Vehicular combat is a genre that is not delved into that much these days. Sure, there are the "arcadey" racing games like Burnout or Flatout which entirely eschew weapons, or the odd kart racer, but they just fail scratch the same itch. There was a time when games like Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8, Interstate ‘76, and Carmageddon gave you that real thrill of being in a machine built for destruction. It would seem that Stainless Games - the original creator of Carmageddon - felt that same itch, and decided to take it upon themselves to fill that void.
I have had the opportunity to play a pre-alpha build of their new game, Carmageddon: Reincarnation. This sequel comes in as the 4th release of a Carmageddon game, following Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now and Carmageddon: Total Destruction Racing 2000. Despite being in development since some time in 2011, Reincarnation did not find its first foothold in the gaming community until a successful Kickstarter in 2012. The game was just pushed live to Steam Early Access on March 27th of this year. Even after so long in development, the game is in early stages, and far from feature complete. Menu screens waste no time in letting you know that a certain level is only 53% complete, or that the car you are selecting is just 64% final. This makes it impossible to judge the game as a complete package, but the existing content allows you to get a sense of what the developers are striving for - and that is a true sequel to their original.
With vehicle-on-vehicle combat being one of the three mainstays of the gameplay, vehicle destructibility plays a large role in your performance. Damage is not just cosmetic - you can completely blow out the tires on your car so that turning a corner is like steering a cruise ship going full speed ahead. Another situation - you can become so banged up that your engine goes out completely, making you a sitting duck on the track. To keep you in the game, there is a currency system which you can use for repairs at any time during the race, so there is no need to wait until a pit stop or check point. Just like the lap clock, you start with a set amount of currency and earn more through sheer destruction. You can then pump some of that currency into minor, automatic repairs to your vehicle, or just repair it fully to stock condition, all while still driving the track. You can even pay a fee to reset your car back onto the track, for when you inevitably misjudge a cliff-side turn or an overzealous racer makes an aggressive pass and knocks you to the bottom of the ocean.
In my time play, I found that the only effective way to win is to focus on completing the laps. While it may seem easy enough to take out the 5 other AI racers, it seems that they too have the ability to repair and reset their cars, making it more than just a “5 and done” affair. As for the goal of hitting all of the pedestrians, that goal would be as time consuming as finding all the collectibles in an open world game. Some maps had over 600 pedestrians on the map, and although they are usually clustered around certain areas, some of those areas are so far off the beaten path you may never even think to look there. Their main value is as a source of credits and time, allowing you to finish those laps.
With the full preface that this game is in it’s early phases, there are still some worrying elements in the current state - namely vehicle handling, level design, and the power-up system. The vehicles feel like you are driving through a snow covered field at full tilt with the power steering turned off. Taking a turn demands that you slow to a crawl, and even then it seems as though the brakes are not as responsive as they should be. There are minor differences between different vehicles and the various track surfaces such as pavement, ice and dirt primarily. However, they just do not feel right yet. I could really see the handling model working well whether it is more arcade style of game like a Twisted Metal or Burnout, or even if it felt more realistic like a Flatout. The problem right now is that Carmageddon feels like it is currently stuck somewhere in the middle.
Level design seems equally as indecisive, with some tracks having a tight lap circuit with extraneous areas well out of that circuit. Meanwhile other maps may have an incredibly winding circuit and a few shortcuts that could make or break your lap time. The Docking Hell map has you racing through what looks to be a mix of a nuclear facility and a cargo dock. The circuit is practically a tight box, but there’s a large reactor pool in the middle which you can fall into, with little to accomplish. There are also a couple areas outside the circuit, which have cargo containers you can drive through. However, short of the occasional pedestrian or misguided AI, these detours are basically exploration for the sake of exploration. The Countryslide map, on the other hand, is a winding circuit that cuts back on itself a few times and includes some fairly big jumps and a good old loop-de-loop. There are a couple shortcuts that, if you are feeling particularly daring, could shave a good chunk of a minute off your lap time - but if you mess it up, you have to do some backtracking and you generally wind up paying dearly for your hubris. Another interesting terrain example is a large grassy area that looks to be a small golf course with the occasional pedestrian, but the time you would gain by hitting them is negated by the time you waste getting there in the first place. As each of the 4 maps currently in the game are listed as 53-63% final, I am hopeful that some of these odd points are fleshed out and a more cohesive design philosophy becomes evident.
The game does have a power-up system, allowing you to stock up on 4 power-ups which you can cycle through and trigger. Their effects can range from activated weapons you use on opponents, environmental changes, abilities that change handling of your car, provide free repairs or simply make it so that pedestrians dance or become fully dismembered when hit. However at the moment, it looks these power-ups are not even present in most of the maps currently available. It is not clear whether these will be a key aspect of every map, or every mode for that matter. Even using the ones that are available on a map, their effectiveness varies wildly and some I still have not figured out their full effects. One ability is the Opponent Freeze ray which, when activated, freezes a car in place. Problem is, you have to have that car right in front of your own. Sounds good in theory, but if you are moving at any real speed you will wind up slamming into that car as well while damaging yourself as much as them. There is a weapon that I found only once, and it grabs a nearby car and just throws it into a wall, instantly destroying it. There could be fun to be had here, but these things are all over the map in terms of effects and nearly indecipherable in their current state.
It feels like this game is going to have a lot of personality to it that we just fail to get from most modern games, which could lend Carmageddon: Reincarnation a unique charm. There is a certain brashness to the whole idea that there are hundreds of pedestrians scattered around the map and that they become an element to the gameplay and not just a visual joke when you hit them. This becomes compounded by the way these pedestrians change from map to map. One ice themed level has penguins mixed in. Another has herds of cows grouped together at the base of a big jump, which just so happens to be right at the starting line. Also, I could swear I saw some guys in hazmat suits doing the robot and the worm. If they eventually incorporate the player avatar from the original game (think of the Doom guy that shows your health level) but make it more reactive to events in the game - that could open up some more creative possibilities. Sure, it may only reach a level of immature humor like a Shadow Warrior or Duke Nukem, but that has a certain appeal in and of itself. As development continues, it will be interesting to see if some of the gameplay mechanics get reigned in and refined a bit further, and some of the potential for off-the-wall “did that just happen?” moments gets exploited to their fullest potential.
Article by Parker