Carmageddon: Max Damage Review

By Andrew Ogley, 5 months ago
Back in 1997, a game loosely based on the movie Death Race 2000 hit PCs. The subject matter of running over and killing pedestrians had censors clamoring to have it removed from sale. Carmageddon was banned in a large number of countries and was only finally released in some when the original victims were replaced with robots and zombies. At the time, the game was vilified and considered the primary example of how wrong video games could be. The notoriety didn't hurt sales and there was an edge of rebelliousness and mischief to those of us who were able to get a copy without our parents and teachers knowing, swapping stories on our stylish automotive kill streaks. Carmageddon: Max Damage is the latest installment of the franchise, successfully funded through Kickstarter. Nearly 20 years after the original, the fans finally have a Carmageddon that can take advantage of the powers in a modern console ... then again, perhaps not.

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For the uninitiated, there's not much of a story to Carmageddon; actually, there's none at all. You get a car that is kitted out with all kinds of blades and weaponry. You drive around a city or arena and you try to kill all living creatures around you -- dogs, cows, sheep and, of course, pedestrians. In fact, this is the core of Carmageddon and it is very non-discriminatory in allowing you to select the victims: young folks, old ladies with walking frames, nuns, cyclists, joggers, hipsters and people in mobility scooters. There are also bonuses for the more exotic kills that are extolled by somewhat juvenile messages on the screen. Running over a sheep will earn you a "baaad person" bonus, while hitting people with your open doors will net you the "get your flaps out" bonus. It's all very laddish but compliments most of the other themes that are running throughout the game.

If that's not enough, you can also crash into and deliberately wreck the cars of the other five competitors in the arena, earning you more points. To make this wanton destruction even easier and, depending on your opinion, more fun, arenas are littered with respawning powerups - affectionately known as pups in the community - that provide wackier powers such as turning your car into a vacuum cleaner that sucks victims towards you, instant decapitations of nearby victims, or another that dismembers their legs so that they can't run from your rampaging vehicle.

Carmageddon Preorder Cars and Skins

Naturally, even soft bodied peds - the in-game name for the unfortunate victims - will damage your death machine and opponents will be trying even harder to inflict damage on your car. Happily, you can repair your vehicle on the move. A single press of a button will start repairing the car, seemingly rewinding time and healing damage. Metal will unbuckle, straighten and fix itself, and lost parts scattered that were around the map will come hurtling back to reattach themselves to the car. Anything unfortunate enough to be standing in the way is destined to become another victim. It's a cool effect that is reminiscent of the self-healing Plymouth in the horror film "Christine". It will cost you points to fix the car, although you can never run out of points and will simply go into negative figures so that you can carry on healing and rampaging. The damage modelling on the cars is one of the better points of the game with vehicles being broken into a multitude of pieces; they can even split in half during the manic mashups.

Additionally, the player's garage can be expanded by claiming opponents cars during the different events. One car is nominated to be shut down and it is down to the player to wreck it and claim it. There are actually quite a number of cars that are available, 31 in total, and each has different characteristics of armor, speed, and aggressiveness. All of those characteristics can be further enhanced if the player can find enough upgrade tokens that are scattered throughout the maps. Cars can defy gravity, racing up the side of multistory buildings, performing loop-the-loops on twisted surfaces that would be at home in any Trackmania title, or making death defying jumps over bridges and rooftops. In keeping with the laddish humor, there are also collectibles that are scattered about some of the levels, although the point of a "smelly bush" collectible remains a mystery. It's all quite insane.

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The game has six game modes that are gradually unlocked over the course of a campaign of 16 chapters. Each chapter features three to four different events across various arenas, meaning that there are over 60 events and a lot of content to get through. Classic Carma - the traditional game mode - can be won in any one of three ways: racing a number of laps through checkpoints, killing a specific number of pedestrians, or wrecking all of the other cars. Other modes, such as car crusher where players claim a specific number of car wrecks, or pedchase where players must be the first to run over a number of randomly spawning pedestrians, all have a specific goal. Each kill in the game rewards the player with points that accumulate and gradually unlock subsequent chapters in the career mode.

For those looking to take the game further, there are also freeplay and multiplayer game modes. Freeplay enables the player to setup any event or even a playlist of events, but competing does not earn any rewards or advance the player's campaign. Multiplayer seems more underwhelming as it turns into a six player demolition derby without any victims to massacre during the online rampages. Unfortunately, multiplayer was almost impossible during the review due to the lack of online matches. Aside from that, murderous mayhem is never far away regardless of the mode. In short, the game is an extreme form of wacky races with psychotic powerups, insane racing, violent killings, and a soundtrack of heavy metal that fits perfectly even if some of the titles and band names will never make it to any respectable radio station.

