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Carmageddon: Max Damage review
I had high hopes going into Carmageddon: Max Damage. After all, what could be more fun than roaring around in a souped up death-machine, mowing down pedestrians and smashing other cars into scrap metal? Unfortunately, this revival of the controversial vehicular combat series is an exercise in missed opportunities and wasted potential, marred by sloppy controls and poor design decisions.
Carmageddon: Max Damage is a straightforward game: You drive a car, chosen from a selection of wildly impractical vehicles bristling with spinning blades and gleaming spikes, and compete in a variety of events across a lengthy career mode. The different event types all put their own spin on things, but the basic game-play is always the same: you drive around and destroy both the opposition and any pedestrians unlucky enough to cross your path. It sounds simple, but unfortunately this is where it all goes wrong, as many basic elements of the game simply don’t work as well as they should.
The first and most obvious problem is the handling. Vehicle based games live and die by their controls, and Carmageddons are simply terrible. Vehicles move with the grace and precision of a drunk walrus, sometimes lurching wildly from side to side at the faintest nudge of the controls, other times barrelling directly into a wall in total defiance of your desperate efforts to turn. Add to this the frequent jostling and ramming of the other cars, and simply getting from A to B becomes a herculean task. This is obviously a major issue for a game in which accurate ramming is a key part of success, and it’s compounded by the incredible durability of your foes. It’s extremely disheartening to finally overcome all the issues and deliver a perfect, head-on ram, only to see your target keep on driving like nothing happened. Combined, these two factors cause many missions to drag on interminably: an unforgivable sin in a game that should be a non-stop adrenaline rush.
With ramming being so difficult, you’ll find yourself relying heavily on item pickups, and these are a mixed bag. There’s an impressive variety on offer, including weapons, speed boosts, power ups, and various special effects, but many just aren’t very useful. Some deal small amounts of damage, slow down pedestrians, or give sundry other minor benefits. The more powerful weapons are a lot of fun to use though, tearing through opponents like tissue paper in highly satisfying displays of billowing flames and flying shrapnel.
Once you’ve got a handle on the basic controls, you’ll have to contend with the unique challenges offered by each of the games six modes. The most basic mode, Classic Carma, gives the player a choice of objectives to complete within a time limit: either drive through a series of checkpoints (ideal for people who enjoy extremely basic time trial challenges), run down all pedestrians in the level (tempting, but this takes too long to be really entertaining) or destroy all of the opposing vehicles (this is what the game is really all about). This mode is decent fun if you opt for the violent solution, but is terminally dull otherwise, with maps that are much too large to drive around and pedestrians that are much too numerous to finish off until long after the novelty has gone stale. Even wrecking the opposition can be a long job, often lasting upwards of twenty minutes.
The next mode is one no car based game should be without: a race. Specifically, a Death Race. In Death Race mode, competitors race to be the first to complete a set number of laps, but there’s a twist: wrecking an opponent allows you to “steal” one of their laps, so it’s entirely possible to win without crossing the finish line a single time. Unfortunately, the game’s control issues are particularly apparent here. It’s difficult to build up momentum when you’re constantly crashing into walls and the other racers, and trying to move through the course quickly usually results in a series of spin-outs, skids, and pile-ups. On the whole, this is probably the weakest mode in the game, and is best played only when necessary.
By contrast, the next two modes are probably the best. Checkpoint Stampede and Ped Chase are two similar modes, both requiring competitors to race to a series of randomly placed goals in order to earn points. The difference between the two, however, is that Checkpoint Stampede has simple checkpoints while Ped Chase challenges players to kills specific pedestrians. Once again points can be stolen from opponents by killing them, adding a more direct form of competition. With less emphasis on precise driving than the race mode, the control issues are less of a problem, and the constantly shifting targets give the game a fast-paced and competitive feel.
Car Crusher is a basic death-match mode in which players compete to rack up kills on their opponents. While it can be fun, this mode also suffers with the difficult controls and enemies extreme durability. Scoring one kill can take a while, and it’s also quite common to do most of the damage and have another opponent steam your kill, which is intensely frustrating.
The final mode, Fox And Hounds, is an interesting one: the first player (the fox) must attempt to avoid the others (the hounds). If a hound touches the fox, he becomes the new fox, and the first player to reach a target amount of cumulative time as the fox is the winner. It’s a novel idea, but unfortunately it doesn’t really work: with five clumsy, lumbering hounds all chasing the same fox, the usual result is a massive six car pile-up in which fox status is passed around more or less at random. It’s good for a laugh if you just want to see cars get smashed, but it gets old fast.
Despite these criticisms, it doesn’t mean that the game has nothing going for it. Sometimes, when everything lines up just right, Carmageddon: Max Damage is a blast. When you fly off a ramp and somersault through the air to land on top of a crowd of pedestrians, that’s fun. When you nail an opponent with a perfect ram that turns them into a pile of flaming scrap, that’s fun. When you see an enemy about to steal the next checkpoint and blast him off a cliff with the mighty Anvil Launcher, that’s also a lot of fun. Unfortunately, these moments just don’t come often enough, and are buried in a mess of bad controls and dubious game design.
One thing Carmageddon does get right is its visuals. The cars are all unique and lovingly designed with a variety of destructible parts which crumple, smash, and break off in a satisfying fashion as the vehicle takes damage. The environments are varied and detailed, featuring cities, deserts, factories, and plenty of other locations, all of which have a sense of life to them. Pedestrians mill around in impressively large crowds, though they don’t look particularly detailed individually. This is a good looking game, and smashing through everything it puts in your path will give you plenty of screenshot-worthy moments.
Just as important as the graphics is the sound, which is near perfect. The aural environment of Carmageddon is a mix of screeching tires, smashing metal, and explosions, backed by a pulsing techno soundtrack that makes every moment seem epic. The only real flaw here is the pedestrians, who don’t sound quite as panicked as they probably should.
Unfortunately Carmageddon’s great visuals and soundtrack can’t save it from its awful controls and mediocre game-play. A great game can occasionally be seen in this wreckage, particularly when playing the Checkpoint Stampede and Ped Chase modes, but you have to wade through a lot of awkward, tedious, and frustrating game-play to get to it. Unless you have the patience of a saint or are just really, really desperate for a vehicular combat game, you should probably skip Carmageddon: Max Damage.
Carmageddon: Max Damage was played on XBOX ONE