Carmageddon: Max Damage – (Xbox One) Review
- Impressive, open-world tracks with exploration potential
- Neat car damage
- Uhh... struggling here
Not So Much?
- Looks like a macaroni picture
- Controls like a marionette on skis
- Just so boring
A game that feels like a passion project someone lost interest in near the end. Levels are reused to an insulting degree and everything looks like a Commodore 64 controller. Open world races might have offered something if there was any way to change direction without spinning off the roads like a Beyblade.
Not to be confused with its predecessor, Kickstarter-backed Carmageddon: Reincarnation (I get it, because it has ‘car’ in it), Carmageddon: Max Damage is an updated version of that game available for consoles. An update – not to be confused with a remaster, an upgrade or even a modest decoration with a flower on top. Carmageddon: Max Damage is the original 1997 Carmageddon with so many tacked on elements that several of the tacks hit a femoral artery and caused it to bleed out.
If you’re unfamiliar with Carmageddon (perhaps you’re not a very old person like everyone else talking about it) then all you need to know is that it’s a game famous from the ’90s for being controversially violent. Cars with spikes all over them drive around trying to rough each other up while taking great pleasure in murdering pedestrians. That formula has been reused for this new release with British, 90s humour still prevalent. The writing isn’t bad if you’re into sex puns, which makes it a shame the developers decided to forgo any storytelling. Instead, Max Damage chooses to focus on gameplay, a decision we are all worse off for.
The first thing you need to know about Carmageddon: Max Damage is that you won’t be able to control your vehicle. At all. I don’t know if this was a misguided decision from the developers to mix up gameplay, or if they genuinely didn’t notice, but the driving in this game is by far the worst part of this driving game. I know ‘handles like a shopping trolley’ is an exaggerated cliché, but the vehicles really do handle like shopping trolleys half filled with bowling balls and half-filled with furious toddlers. Relying on turning left or right using the control stick is about as effective as relying on that wish you made upon a star, while handbrake turns in this game are to turning what Shia LaBeouf is to anything he touches. The technique is to press handbrake about two minutes before you get to a corner and sort yourself out once you’ve come to a halt facing entirely the wrong direction and upside down. Alternatively, you can accelerate very gently and crawl around each corner, which – while I confess is easier to take corners and stay in control – goes against the type of gameplay a name like ‘Carmageddon’ implies.
It’s a shame because there are some nice ideas. Several game modes are offered including killing while racing, a race to kill or simply killing. The game tells you near the start that you are rewarded for exploration in their sandbox racetracks. This offered some great potential, as did the idea that winning the race in a conventional sense wasn’t your only option (depending on the mode, you can have up to three different ways of winning – usually something to do with murder). But without a car that’s possible to control it’s all for nought and once you’ve explored a few times only to discover that there was very little to gain from it, you’ll probably give up. Besides, not once on my detours was I given an opportunity to do any better than if I just stayed on track. Usually, I was just rewarded with a terrible power up or an upgrade coin. That’s another of the disappointments in this game – the upgrades are useless. There are three sections to upgrade: your speed, which is an upgrade to your race in the same way a fireworks cannon attached to a cobra is an upgrade to a petting zoo; your armour, which is all but useless when you can insta-repair any time with very little penalty; and damage, which is the only one you should be interested in but will gain no entertainment from because all the damage upgrades make no visible difference to your vehicle and only barely affect how hard you drive into people.
I can see where the developers were going with the power-ups, though. They needed to be kooky and stick with the theme. Sadly, this took much higher priority than a power up that wasn’t really f**king annoying. Take the ‘Bouncy Bouncy’ power up that makes you bounce a few times. It adds nothing, is really annoying and definitely isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. There are a few saving grace power-ups: the Opponent Tosser will launch an enemy into the ether if they’re too near and the Slaughter Mortar is essentially a green shell from Mario Kart, but none of them are particularly exciting and almost all of them are unhelpful.
The best function of the game is probably how the vehicles get torn up. Your car can be ripped in half through both axes, squashed flat or be just a bonnet and two wheels while still trundling along squishing cows beneath your tireless rims. There was a point several hours in where I thought I might be warming to the game: I had just about figured out how to turn corners (kinda) and watching the animation of my car pull itself back together – including its driver – offered the same sort of satisfaction you get when you click your knuckles or steal your boss’s sandwich. It’s helpful because the cathartic glee of running down pedestrians from the original 90s Carmageddon simply doesn’t exist here. Running down pedestrians no longer holds any shock value and developer Stainless Games has noticed this. To address this they unsuccessfully tried to ramp up the controversy by inserting wheelchair bound targets, grizzly bears, dogs and penguins (and cows, but no one seems to care what happens to cows).
Speaking of the original Carmageddon, it’s not just the gameplay elements that feel tacked on to the original. The graphics look like they were copied and pasted and then haphazardly smoothed over. Buildings give the impression a nativity play art department knocked them up with styrofoam and a spray can, the draw distance is unforgiving for a game where the brakes don’t care to slow you down and you only play against five other cars at a time. This is fair enough to expect of a game that has a lower budget and would be sold for peanuts, but a game that’s retailing at £29.99 has no right to look like it fell out of a Jenga box.
Fans of music group Maximum Sexy Pigeon might enjoy the music since – as fans of the series – they and other bands lend their tracks to the game. I’ve never heard of them but if you have you might enjoy the dirty dubstep and grunge playing throughout. The music works as an appropriate analogy for the game, actually. You’ll need iron-clad resilience and nostalgia blinders to match with the nostalgia box over your head to get over just how unenjoyable this game is. It might not be so bad if you were able to play, finish, start a new race and repeat, but the loading screens are inexcusably long and the rounds can last what feels like forever. A slow pace is definitely not what this game needed, especially since the cars move conspicuously slow as it is.
The reason Carmageddon: Max Damage shouldn’t exist isn’t because it was sloppily made: a few tweaks and it could even have been fun. The problem is the original Carmageddon was very, very much a game of its time and really has no place in the world today. Carmageddon came out in 1997, only a few years after Mortal Kombat. The world was furious at the rebellious youth being rebellious with their violent entertainment, so more and more games were striving for gritty, gory concepts in an attempt to get free promotion from an exasperated media. Carmageddon was a breath of fresh air that said, “Yes, we know we’re gory, that’s part of the joke”. The whole thing was over the top, tongue in cheek nonsense that threw crap sex puns at you while you slid through a conga-line of pedestrians (or zombies, if you bought it in the UK). Intentional or not, it was a beautiful parody of the hysterical attention games were attracting and a reminder to everyone that taking games seriously made as much sense as taking Tony The Tiger seriously. Carmageddon: Max Damage, with its crass sense of humour, it’s quaint attempt at gore and bizarre strain to capitalise off of Mario Kart 64, definitely belongs in a different era.
If you’re still not convinced, the game uses the line “All your checkpoints are belong to us”.