapons are back, including the vaunted
RUSSFORMARIO Electro Bastard Ray. Pinball mode is as annoying as ever and was ultimately responsible for most of the times I was ever wrecked, also my attempt at flight:
The pinball wizard allowed me to learn to fly
You will want weapons as well as trying to wreck your opponents by crashing into them is as likely to do you damage, especially if you get someone else come join in and really make it a party, and takes ages. You do however have mastery of the recovery button which can make for some “cheap” dodges, not sure why it is not on a slight timer (a five second delay would have done) but hey.
Metal twists and bends with a nice sound and pedestrians, aliens, bicyclists, mobilty scooters, cows, coyotes, bears, dogs, penguins, sheep, cows in hazmat suits and more all make a satisfying squish or crunch. Gone are the little inserts of the cabin from the first game and music wise there is some that plays a low level by default, I hear it at mainly at menus and it works but it is not going to beat mowing things down to Iron Maiden's Aces High and The Trooper from the second game. Being as it is on PC or modern console then playing your own background music is not a hard thing so no great need to dwell on it. If you are looking for suggestions I quite suggest Joey Ramone's cover of Wonderful World.
Now I am as big a fan of crude puns as anybody and I am puerile enough that I can't listen to Free Fallin' without replacing lyrics in my head to make it an ode to rolling without underwear. Here though it wore a bit thin, not necessarily in the 13 year old sense but more where you have a friend that takes the carpet bombing approach to swearing where you are more of a tactical/precision kind of guy. That said some of the power ups and joke items could usually get a smile out of me, and some of the little touches in places certainly amused
Not since the holy hand grenade in worms have my speakers said hallelujah so much.
Who knows what kind of reception the game will have in [current year] and the current crop of sensibilities, as a throwback though it does well.
Sadly it seems there was no splitscreen option so it is online only. Though there are also leaderboards in the main game. Playing pre release multiplayer is tricky at the best of times for review purposes. Check back later if you want something more on the online component.
Again all the images are visible on the gallery for this review.
♬640 peds on the map, knock one down and watch gibs fly around, 639 peds on the map♬
You get new cars by wrecking your opponents during races
The upgrade screen, you will want to keep on top of these. Fortunately the game does prompt and will even handle it for you.
Of course the real downside is not being able to spin your opponents post race.
This is not a triumphant return to form, nor even really a glorious celebration of things that made it great. Certainly had a lot of fun though and it will likely live on as a fun thing to play when I have a bit of time to kill. If Carmageddon was a patron in a bar it is the ageing bruiser but still with a mean right hook.
+ Carmageddon but made today.
+ It is good to be the bad guy.
+ No zombies.
+ Free play mode adds an awful lot of replayability.
- Some graphical issues
- Handling tantalisingly close but not there.
- Early levels not all they could be.
- Free play needs to have contents unlocked in career mode.
Good enough graphics, some glitches, not much to say about the music and a lack of options, or forced modes in some cases, drag it down a bit. On the other hand squishing pedestrians and wrecking cars is great fun and the game makes it happen.
It is almost what I wanted from a Carmageddon game in 2016. The controls mar it a bit and the earlier levels, quickly forgotten, make it a slow burn at first.
It was not perfect but at no point did I want to put it down during the review. The ability to replay levels and make your own setups for play will see this go on for a lot longer.
out of 10
(not an average)
I might not have been grunting a sub vocal "yeah" like the originals but this will likely be a "have time for a quick race/game" for years to come.