Carmageddon: Max Damage is the latest in the popular PC smash-em-up racing franchise, and the first instalment to zoom on to Xbox One. Carmageddon’s been around, in one form or another, since 1997 – the original inspired by the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000. With Carmageddon approaching its second decade, has it matured well, or is it starting to creak?
Remaining true to its roots, Carmageddon: Max Damage is incredibly violent and thick with dark humour – and one needs to embrace the pantomime of it all to enjoy it fully. So we dug out our studded gloves, dog collar and leather jacket, slipped on our 70’s aviator shades, and chewed on a toothpick for good measure. Too much information?
Carmageddon is all about death and destruction; the weapons involved wheeled monsters of destruction, points scored by mowing down competitors and bystanders alike across huge open maps. As premises go, it’s not hugely imaginative – but simple games can be fantastic if all the elements come together in a glorious, satisfying whole. Carmageddon: Max Damage starts well, offering a range of single player game types with interesting-sounding names, like ‘Checkpoint Stampede and ‘Classic Carma.’ Multiplayer is on offer too, with a variety of game options with which to tinker, and the option to just jump in to whatever game has space for you. More on that later.
The selection of wheeled wonders on offer is broad – lots to choose from and lots more to unlock as you progress (simply wreck a car during a career mode event to unlock it). Progression through the career mode, though, is decidedly dull. There’s little impression of speed – a game like this is crying out for manic action and Max Damage simply doesn’t deliver. The huge open world areas are also dull to traverse – and not that pretty to look at. The journey from one side of the map to the other in search of the next target is a chore rather than the breakneck journey you’d expect.
Things get a little better when you’ve unlocked upgrades and tooled your steed of choice up with some of the more interesting weapons – modified digger buckets, spikes, and a rotating blade amongst our personal favourites. Only a little better, though. The handling never feels sufficiently weighty, although landing a solid hit on a competitor does result in a satisfyingly meaty explosion. The large maps, and poorly designed game types that go heavy on the random spawn points and light on enjoyment, turn what should be an enjoyably raucous sprint into a trudging marathon.
AI opponents are certainly artificial, but lacking in intelligence and easily thrown off their game; often, they spend their time spinning around in the same spot until the event finishes, or wandering off to empty areas of the map, devoid of targets or interest.
Multiplayer removes that issue, of course, but presents another more fundamental one; whilst we could expect empty lobbies and lengthy matchmaking prior to the game’s official release (the opportunity to crush fellow journos was very tempting), in the days after launch we still had difficulty finding a match, easily spending 10-15 minutes trying to find a lobby and game to join.
Disappointingly, it feels like Carmageddon’s day ended – at very best – a decade ago. It’s difficult to be subtle about humour that’s centred around different ways of smearing people across the scenery – and given the subject matter developer Stainless Games has done a good job at reinforcing the cartoonishness of it all – but even crude humour has evolved. It’s a shame that Carmageddon hasn’t kept pace. Add in uninspiring vehicle handling, weak networking, poor AI and dull game design, and the natural conclusion is that Carmageddon should have been sent to the scrapyard years ago.
Carmageddon: Max Damage is available from the Xbox Store, priced £29.99.
Reincarnation of a nineties classic that reminds us that games are much better now.
Carmageddon: Max Damage is a port of last year’s PC title Carmageddon Reincarnation and, without any significant additions for the console release, it doesn’t offer anything over last year’s game. Moreover, it doesn’t offer much more than the original did almost twenty tears ago. The gaming landscape has changed in that time, but Carmageddon hasn’t, other than to feel slower.
If Stainless Games can improve the AI, fix the networking and tighten up game design then Carmageddon: Max Damage might be offer some light – if lowbrow – relief, but in its present form there are just too many flaws to make this game worth recommending.