There were few words which struck more excitement in nineties and noughties gamers than the term ‘demolition derby’. The games had you crashing, smashing and t-boning your way through arena style deathmatches in which the last car standing was declared victorious. Instead of asking you to hug the apex through a corner, these games instead prioritise your ability to attack and defend from other cars. And now they’re making a comeback, with Wreckfest from BugBear – the team behind the FlatOut series – bashing its way onto console.
What’s curious about Wreckfest is that it aims to mix the crash and burn gratification of the demolition derby type games with more serious racing games, creating an interesting hybrid of simulation and arcade racing in one petrol-infused experience.
The bulk of Wreckfest’s content is played out through a career mode which challenges players to climb through the ranks, moving from amatuer racing through to the professional leagues across a number of race types. Each of the different classes has stadium races, longer endurance races and the star of the show, demolition derbies. Players can also create custom events or venture into the game’s multiplayer component for hectic races against other players.
Wreckfest’s most interesting facets are its physics and the destruction systems, both of which intertwine to create something truly unique. Vehicles crumple in amongst the mass of cars; bonnets, wing mirrors and bumpers are hurled across the track and cars roll erratically as a result of being flipped. The results are visually pleasing and tracks are strewn with the debris of cars by the end of each race, showing off just how impressive Wreckfest’s engine is.
This is not solely limited to visual effects. Each hit to your car causes damage which slowly strips away your exterior, resulting in irreversible damage to your car’s inner workings. Everything from steering to your transmission can be damaged, affecting how your car performs and making it that bit more difficult to wrestle it to your will. Demolition derbies are often a delicate dance between the necessary amount of offense and a proactive defense. This is where the physics and destruction engines are at their absolute best.
Unfortunately, I sometimes found myself growing frustrated with the destruction engine in some of Wreckfest’s longer races. One race in particular left me wedged into a pole after a particularly aggressive AI decided they’d had enough of my shenanigans. I was five laps into a six lap race, which meant I had to start the race all over again. I don’t typically use rewind features in driving games, but I believe the unpredictable and aggressive AI in Wreckfest does warrant the option of one. It would at least reduce some of the frustrations I had.
Fortunately, these frustrating moments were few and far between, as I generally had a lot of fun throughout my time with Wreckfest. It managed to perfectly capture the fun of the Destruction Derby series, while also boasting some seriously impressive destruction tech.
The level of customisation available in car handling and the cars themselves actually took me by surprise. Many of the options you would expect to see in the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo are on offer here, albeit a little less complex. Players can adapt Wreckfest to suit their specific style and ability, meaning the game is actually much more accessible than it appears.
When Wreckfest isn’t proving itself a capable racer, it’s also throwing you in a demolition derby filled with combine harvesters, or forcing you to wreck Reliant Robins while driving a school bus. The career mode throws some genuinely whacky scenarios in your direction and just lets you have unmitigated fun.
I did notice a few visual bugs in the environments surrounding race tracks, along with some noticeable pop in from foliage. I feel there was certainly a conscious trade off, both as the game was initially developed and then brought from PC to console, with Wreckfest’s intricately detailed damage physics taking precedence over the wider environment. Wreckfest’s biggest problem on console is its lengthy loading screens. While a few updates have fixed the occasional crashes I experienced prior to release, the loading screens are still frustratingly long and are the one unfortunate blemish in an otherwise fantastic game.