Carmageddon: Max Damage PS4 Review

When I first got hold of my Windows 98, Pentium 2 266mhz, Diamond 3DFX Voodoo 1, PC back in the middle of 1998, I had a demo disc from a magazine that included a snippet of Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now. I rather enjoyed its Iron Maiden banging soundtrack, its open racing and metal-on-metal carnage packed with a lot of crude, adult humour, running over pedestrians and generally being a bit of a bastard to everyone in that game in the name of gory fun. It made me go pick up the original Carmageddon in anticipation for its sequel, as at the time, it was a refreshing racing series that did not have any competition in its specialised area of vehicle combat with a twist of maniacal violence on an open race track, nor did any game manage to capture the deformation of cars as well as that game. 18 years later and the original developers, Stainless Games, are back with a new entry in the once dormant series, but for all the fun memories I had of Carmageddon II, how does a developer bring something that is such a 90s video game creation and update it for our current age?

Well the short answer for that question is they don’t, or they didn’t, as Carmageddon: Max Damage feels like it was ripped straight from Carmageddon, given a tiny upgrade in the visual department and dropped on current consoles. This a game that is made for people who had fond memories of the series, the people who are dedicated pedestrian hit and runners, the truly hardcore carnage makers, as the design of this game has been created in such a way that I think it will be repulsive for any newcomers trying to get into its old 90s feeling. It’s a huge shame that the developers did not try to attempt to reinvent the game or make it look amazing. What we get here, instead, is a title that looks shockingly like a launch game for the last generation and one that makes no improvement to the gameplay that was crafted back in the late 90s.

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Back then, Carmageddon had the national press on fire with its controversy content, even having a short ban in the United Kingdom before finally getting the go ahead. It’s reputation, not coming from the car-on-car action, but the inspiration of Death Race 2000, by including hundreds of pedestrians around the track in harms way of the racers. Pedestrians could be decimated into multiple limps, arms, heads and bodies flying in all directions, showering your 4:3 CRT display in blood sprays while awarding the player for it. Nowadays, violence has become embedded in a lot of games – even running over pedestrians – so the violence contained in Max Damage looses its shocking factor, especially with its unrealistic and laughable modelled civilians. For a series that was once a game trying to offend, it’s now just another violent video game with crude teenage humour – not that there is anything wrong with that, as there is room for a wide range of video games.

Max Damage is Carmageddon:Reincarnation – the PC release from last year that was Kickstarted to finish off development – with new modes and extras. People who have played that game will instantly have an idea what Max Damage is, and can probably make their verdict on that. For people who don’t know Carmageddon – Max Damage is essentially a racing game with no laws or restrictions set in some bizarre post apocalyptic world that enables these obviously insane people to drive wild. This allows the player to create as much chaos as they desire within the main bulk of the game, its career mode, a pretty lengthy campaign through multiple arenas, tracks and modes.

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There is no shortage on how to create damage, from using one of the 90+ inventive power ups (springs, anvils, ejectors, wobbly suspension, freeze rays, the list goes on), to ramming cars into rivers, buildings or even off a stadium roof. The openness of each map allows for experimental take downs across Max Damage‘s impressive amount of six game modes, offering plenty of variety across the campaign. This includes Death Race (finish first around the track), Ped Chase (kill the highlighted pedestrians until target met), Checkpoint Stampede (pass through an amount of random spawning checkpoints before everyone else), Fox ‘N’ Hounds (evade the hounds until timer runs out – think tag) and Car Crusher (destruction derby, where points are earned and lost depending on wasting opponents and yourself).

The last mode, and the one that fans will undoubtedly know, is Classic Carma, a callback to the original gameplay, where a win can be earned by passing checkpoints, wrecking all vehicles or killing all pedestrians. For me, this mode often ended with me ignoring the racing and focusing on exploding the remaining five racers. It’s usually the most fun activity to do, plus there is a chance to steal a vehicle to use permanently after a successful victory. That said, issues can arise. On one hand, it can be incredibly easy that it becomes boring due to dumb AI, on the other, it can be frustrating enough to say “screw it” and finish up the remaining laps and get the race over, because Classic Carma has times where the AI vehicles will be persistent about being wrecked after numerous attempts to smash them. It is worse when opposition vehicles are stuck in the open, as it’s a nightmare to get enough power to push them far enough into something to cause them to wreck, as somehow these almost destroyed vehicles manage to absorb a lot of your momentum to slow you down enough to not cause them to explode. There are times where it’s just boring trying to finish off an enemy, wasting time fighting the handling trying to get those last few hits. It really can frustrate in what should be incredibly fun game to play, instead, turns into a dull and irksome fight with controls, while the artificially intelligence is off being dumb stuck in a hole or being oblivious in how to play Carmageddon. These situations most likely would not exist if it wasn’t for the incredibly loose, floaty and simply awful vehicle handling.

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The series has been known to have an unnatural handling model, but either I have gotten worse at adapting to this or the previous games did not design the physics to be as this troublesome. Precision driving is only achievable at law abiding speeds, speeds that aren’t fun in this video game, and while I see what outrageous and amusing situations that can occur when things go wrong when blasting down a straight heading for a corner, it has become too much of a fixation in the design of the game that the fun of actually driving is replaced with the amusing outcome of accidents and the carnage that unfolds when no one can drive as precise as they want to.

Handling issues might be down to the fact that this game runs at a very surprising 30fps – even then it can drop under when partaken in destruction and the effect works come on screen. On the visual side, nothing here screams why this is the case. The world, even though jammed full of pedestrians, often feels voided of anything else, the environment detail is bland and flat, full of pop-in, and while there are probably some post processing effects that could not be done on the older consoles, the overall visual standards are rough – this not a nice looking game. I would go as far to say that this looks worse than some of the earlier last generation racers, such as fun Full Auto. Car models do fair better, and they have some genuinely great damage modelling, with a large number of parts smashing, bending, crumpling and breaking off, even to the point where players are left driving with their front two wheels and an engine. Nothing is unrepairable in Max Damage, so spending cash to fix will have all the missing pieces fly back to the car in a rather stylish animation that has the parts fitting back in to recreate a pristine vehicle.

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I should spare a paragraph for the god awful loading times as well, because they aren’t nice. We are taking periods of over a minute to load a race, no matter what event it is. It has been a while where I have had to sit for such periods of time during a load screen. It’s a painful inclusion, and the presentation outside of the game doesn’t fair any better, with rough, basic menus not always responding to presses on the X button to continue.

Carmageddon: Max Damage is unquestionably Carmageddon in design. One that will appeal to huge fans of the series, but keeping the game so close to the original feels like potential thrown out of the window. Max Damage is a game that comes filled with frustration, from the awful handling model to the bare bones limited visuals, from the tedious and drawn-out races to the generic music, everything about this recent Carmageddon game is just middling and sterile, and what fun is to be had is often in small spades that it is a struggle to play for extended periods of time. Bringing back oldies from the 90s might be a hot thing with all the successful indie games, but those come with fresh takes on existing ideas, Carmageddon: Max Damage remains so tightly attached to the 90s that what sounded like a good idea, and what should have been a stupidly fun game, sadly does not manage to equate to anything but being a boring and rough racing game.

4 out of 10