PAX West: Wreckfest Allows Racers To Swap Much More Than Paint

By Mark Delaney, 9 months ago
If you've frequented YouTube gameplay videos over the past few years, it's maybe been hard to overlook Next Car Game, a physics-based stunt racing title that has been in Steam Early Access for far too long. Everyone not in the know will soon be introduced to that game on PC and consoles with its refined focus, improved gameplay suite, and, of course, a catchier name. Wreckfest, as it's now known, was rather quietly picked up by THQ Nordic for publishing in recent months. For those who may feel other popular racing series have forgotten about fun damage models and swapping more than paint with competitors, Wreckfest may be a breath of fresh air.

For racing fans who don't want to race so cleanly.For racing fans who don't want to race so cleanly.

At PAX West, I went hands-on with Wreckfest for 30 minutes. Among many options I chose a red car due to years of my son insisting they're the best kind. Afterwards, I chose a location for the derby too. The arena looked like the early days of the Mad Max universe; it was still presenting itself as a bit civilized but ready to tear the world apart. In a giant empty lot with curved embankments, tires and barrels strewn about, 23 AI drivers and I were ready to outlast the field and be crowned champion, or at least survivor. The bout began and in Hunger Gamesian fashion all the contestants barreled toward the middle, turning chunks of metal, paint, bumpers, and glass all to confetti for our parade of destruction.

Right away I thought the damage looked excellent, and my car felt appropriately heavy. It took a few minutes to get to grips with the two ton missile. Thankfully as I learned how best to steer my vehicle-turned-battering ram, the AI took each other out with regularity. The HUD let me know how many cars were left mobile and how badly damaged my own car was. Surviving in a Wreckfest demo derby is a matter of protecting your engine. Head-on collisions can be great offensive weapons, but they come with a personal cost too.

After a few more minutes of countless flips, crashes, and engines dying, we were down to just a handful of vehicles remaining of the two dozen that started. My once proud muscle car was looking hilariously close to a clown car at this point, with almost no protection being offered for the engine. With just three cars left I had to get creative. I put the car in reverse and targeted the survivors with the part of my car where the back bumper used to be. This made aiming harder and didn't offer the top speed of driving normally — if you can call a demolition derby "normal driving" — but it was the only way to ensure I didn't take myself out permanently while pursuing the remaining contestants.

Across different terrain and game modes, the constant in Wreckfest is addictive damage simulation.Across different terrain and game modes, the constant in Wreckfest is addictive damage simulation.

After a few more reverse plunges and sideswipes, only one enemy vehicle remained. My damage indicator was redder than a basket of tomatoes and I had just whiffed on taking out my opponent. We became stuck in a corner together, surrounded by barrels. Miraculously, I wiggled out first, sped to the opposite side of the outdoor arena, turned, and floored it for the enemy who was either a matador, making me the bull, or was about to finish in a respectable second place. At risk of a tie, I barreled for him head-on, finished off his damage indicator above his car and emerged broken beyond repair, but victorious.

I supplemented the demolition derby with two circuit races. The first took place on dirt roads and the second was in the shape of a very dangerous 8. Both of these races furthered the feeling that Wreckfest is built on a strong foundation. The game plays to its strengths with smart tracks, physics that feel like they can be relied upon, and a damage model that appears to be the deserved heart of the game. Offline modes and online races of 24 players are already built into the game, though I was told they're testing fields of 32 to see if it balances in all the ways it needs to.

Few communities adore the Forza series as much as TA, but if ever you've taken your McLaren 190 MPH directly into a guardrail and bounced off like pinball only to feel left wanting more from the crash, Wreckfest seems to scratch that itch most satisfyingly. The game is due on PC before the end of the year and a console release has been confirmed for early next year as well. Racing fans, especially those who don't prefer their races be clean, keep an eye on Wreckfest.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.