Crash! Bang! Wallop! What a game!
- Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
- Publisher: THQ Nordic
- Release date: 27th August 2019
- Genre: Racing
- Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
As racing games have become more realistic, demand has risen for them to include racing regulations and an adherence to authentic rules, with penalties for corner cutting, ramming other drivers off the road, and unsporting conduct. While this has improved the standard of racing somewhat, anyone who has joined a public lobby will be aware that it’s almost impossible to completely avoid the griefers, and many races descend into a demolition derby by the time you reach the first corner.
Now, with the release of Wreckfest, destroying your opponents is not only acceptable, it’s positively encouraged!
For anyone who was a fan of the Destruction Derby games from previous generations, a follow up game has been long overdue, and Wreckfest is a perfect contender for the throne. Featuring a wide range of fully destructible vehicles, and a varied roster of tracks, there’s plenty of variety on offer here.
Wreckfest could easily have been a simplistic racer, relying on its excellent damage modelling to draw people in, however, Bugbear have done a great job with the handling. Instantly accessible yet surprisingly nuanced controls allow you to charge around the circuits, and while it’s possible to have a lot of fun with no real racing experience, those that do will be treated to a racer that rewards skill as much as it does aggression.
The usual range of handling assists are included, with traction control, stability assist and automatic gearing all optional, but turn these off and you will be sliding, drifting and tank-slapping your way to victory (or epic failure). Changing road surfaces all affect your car differently, and taking too much curb or catching a jump wrong can send you into a spin or flip your car in an instant.
As you can imagine, all this damage takes its toll on your car, and that is where Wreckfest sets itself apart. In addition to the obvious visual impact, with panels deforming and ultimately being smashed off your car, and wheels being torn from their natural home within the wheel wells and strewn across the surface of the track, all these unintended modifications to your vehicle have significant consequences. Damage to your brakes can cause your car to skew to one side whilst braking, engine damage affects your acceleration and top speed, and losing a wheel… Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s not a favourable outcome.
There’s no open-world environment here, with the career mode comprising of a series of tournaments to complete. Progression is tied to performance in events, with more events opening as you complete the previous ones. There are only a few different types of events, but they are all great fun, and the different environments manage to keep each one feeling fresh. You will be racing on figure-of-eight circuits, dirt and tarmac ovals, and twisty tracks, as well as others featuring insane crossover sections, offset jumps and oncoming traffic.
Demolition derby events regularly pop up in your career, which are either last man standing or deathmatches, with the latter being a challenge to get the best kill/death ratio in a set time limit. Thanks to the heavily populated races, with up to twenty-four cars on track, carnage is frequent, and victory can be lost just as easily as it is earned, however, it never feels unfair.
On occasion you can reach a point where you have no events available to complete, and it’s not immediately obvious which cars you need to purchase in order to compete in the next events. Aside from this, it’s all pretty self explanatory, and you can make steady progress.
Racing on Wreckfest is always close, and no matter how many incidents you are involved in, you can always make a come-back. Rubber-banding, which is often seen as a negative in games, is used to good effect here, and while you will always have an opponent on your tail when you are in the lead, if you fall behind it allows you to catch up soon enough. Sometimes it can be a nuisance, as you can lead a whole race only to hit an oncoming vehicle near to the line and finish midfield, and it is especially annoying for challenges that require you to finish fifty metres ahead of second place, but for the most part it is a welcome addition.
Wreckfest is more fun when you are in the pack, however, jostling for position, forcing other cars into walls, dive bombing into corners and spinning out your fellow racers. It’s the antithesis to what is expected of you in games such as Forza and Gran Turismo, and it’s a cathartic experience being able to drive so aggressively yet still be lauded for your actions.
There is a plentiful selection of vehicles to choose from, and while there are no officially licensed cars, there are plenty of familiar body styles that you will likely recognise. Car fans will spot the (cars that resemble, but are legally distinct from the) Volkswagen Beetle, Ford Escort Mk1, and Ford Mustang, amongst others. Most of these vehicles can be upgraded and tuned, with parts awarded as rewards for completing races or available to purchase from your garage. Higher tier parts are tied to your level, which increases steadily as you earn XP from completing races or smashing your opponents to pieces.
