The original Carmageddon has held a special place in my heart for a long time. As a teenager, I spent countless hours gleefully turning pedestrians into bloody pulp whilst listening to my cassette of Smash by The Offspring. This was a game with plenty of gore, puerile humour, a fair amount of controversy and cars running into cows. What’s not to love about all that? Thanks to the support of more than half a million dollars squeezed out of close to 16,000 Kickstarter backers, I was keen to drift back to my 15-year-old self and run over some people for points in Carmageddon: Max Damage.
Originally entitled Carmageddon: Reincarnation — and then upgraded and renamed for consoles — Max Damage is a warts and all remake of the original classic with a few extra nuggets thrown in.
For those not familiar with the series, it’s a vehicular combat game that puts you behind the wheel of a ridiculously designed car to battle it out against five opponents across a number of checkpoint races. To succeed in each event you’ll need to decide if you want to pass through all the checkpoints before all of the other racers, destroy all your opponents or turn every pedestrian in the level into meaty chunks. Performing any of these tasks will earn you credits which are spent on vehicle recoveries and repairs as well as helping you progress in your career. This will also add seconds to your countdown timer. If the timer reaches zero it’s game over and event lost, though this will have almost zero impact on your success — most rounds finishing with in excess of 20 minutes to spare.
Further to this, bonus credits and additional time are added if you perform any of these tasks with some extra finesse. For example, crushing a pedestrian between your vehicle and that of on opponent will give you a Jam Sandwich bonus. Flipping your vehicle in all manner of directions and managing to end up on 4 wheels will dub you a Cunning Stunt. This is essentially the long and short of the primary event type dubbed Classic Carmageddon, and back in the day it was damn fun.
Max Damage brings additional events to keep things fresh including Death Race, which is solely a checkpoint race where trashing an opponent will steal their laps rather than permanently removing them from the event. Checkpoint Stampede randomly places one checkpoint in the level and all cars need to race to it. The first one there gets a point — plus, you can get points by trashing opponents — and the first to ten points wins. Ped Chase is essentially the same as the aforementioned Checkpoint Stampede but you need to squish a randomly selected pedestrian. There’s also Car Crusher which is essentially a free-for-all death match for cars with the first to six kills taking the crown . Finally, Fox n Hounds is a game of tag.
All of these game modes are equally fun to play and would most probably have been even more fun in online multiplayer. Unfortunately, repeated attempts at playing multiplayer were fruitless.
The positive aspects of this game are primarily thanks to nostalgia. Upgraded versions of the original levels are fun to explore. Driving onto a football field and taking out scores of players and cheerleaders in the exact same fashion as you did in the old game was a morbid delight and the new versions of those ridiculous vehicles are excellent. While the visuals don’t offer anything jaw dropping, they’re better than you might expect from a successfully crowd funded game; let’s face it, we’re not playing Forza here. The soundtrack includes some excellent instrumental death metal and dub step tracks to keep the masses happy and seeing classic old jokes from the original game scratched my nostalgic itch whilst the new ones managed to extract the occasional chuckle.
Things did go a little too far though when I ran over my first wheelchair-riding pedestrian. That moment was a bit much even for this fan of inappropriate humour.
And the pickups. So many pickups to play with. Old classics like Jelly Suspension and the Solid Granite Car were welcome returns and new additions such as the Opponent Ejaculator — which ejects opponent drivers through their windscreen — or Give Me Head, which simply pops the heads off of nearby pedestrians, were disturbingly satisfying. It feels like there are hundreds of different pickups — or pups as they’re called in the game — to play with and they are certainly your key to winning events. Because with the way the cars handle, no amount of real skill is going to help you.
Which brings me to the biggest problem with Carmageddon: Max Damage. A flaw so fatal that it outweighs all the good things about it. Much like the 1997 original game, the cars in this newer version drive less like an elite, four wheeled machine of death, and more like a cement truck sliding across an oil slicked frozen pond. Steering at high speeds is near impossible to manage with any vehicle control being lost almost immediately following even the slightest adjustment to your trajectory. This repeatedly causes frustrating and unintentional crashes costing precious credits which are used to repair your vehicle on the fly as well as going towards your progress in the career.
Don’t even think about doing any fancy drifting. If you do manage a nicely controlled slide, guaranteed it will be more arse than class that contributed to it. The moment you attempt to straighten up after taking your corner, you’re going to end up over steering and sliding in the opposite direction until your fishtailing hunk of scrap is brought to a grinding halt by an immovable object. As stated, this isn’t Forza, but if you’re going to make a game about cars, they have to be fun to drive. In Carmageddon: Max Damage you’ll quickly become frustrated having to constantly fight the steering.
What makes this even more frustrating is the opponent vehicle AI. Rather than offering any real competition to the racing or demolition aspect of the game they seem hell-bent on pissing you off. Sure, there is a demolition derby aspect to the game and opponents will attack you and each other as they should. Even then, rather than using strategic and calculated moves to inflict the most damage on you, an opponent will essentially just gravitate towards you, once engaged, pushing you around in circles like two drunk pirouetting ballerinas. This continues until you get so frustrated that you would rather sacrifice precious credits by recovering or re-spawning your vehicle.
This is where Carmageddon: Max Damage went wrong. Developer Stainless Games had a big decision to make before they broke ground on this new edition. Option one was to make a whole new game, taking all the fun and comedic aspects of Carmageddon and using that foundation to build a modern vehicular combat game suitable of the standards set by today’s gamer. Option two was to answer the call of nostalgia put forward by their devoted Kickstarter backers and replicate all primary aspects of the original game by way of levels, vehicle handling and content. Clearly, Stainless chose the latter option.
Making a new game that’s so much like the original — right down to the borderline excessive load times — was a terrible decision. This game is too much like the original to a massive fault and it unfortunately ruins the whole experience. It handles exactly the same way the old game did — which was fine 20 years ago — but just doesn’t make the cut by today’s standards. I was even graced with a bug that causes your engine sounds to go silent at one point. You wouldn’t believe it, but this was also a bug in the original 1997 game. I’m still left sitting here wondering if it was a joke or just bad coding.
Sadly Carmageddon: Max Damage was seemingly built just for those that want to re-live the original game, including literally all of its flaws. Had the target audience been expanded to those that like playing games that are fun, it could have been a huge hit.
Carmageddon: Max Damage was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One as provided by the publisher.
Review: Carmageddon: Max Damage