When I picked up the controller to play Carmageddon: Max Damage, I very quickly discovered that I was doing it all wrong. You see, until last week I had never played a Carmageddon game before. I knew of their ultra-violent legacy, but I was too young – sorry if that makes you feel old – I didn’t have a powerful enough computer, and I didn’t have a console.
So I tried to play it as a racing game, following the marked route through the streets of a city, while occasionally careening round a corner and carelessly mowing down the civilians or “peds” who got in my way. You can definitely play it as a race, going round this particular circuit five times and crossing the finish line first, but when the game is renowned for its vehicular manslaughter and when the AI veers off and disappears into other parts of the Bleak City map to do their own thing, you kind of get the feeling that pure racing isn’t how you’ll get the best out of the game.
No, you’ll get by far the most vehicular carnage in Classic Carma by chasing after and hounding the other racers. Crash into them as hard and as often as you possibly can, deforming their bodywork, taking wheels off and, eventually, smashing into them hard enough to make them explode and knock them out of the race entirely. Take out all of your opponents and you win the race.
Damage to all of the vehicles is modelled on the fly, based off the collisions you suffer. There’s no pre-baked damage here, so the side of your car will deform if you take a hit from the side, and a big shunt in the right place can take a wheel off and compress the front of your car to half the width. But it goes beyond that now, allowing for the exterior of the car to be burned by fire, or for cars to be cleft in twain. The Eagle R is pretty durable, so even with half of it missing, it will do its best Herbie impression at the end of The Love Bug.
However, you can repair your car on the fly at the cost of credits, holding a button to have the dents buffed out and parts that have been smashed off flying through the air to reattach themselves. You have to wait a while if you’ve left a wheel on the other side of the map, but you do actually get a bonus for taking out some peds with returning car parts. Of course, the other cars will pounce on any perceived weakness, so you might find yourself missing a wheel again just a few seconds later…
You’ll go up against all kinds of vehicles, from your fairly standard looking cars with haphazardly shaped metal welded onto it, to those with tracks and even an unwieldy looking drag racer. I often saw the drag racer just spinning around, seemingly completely out of control, but the devs chatting to me as I played said that it can actually do surprisingly well in a straight up race. Then there was the VW Beetle-alike that was practically the bane of my life for half an hour, thanks in part to the damage modelling and the rear engine giving it a lot more survivability to shunts from behind. It feels quite easy to reach a kind of stalemate, where two cars are dancing around each other without really being able to take the other out.
The main reason taking a dislike to this one particular car was really just because it kept interfering in the nonsense I was getting up to. Instead of racing or take out my opponents, I espied a large stadium that turned out to have American Football players and cheerleaders practicing on the field. As you can imagine, it was a bloody mess within seconds, and it only got worse as the AI cars joined me on the field and decided to keep crashing into me instead of letting me hit a ramp at full speed.
You get time added to the clock by mowing down the peds in the game, in order to facilitate just these kinds of antics, and now there’s more variety than ever before. There’s everything from people walking around, to people in wheelchairs, cyclists, mobility scooters, penguins, wolves, aliens and more – sadly there’s no people on the so-called hoverboards. They’re not smart, and simply amble into the road or stand around with no care for their own safety. Knocking down 780 peds on this map is another way to win the race.
There was an air of enraptured bemusement as I found the circular building with angled spiralling walls just begging for me to try and drive up the side to reach the top. I spent at least 5 minutes, if not longer, trying and failing to reach the top. It would be hard enough without the regular gaps in the walls to jump across, let alone with a Beetle whose driver was clearly born out of wedlock waiting to smash into me and steal the power ups whenever I succumbed to gravity.
I got my revenge by forcibly removing the driver from the car a little later – the cars keep on driving, mind you. There are over 90 power ups to get from the blue barrels dotted around the map, and this one ejects drivers from their cars. Then there’s springs which will attach to other objects, to spikes to spear peds on and drive around with their screams, and even a power up that removes all the limbs from the peds in one go, in a twisted homage to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
If there’s one real complaint I have, it’s that the city never really felt busy. That might not be a problem in other locations, as you head out to farm land, dusty canyons and frozen wastes, but in Bleak City, the game felt a little bit sparse and wanting a little more graphical prowess to overcome that.
But gameplay is key here, and there’s a catharsis to the kinds of surreal chaos that you can unleash. With an 18 rating in tow, Carmageddon can get away with its particular brand of hyper vehicular violence, and I doubt that fans of the originals would really want it any other way.