Tuning is more comprehensive than you would expect, and it shares a lot in common with the likes of Need for Speed or Dirt. Using a system of sliders, you can adjust your suspension, gear ratios, differential and brake balance. The difference is marginal though, and for the majority of players you won’t need to fiddle with these settings too much. It won’t detract from the experience if you just run around with a stock setup for the whole of your time with the game.
The true stars of the show, though, are the special vehicles. School buses, lawn mowers, combine harvesters, and a petrol powered sofa are among the wild and wonderful vehicles at your disposal. You will need to complete specific challenge events to unlock these vehicles, and the challenges themselves are suitably over the top, and often humorous.
In one example, you are in a twenty-four car (well, sofa) race around a tight figure-of-eight track. It starts off smoothly, but as the field spreads out, every pass of the crossover turns into a buttock clenching moment of tension as you hope to make it through unscathed. Inevitably, you will be involved in a huge pile-up, the likes of which have not been seen since the first corner at Monza in a Forza lobby. It’s this kind of action and unpredictability that make Wreckfest so much fun.
If it’s the destruction that brings people to Wreckfest, then it’s the multiplayer that will keep them coming back. Lobbies fill up quickly, and with a full field of human opponents, the carnage is more frequent and even more satisfying than it is against AI. A full range of varied events are on offer, with the option of creating your own subset of rules and vehicle restrictions, and it is possibly the most fun you can have in an online racer at this time. A minor negative is that you are free to run whatever you have unlocked, and unfortunately this can create a huge disparity in lobbies, where you will often find a couple of racers with the fastest cars in the game. It is possible to trawl through the available lobbies to find one that is better balanced, but a straightforward class restricted matchmaking system would be preferable.
All of this action is relayed to you through some astoundingly good visuals. Car models are highly detailed, with the visualisation of the damage looking amazing. Debris is scattered all across the circuit, along with the demolished shells of cars that have been wrecked, with pieces flicking up around you, as you pass through it. Tracks are richly detailed, with masses of detail and a mixture of static and destructible objects littering the trackside.
With Wreckfest having previously been a PC release, you can see where concessions have had to be made to make sure the game runs smoothly. There’s a little bit of texture pop-in and also the occasional bit of pop-up in the distance too, but it doesn’t detract from the experience. The damage modelling takes front and centre here, and seeing how good it is, you likely will forgive the odd minor discrepancy here or there. Frame rate is capped at a solid 30 fps on the Xbox One X, and it very rarely strays from this target, even with full packed lobbies and more debris strewn around the track than you would find on a night out in Scunthorpe. 60 fps is always preferable, however, it shouldn’t be a deciding influence on whether you should pick up this game.
The audio is well produced, and even though Wreckfest’s preference for a mixture of Drum and Bass, Metal and EDM may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s easy enough to shut it off or at least turn it down to unobtrusive levels. In doing so, you will be able to more clearly enjoy the growl of the engines, and the jarring crunch as metal meets metal. Tyres scrabble in the gravel, and screech on the tarmac as you fight for grip, and it all comes together as a cohesive whole, and perfectly accompanies the hectic nature of the racing.
Overall, Wreckfest is a very accomplished game, brimming with fun and excitement, but there is one rather significant negative you should be aware of: Loading times are frequent, and very long. At the start of every race, there’s a lengthy loading screen. Choosing a car requires you to highlight the car you want to use, then wait for several seconds for it to load in. Even something simple like readying up or changing your assists in the lobby is met with an unnecessary pause. It’s an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise magnificent package, but the frustration it causes is significant.
This generation of consoles has been crying out for a game like Wreckfest. Racing games have been getting more serious and authentic, but that doesn’t always equate to more fun. Where Wreckfest succeeds, is in its ability to provide a proper handling system in addition to the phenomenal damage physics, yet still keeping gameplay accessible, entertaining and simple to pick up and play. Even without the destruction, this would be worth playing, and with it, it’s smashing, crashing, car obliterating joy.