Wreckfest Review: Finally Across the Early Access Finish Line

Another early access game bites the dust, and so does my car. A lot.

Four years ago my older brother told me about a game he’d seen on Steam that reminded him of a game we used to play as kids, Destruction Derby – a classic. It was an early access game called Wreckfest, and we both bought it mainly to reminisce about our time playing on PS1 as kids. A week later, we’d completely forgotten about it. And now, four years later, the handbrake is off, and Wreckfest is out of early access.

Starting places

Bugbear’s Wreckfest started out as Next Car Game. It originally had a failed Kickstarter in November 2013, but after a well-received sneak peek to those who had preordered it, Next Car Game made its way to Steam Early Access in January 2014. For a long time after that, I had no idea what was going on with the game – it put two separate games into my Steam library that seemingly had several names.

In October 2014, it was retitled to Wreckfest, but then practically disappeared. It became another one of those early access titles that you kind of forgot about, and then suddenly it was out. Well, I say ‘suddenly’, but it’s taken over four years.

After all that, we’ve ended up with a demolition derby-themed racing game with a solid damage engine, but with a lack of visual flair and some performance problems. But for most racing fans, solid driving is what’s most important, and Wreckfest delivers there. This isn’t a racing line, millisecond min/maxing kind of racing game; this is a drift into a corner with the sole purpose of pushing your opponent off the track kind of racing game.

Career?

Wreckfest’s career mode follows the traditional pattern of offering a selection of events, each giving you the opportunity to earn a number of points. Progressing through that particular career layer leads to the championship, which needs a certain number of points before you can move up to a new layer of events. It’s a style that I find to get quite stale, and is sorely overused this generation. You never feel like it’s a career; more a collection of races to reach another collection of races. However, going through it in order to unlock vehicles is important for breadth of choice in multiplayer.

Because championships need a specific amount of points to move on, you may have to repeat races to get the required points. There’s no personality to the career mode – something that I feel like racing games have struggled with for years. I want to go up these ranks alongside another driver who becomes my main rival to add some colour to the races. Instead, the other cars are random names, maybe from early backers, so rivals appear once a race and then you may never see them again.


The meat to the metal grinder

Most of Wreckfest is made up of standard races, but with more physicality to them thanks to the damage engine (and the title’s propensity for vehicles crashing into each other). After a while it can get a bit stale, but Bugbear freshens it up by injecting a good amount of ridiculousness. My favourite race in Wreckfest – which is probably the most fun I’ve had in a single race since I was a kid – placed me in a small three-wheeled supervan against 23 American-style school buses around a speedway. The buses kept flipping each other and I was stuck in the middle of them all trying to squeeze through like that last bit of toothpaste. It was tough to get first in that race, but I got there. A while later, I was able to exact revenge in a race where I was the bus – against 23 supervans. The level of destruction was glorious; continuously coming back to earlier debris transformed the track slowly into some sort of post-apocalyptic city street with empty, dishevelled cars.

It’s these races where Wreckfest is what you hoped the whole game would be. Races where it’s 24 lawnmowers on a figure 8 track, or 24 harvesters in a destruction derby on a farm. The traditional destruction derby races are a bit disappointing. 24 normal cars crashing into each other sounds fun, but in Wreckfest there’s something lacking. Personally, I find those derby arenas too small to get enough speed up to really whack someone in the side, and the lacking visuals do it no favours. Later on in the game, you get a destruction derby in a bigger arena and it’s 24 school buses – and that’s what Wreckfest should be.

Double dip

Wreckfest’s multiplayer mode feeds into the career mode as all credits and vehicles you’ve unlocked are shared across both modes. Completing races earns credits, which can be spent on upgrades to make your vehicle faster or stronger. Having multiple vehicles means you can have vehicles customised for each class: one upgraded for speed in races, another for strength in derbies. I like managing the two and swapping between them depending on the event.

When it comes to playing online, you may even need to use your derby car in standard races. If it’s a server without banned vehicles, you may find yourself in a 24-car race with other players in a myriad of vehicles. Yes, including several players who choose a school bus or harvester. They then drive the wrong way with the sole purpose of wrecking as many players as possible. Oddly, I thought this would be really annoying, but actually makes the online more fun, tense, and intentionally hilarious. 20 players trying to win a race while dodging four school buses is amazing.

Wreckfest can have sustained periods of standard race after standard race, but it delivers its best parts when trying to keep that fresh. Simplicity in changing the difficulty of AI as well as assists allows you to tinker difficulty in career to keep some engagement in standard races. Online is very ropey on a bad server, but at its best, it’s too much fun to ignore over single player, especially if you need to quickly farm some credits. Wreckfest isn’t overly pretty, but its damage engine is unparalleled; Bugbear just needs to find more ways to add to its ridiculous nature, because that’s where the game really excels.

Wreckfest is available on PC, with console versions planned for later in the year. We reviewed the PC version.