Wreckfest looks like the kind of game committed racing fans can sink their teeth into, with options to customize the racing experience by tweaking game settings, tuning a variety of vehicle specs, upgrading key car components, and purchasing various parts and other vehicles. It only looks like it to me because instead of tweaking I’ve spent all my time consumed by the unadulterated joy of flooring it inside a giant pinball machine.
Bugbear Entertainment’s destructive racer might be a spiritual successor to the developer’s own FlatOut series and even reminded some of the Destruction Derby games, but I was hoping for a game like Criterion’s Burnout titles – specifically Takedown and Revenge – and I was not at all disappointed. And while it doesn’t have the set piece hazards of Split Second, every race can boil down to one big set piece of potential carnage.
For me, the game is a lean-forward, laugh-out-loud experience through to the finish line, if players can make it that far. Early on I’d try to sit back and enjoy the competition, but inevitably the taut races forced me to sit up and lean in, and the crowded field and resulting mayhem often had me laughing at the sheer chaos from moment to moment. The cherry on top is – like in Burnout – using that chaos to your advantage.
Players at the main menu can choose between Play (Career, Custom Event, Multiplayer, DLC Store), Garage (My Cars, Paint Shop, Upgrades, Tune, Market) and Miscellaneous (Settings, Profile, Credits). Among Settings, if I recall, you can select AI difficulty – I believe the default is Novice. But I’ve noticed that even at this setting, opponents race aggressively and will sometimes drive you into a barrier or off your line.
Most content is unlockable, so gamers begin by choosing from select unlocked Regional Junior events in the Career path. Tiers beyond that are National Amateurs, Pro Internationals, Challengers and World Masters. Events at least among the first two tiers include Lawnmower Deathmatch, Demolition Racing, Banger Racing, Demolition Derby, Folk Racing Series, Scandinavian Tour and Survival Race Challenge.
I’ve played several hours through events in Regional Junior and National Amateurs and am currently a rank 10 driver, just to give you an idea of how far I’ve progressed. I’ve only driven a few different vehicles and upgraded one with multiple new parts and a paint job. With opponents still set to Novice difficulty I can usually rank high though some races require multiple attempts either to win or also achieve secondary objectives.
Secondary objectives typically involve the level of destruction you cause in your wake. That damage might be calculated in dollars, number of opponents spun out, how many other cars your wrecked, etc. They’re fun goals in and of themselves and some will happen spontaneously without you even trying. But on the downside, attempting them while also trying to place is a risk-reward calculation on the player’s part.
Of course, players will want to take advantage of opportunities to dispatch the competition and, like Burnout Takedown and Revenge before it, those moments make for some of the most fun. Driving an opponent into the guardrail or obstacle, crashing them into others including oncoming traffic, spinning them out, and bouncing off them in a turn all are easy to pull off strategic choices that are rewarding moments in and of themselves.
That satisfaction is due to how cars handle, their physics and damage modeling. Vehicles all drive realistically and careen into each other and obstacles in a believable way. I’m not saying it has the authenticity of a sim racer – especially when your car is reduced to a frame on wheels – but this arcade racer sells its driving and carnage in an immersive and thrilling way that rains debris and raises your pulse in equal measure.
If you fail when trying to waylay your competition, it might result in you losing time or position, and can be catastrophic for your finish. Then again, you can be sidelined even without sticking your neck out. The worst feeling is when you’re leading into the final lap and someone careens into you spinning your car and requiring either a reset or maneuver back into the lane that in many cases will send you to the back of the pack.
That said, I’ve never really felt cheated by the game so far. Drivers don’t rubber-band to the front of the field, they don’t go out of their way to total you though events can have that effect, and your racing isn’t undermined often enough to feel it’s by design. Still, some track designs are simply devious and made to encourage disaster at seemingly every turn. But such creativity is appreciated even when head-on or cross-traffic sends your car flying.
That’s right, there are times when opponents will come straight at you or even cross your path simply due to the layout of certain tracks. Also, many tracks will funnel drivers down sharp turns or into narrow paths or roundabouts. These choke points invariably lead to carnage, made even worse when laggards (perhaps including you sometimes) are barreling down in the opposite direction. The chaos can be nerve-wracking and hilarious at the same time.
There’s one track in particular that’s shaped like an incomplete oval with small circles at either end (think a bracelet joined by a chain, but without the chain). Cars turn around in the circle and race to the roundabout on the opposite end. Not only does this cause vehicles to crash into each other in the roundabouts, but face head-on collisions with cars racing in the opposite direction. It’s sinister, and thrilling.
