The original Carmageddon will always have a special place in my heart. Not only is it one of the granddaddies of the vehicular combat genre (along with Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 and Destruction Derby), but thanks to the controversy surrounding it (as one of only a few games to actually be banned in the UK, albeit briefly) it was one of the few games that, as a child, I wasn’t allowed to play. Some people hid other non-family oriented things on their family computers as a teen, but I had a copy of Carmageddon nestled away in a folder with an innocuous name and the game’s .exe logo replaced with a race car. It was crass. It was brutal. It was a hell of a lot of fun. And it had some of the most obscene cheat passwords since Alien Breed. For many that grew up in the 90’s, Carmageddon still sits on their list of best games ever.

With this in mind, when I heard that Stainless Games announced they were going to return to the series after almost twenty years, I was ecstatic. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a new game for PC, the fruits of that labour, Carmageddon: Resurrection now comes to consoles as Carmageddon: Max Damage, with improved visuals and 40% more content – including new tracks and vehicles.

Carmageddon has never been your typical racing game. Instead of simply tearing around a series of finely-tuned tracks trying to be the first to finish, Carmageddon gives up its giddy thrills from causing as much carnage as possible. Rather than simply racing, you’re let loose in large, open environments full of secrets, hidden backstreets and off-road areas to explore.

In Carmageddon, being first past the finish line counts for nothing in all but one of Max Damage’s game modes, and even then you can damage your opponents in lieu of completing laps. Other modes will have you racing towards randomly generated checkpoints or annihilating the competition to be the last one standing.

Caught in the crossfire of these manic deathraces are scores of innocent pedestrians (or ‘peds’) just milling about the environment. The poor buggers get squashed, electrocuted, eviscerated and immolated en masse, and each will add time to the clock and boost your cash reserves. With this, you can repair your car or unlock new campaign missions and upgrades once the race is over. No section of society is off-limits from the carnage, either. From nuns to cheerleaders to the mobidly obese, Carmageddon doesn’t discriminate. There’s a perverse sense of joy to be had from ploughing into a crowd of peds and watching their lifeless bodies ragdoll across the screen.

Carmageddon has never been a series to take itself seriously. As a parody of the extreeeeme craze of the late nineties, it comes with a large dose of crass humour, most of it quite anglo-centric. It’s all pretty schoolyard, and the spastic power up still makes me chuckle, as does seeing the words ‘cunning stunt’ plastered across the screen when you successfully perform a successful jump.

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Despite nailing the tone of the original, there are some pretty major gameplay issues that drag down the experience. Most notably (and quite importantly in a racing game), the vehicle handling is dire during the early stages of the game. No matter what terrain you’re driving on, your car slides and swings about to a degree that makes some vehicles completely undriveable. Although things do improve a little as you start to upgrade your ride, successfully targeting specific objects and peds often feels like the result of luck rather than judgement.

Trying to take corners at anything more than a snails pace will, more often than not, send you spinning out of control and down the nearest ditch unless you use your handbrake to correct yourself. This leaves you open to attack from other racers, though they tend to take their time completing objectives. The AI is absolutely merciless, and will take every opportunity to ram you off the road or hurt you in any way they can. Moreover, it feels like the goal of your opponents is to simply stop you from winning rather than winning themselves. As such, it’s common to get ganged up on and slammed into a wall by several opponents at once. This can get pretty tiresome when you find yourself pinned against a wall and dogpiled by unrelenting opponents for the millionth time.

Your ability to recover and repair your vehicle with the press of a button does help in these situations (especially when your car is totaled by a couple of shunts), as the best defence against the game’s unrelenting AI is the myriad of  bonkers power ups. Obtained by driving through coloured barrels scattered across each map, some improve or cripple your rides functionality (with the glass chassis being a particular pain), while others change the behaviour of nearby peds, causing them to freeze on the spot, break into dance or even be raptured away in a halo of light and the Hallelujah chorus.

If you really want to screw over the competition, the red barrels are by far the most useful in the game. Featuring all manner of mad weapons, from anvil launchers, to “oil slicks out your arse” and “mine shitting”, they’re the most effective way to secure a win. Without power ups, you’re forced to try and ram opponents into the nearest barrier, doing your best to incapacitate them in some way and repeatedly ram them until they (eventually) explode. This is a pain because you can literally reduce your opponents to no more than a panel-less roll-cage and they still wont bloody die!

Max Damage does, however, have plenty of content to wade through, with the main campaign split into 16 unlockable chapters each containing 4-5 events. Though, in truth, most of these are the same handful of maps repackaged with different objectives, the wide selection of new vehicles to wreck and add to your garage, hidden upgrade tokens to find and hordes of peds to slaughter keep things interesting, and strangely compelling.

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Compared to genre heavyweights like DriveClub and Project CARS, Carmageddon isn’t a very attractive game. Then again, Carmageddon makes its maps do a lot more than your average racer does, and without the same AAA budget it’s expected that there had to be some compromises made. The environments can look a little bare and the peds look very similar to their last incarnation in TDR 2000 over a decade ago, but the cars themselves look rather cool (even if Steg O’ Saur has upgraded to a new Beatle that looks more like an Ankylosaur). That being said, the game does run smoothly for the most part on the PS4. I only had one noticeable moment of slowdown when literally everything on the level seemed to burst into flames and crash into me all at once.  The game’s audio is serviceable at best, with a forgettable soundtrack and generic audio effects used for every rev of the engine and scream of terror.

Arguably, the biggest problem with Max Damage is that it doesn’t attempt to do anything new. It plays pretty much identically to the first two games in the trilogy, and they’re over 20 years old now. At the time, this was fine. But the world of gaming has moved on a lot since then, and with the likes of Doom and Wolfenstein showing what can be done to reinvigorate old series while still keeping true to originals, it’s disappointing that Carmageddon didn’t get the same treatment.  Something as simple as being able to build your own vehicle would have been a marvelous addition, and something I hope we see in possible future editions.

It may get off to a slow start, but once you have a few upgrades under the hood and figure out the best way to handle the swerving nightmare that is your vehicle, these issues become easier to overlook. For those of us with a head full of nostalgia, it’s sure to raise a smile. But, if you were too young or simply missed the series’ anarchic charms first time around, it simply doesn’t offer enough notable new ideas to be an easy recommendation.

Carmageddon: Max Damage was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: Stainless Games | Publisher: Sold Out |  Genre: Combat Racing | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: 18+/M | Release Date: July 8, 2016

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