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To some, all of the above may sound hilarious and great fun, except it isn't. Sadly, the actual game mechanics fail catastrophically and totally undermine the whole point of the game. Perhaps the most puzzling of all of the shortcomings in the title, is the driving. Whilst no-one would have been expecting the level of control required for Forza or Project CARS, you might expect to be able to drive and control the vehicles in a driving game. Bizarrely, this is simply not the case; the car handling is the worst that I've encountered in a very long time. It's difficult to say whether the team were trying to recreate the feeling of controlling a car using arrow keys and a space bar, but all of the cars are borderline uncontrollable. After 12 hours of playing, I'd finally gotten to the point of being able to take a corner at speed using a combination of handbrake and normal brake, but even that only worked if the surface was flat and you didn't hit anything, or nothing hit you. If any of those conditions failed, all bets were off.

Whilst having a handling model that just doesn't handle is frustrating enough, the player's task is made all the more difficult by the AI opponents in each level. Amazingly, the AI manages to be brutal and stupid at the same time. During Classic Carma events, there are three ways to win the event. The AI seems interested in none of those and seems only hellbent on pursuing the player. In those events, you are left wondering why the AI is even present other than to occasionally frustrate the player. At least in the other events the AI does make an attempt to win, or at least some of the opponents do. Others just seem to want to pin you - like a magnet - on their vehicles and drive around with you glued to the front of their car.

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The physics in the world are also off the scale as clipping even the smallest bump can send you hurtling uncontrollably through the air. This means that the events that are based on hitting random checkpoints or random pedestrian targets can become maddeningly frustrating as you rush towards the intended target, only to clip something and end up tumbling through the air in a totally different direction. If this wasn't disorientating enough, the camera viewpoint seems to be on a similar track and twitches back and forth before you realize what's going on. Again, while on level ground and heading in one direction with no obstacles in the way, all is well. As you soon as you hit reverse or travel through a container - the docks level has a number of them - the camera can't seem to decide what to do and throws a minor fit, bouncing backwards and forwards and often losing track of the player.

If the game wasn't already frustrating enough, the 'pups' are another problem. Whilst there are some really fun powerups to be found, there are also those tat are designed to make life enough tougher, turning your car to granite, turning the suspension to jelly, turning the car into glass, or making the gravity like you would find on Jupiter or the moon. Even that is all well and good if the player knew which was which, but it's all random. The only visible indication is through color coding that indicates whether it will affect the player or potential targets, but you're never sure in which way. There are also those that are just confusing, such as a drag race 'pup' that accelerates the car so much that the front wheels instantly lift off the ground; these are the same front wheels that are used for steering, not that it seems to matter here.

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As well as the camera, the actual presentation itself is there to add the final twist. Whether it was a conscious design decision to recreate the past or not, the graphics look like they have come straight from a previous generation of gaming. Textures are large and blocky, the victims look terrible, and the environments look very bland. While the cars don't look that bad, they don't look that good either. The "Christine" effect remains the best thing about them, and the game.

Achievement hunters will be pleased to know that most of the 30 achievements are relatively straightforward, although there will be a certain amount of grinding that is needed to complete them all. Depending on how you feel about the game, this could be 30+ hours of delight or 30+ hours of drudgery. Very quickly it becomes apparent that Carmageddon is a one trick pony that is then mercilessly and relentlessly flogged to death over the course of 60+ levels. Whilst playing, the hours did seem to disappear but there is a fine line between catharsis and mind-numbing, and it feels that Carmageddon falls firmly into the latter category. It all comes down to the player. If you're a fan, it's all there and there's a lot of it. If you're not a fan then head back to Steelport or Los Santos; those worlds are far far better than this.

Summary

Carmageddon: Max Damage represents a dated concept where controversy and notoriety were enough to guarantee sales and keep players happy. Sadly, that edginess and rebelliousness has been left behind by more modern titles that can do mayhem and carnage so much better. Tellingly, Carmageddon looks and plays like the relic of the past that it is and it fails to deliver on so many levels. It is an extremely polarizing title that you will either love or loathe; there won't be many in the middle ground. The game ticks all of the boxes for a Carmageddon game and fans will no doubt be thrilled, but for the rest of the gaming fraternity, the title has no redeeming features and there is nothing to recommend it. In short, if you're not a fan, steer well clear of this one.
2 / 5
Positives
  • Keeps to the essential core of the franchise
  • Many levels and hours of gameplay
Negatives
  • Lacklustre graphics and presentation
  • Terrible driving and car handling
  • Overly aggressive but equally dumb AI
  • Confusing camera
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent nearly 12 hours in total completing 8 chapters of the campaign, plus freeplay and multiplayer. 11 out of 30 achievements were unlocked. The download code for the Xbox One was provided by the publisher for the review purposes.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.