Another track, if I recall, is shaped like two parallel straightaways with two sets of turnarounds at both ends and merging traffic in the middle. Even now I’m honestly not sure how this track works and just floor it till the race ends, hoping not to get a wrong-way heads up in the process. How I end up placing or even winning I’m still not sure! But as with other racing games, the journey is an end in and of itself and it’s a fun track.
Tracks come in all shapes and sizes and sport a variety of surfaces including pavement or dirt and sometimes on the same track. Players will find themselves drifting through corners with the Handbrake and flooring it down straightaways. At least these are the only controls I’ve used for the most part so far, though I’ve since discovered that applying the Brake into hairpin turns has its advantages. I’ve yet to use Clutch or Gear Down(?).
The controls are another example of options that I haven’t gotten around to trying simply because I’ve been enjoying myself that much with default settings and basic driving options. But it’s also testament to how well the vehicles themselves control. Granted, I have only two or three in my Garage right now and tried perhaps two or three others depending on the race, but in general they control tightly and don’t float around the tracks.
The one exception are vehicles in certain Challenges such as Lawnmower Deathmatch Challenge – Eat Dirt, Survival Race Challenge – Great Escape and Sofa Race Challenge – Couch Craze. The lawnmowers actually control relatively okay, but the Supervan (I believe it’s called) in the Great Escape and the motorized couches in Couch Craze are nightmares to control, though I suspect this might be by design.
After all, one would presume that a three-wheeled deathtrap (especially against buses!) and a sofa on wheels would control poorly and indeed they do. The best that players can manage are subtle presses of the thumbsticks at a moderate pace to prevent careening out of control. The races themselves are somewhat manageable but really require a high degree of patience and commitment to see them through.
The lawnmower appears in a deathmatch that is, albeit to a lesser degree, representative of destruction derby competitions. In this and the derbies, opponents face each other on the outskirts of a circular field and race to the middle with the goal of knocking the other drivers out of competition. An car icon in the corner of the screen tallies the toll to parts of your vehicle as the event plays out and you take increasing damage.
This is a pretty nifty feature, especially in destruction derbies, as you can monitor the wear and tear and adjust your strategy accordingly. For instance, if you’ve taken too much damage to the front of your vehicle and the engine, you can focus on driving backward into opponents. You’ll have visual cues, too, like a smoking engine that turns to flame when you’ve wrecked, but the monitor and alerts keep helpful tabs.
Like in races, sometimes the best strategy is to pick your battles. Going all out to destroy everyone will result in you wrecking your ride, but biding your time, choosing carefully and sometimes escaping a crowded field can prolong your troublemaking ability. And, it turns out, driving in reverse is not too difficult, thanks to the controls and handling. Though targeting vehicles in an open field takes more skill than on enclosed tracks.
Even when things go wrong in Wreckfest, they go oh so right. Random crashes never cease to entertain. But the wrong-way carnage that can result when players surrender to a losing proposition plays out like Burnout’s Crash mode replete with maximum carnage but minus the juicy multipliers. The fact the game doesn’t rein in players too strictly, allowing you to drive the wrong way for a while or stray a little off course is appreciated.
Add to all this a custom event feature and players can generate their own brand of vehicular mayhem. Choose the event, track, time of day, vehicles and, I think, opponent AI then let the festivities begin! For the one event I created, I dropped my car into a field of lawnmower riders. It might not have been fair, but it was definitely fun. There’s also a camera mode/option to commemorate your destructive tendencies, though I haven’t experimented with it.
A couple caveats about the game that don’t impact my enjoyment but are noticeable elements that take me out of the experience from time to time. Collisions sound more like a ping than the crunch of crumpling metal, so much so that I often imagine it’s part of the hard rock background. Speaking of, I think I’d prefer my racing music to be the electronica of menu selection screens instead of the more metal driving tracks.
All told, Wreckfest has already given me more than I could have hoped for despite spending little time exploring the considerable depth it appears to offer including online competition. It’s been a long time since an arcade racer has given me the kind of frenetic thrill that this joyride has generated, using solid controls and handling plus deep damage modeling and creative track design to reward players with a wickedly fun drive.
(This post was based on a review code of Wreckfest for Xbox One. The game released August 27 on that platform and PlayStation 4.)
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