As one of the most notorious game series of all time, Carmageddon doesn’t really need an introduction for those old enough to remember it.
The young whippersnappers that have grown up on 3D Grand Theft Auto games however, are probably oblivious to the controversy it caused, taking for granted the ability to drive like a madman and run over pedestrians with reckless abandon in an open world.
With the release of Carmageddon: Max Damage though, developer Stainless Games is once again pushing the boundaries of taste, delivering an updated version of their vehicular combat classic that easily manages to be their most violent and offensive effort yet. That’s quite an achievement considering how desensitised we’ve become in the modern world, and whilst some gameplay elements such as running over pedestrians has indeed perhaps lost their edge, there’s an abundance of juvenile and downright crude humour here that will assuredly have its fair share of mortified onlookers writing in disgust to their local MP demanding to “BAN THIS SICK FILTH!”. In any case, whilst it has some pretty big flaws that stop it being an essential purchase, I have to say that it ticks most of the boxes of what I look for in a vile and morally bankrupt driving game, meaning on the whole I rather like it.
Starting Carmageddon: Max Damage for the first time and delving into its career mode, you initially only have the choice of two cars. It doesn’t really matter which you choose, as your first foray into Carmageddon’s madness is little more than a brief tutorial incorporated into a breezy event, coercing you to brutalise the players on a football pitch before letting you decide how exactly you want to play. You see, whilst the majority of Carmageddon: Max Damage’s events throughout its 16 tier career do have a set goal, such as be the first to kill a set number of designated pedestrians or complete the required number of laps around a track, wrecking your opponents and stealing their progress is a just as viable an option.
It’s in each tier’s Classic Carma event where true freedom is granted to you however, allowing you to choose whether to destroy all your opponents, finish the required number of laps around a track or eradicate all the pedestrians on the map to achieve completion. These events are where the heart of Carmageddon: Max Damage’s fun resides, letting you run riot in the game’s open environments with a time limit that’s easily extended, only coming to a climax when you decide to finish your chosen goal. It is unfortunate though, that completing these Classic Carma events by eradicating all pedestrians is nearly impossible to do.
With many hundreds of unfortunate fleshy targets to maim within each Classic Carma event, it’s not unusual for all but one competing vehicle to be wrecked before you’ve even made a dent on their numbers. Then, with your single remaining opponent turning their malicious attention to you, extra care is needed to not destroy your often irritatingly persistent aggressor by accident, lest the event be completed in the process. Chances are though, that by the time this scenario has occurred, you won’t actually mind the reprieve given to you on a platter; running over mindless pedestrians by the hundreds does get pretty tiresome, surprisingly.
Although it’s more appropriate to explore each of Carmageddons: Max Damage’s sprawling environments during Classic Carma events where matters are less pressing, in actuality you’re free to roam to your heart’s content during any event type; you’re just more likely to fail if you do so. Aside from being fun to investigate every nook and cranny of the dirty and mostly industrial locales, if you want to upgrade your vehicles to remain competitive throughout the career you’ll need to locate and collect upgrade tokens that are strewn across them. Ideally though, you’ll rather want to increase your collection of vehicles available, unlocking bigger and badder monstrosities that make decimating your foes a hell of a lot easier. To add these fearsome vehicles to your garage though, you’re going to have to work for them, wrecking whichever one is highlighted as stealworthy in any given event to claim ownership. It’s never too much of an arduous task with a little persistence, but sometimes, you may have to sacrifice winning an event in order to expand your garage.
Trying to collect all of the fantastically varied vehicular tools of destruction often highlights how frustrating Carmageddon: Max Damage’s combat can sometimes be, however. Ramming and trading paint with competitors all too often feels like a fruitless task; a problem exasperated by your opponents frequently hounding you, bringing the flow of the game to a snail’s pace. Your best option in most situations then, is to make use of the pick-ups that litter the environment. Unfortunately though, whilst they are colour-coded as to what they contain, be it points, a passive power-up or a weapon, for example, you never know exactly what you’re going to get.
The randomness of pick-ups is not a problem in itself as it adds to the game’s dynamism, but it sometimes feels like there’s a lack of decent weapon pick-ups, forcing you to abandon the heated fracas’ you find yourself in to search for those that are useful, or, carry on with the rather drawn-out ballets of violence until you’ve painstakingly expended your opponents’ mechanical life-force. I should point out that there is the option to buy whichever power-up or weapon you desire with the touch of a button, but they mostly come at the grave cost of your hard-earned points obtained during the event you’re in which drive your career progression, making it an uneconomical process.
In all honesty, the often laborious combat irked me a little, but it didn’t stop me from wholeheartedly enjoying what Carmageddon: Max Damage has to offer. Neither did its other niggling issues such as inconsistent opponent A.I., long load times, and less than impressive audio and visuals. The handling is also what can only be described as “interesting”, with vehicles feeling satisfyingly weighty but demandingly unruly. Small, precise movements to run over pedestrians and collect pick-ups can prove to be extremely fiddly, and turning at speed can sometimes result in uncontrollable skids that would be infuriating if they weren’t so maniacally amusing. In the end though, the smooth framerate and pleasingly old school gameplay lets you see past the shortcomings to just get out there and have some fun.
If you do ever get tired of Carmageddon: Max Damage’s career mode, which is likely to take you around 20 hours to complete and will still prove to be appealing after that, there’s also a Freeplay mode in which you can create your own events, and a Multiplayer mode which unsurprisingly lets you take on human opponents online. Disappointingly though, whilst playing in multiplayer is fairly enjoyable, the absence of pedestrians littering the environments takes something away from the experience; the essence of Carmageddon stripped away like a rug from under someone’s feet. Still, if you need a diversion from the main attraction or want to show your friends who’s the boss, multiplayer does the trick.
To me, Carmageddon: Max Damage is the reimagining of a classic done right. Whilst some remakes or new entries in bygone series’ are so far detached from their original source that they are no longer recognisable, Carmageddon: Max Damage feels and plays just like Carmageddon. Sure it’s got some new bells and whistles, but there’s nothing that feels out of place or extraneous to the experience, and that makes a refreshing change. Violent, vulgar and crude, Carmageddon: Max Damage is downright offensive and all the better for it. And with a highly entertaining gameplay loop that gives you a great degree of freedom, it’s a blast from the past that occasionally puts a foot wrong but is easily forgiven.