God, it feels good to not be mothered by a racing game. No more penalties for cutting corners. No disqualifications for clipping your opponents. In fact, in Wreckfest, it's the exact opposite - you get rewarded for driving like a twat. Spin your opponent out on a corner, and you'll get points! Now, this is my sort of racing game!
Developed by Bugbear Entertainment, the Finnish studio behind the seminal FlatOut games, Wreckfest is a game all about driving dirty. Rather than racing pristine supercars around the Nurburgering or some other fancily named track, Wreckfest instead sees you hauling clapped out muscle cars, grotty old bangers, and even flipping sofas around a range of makeshift, dirt strewn tracks.
Brilliantly (or infuriatingly, depending on your stance), these tracks have actually explicitly been designed for maximum chaos. With tight bends, bottlenecks and hairpins galore, the developers give you every excuse to get up close with your opponents and trade paint. One track's even shaped like a C, or a quarter of a NASCAR style track, and sees you race to the one end, spin round a tiny little island, and then leg it back to the other - only to end up going head on against people coming the other way. The more the pack splits up, the more chaotic it gets - and not everyone will make it to the end (but more on that later).
Along with the straight races that see up to 24 (!!) cars jostling it out for position, Wreckfest likes to spice things up with a few more... lopsided events. One sees you racing around a figure 8 on a lawnmower of all things, as a giant combine harvester bombs around the course simply trying to wreck as many people as it can. Another puts you in a 3-wheeler, and asks you to make your way round a narrow, tight loop circuit... against 23 school buses. Perhaps our favourite, though, is the sofa race. Seeing your plucky driver strapped on top of a common or garden chair (not a garden chair, a sofa - oh, you get what we mean) - only this time with a giant chuff-off engine strapped to the back of it - it's a recipe for absolute carnage, and one made worse by the fact the figure of eight track has a jump in the middle of it, causing many a mid-air collision - and many drivers to go flying. It may sound ridiculous - and it can certainly be frustrating at times, especially when the game requires you to come first to "complete" the events - but it's always fun enough to keep you coming back for more.
What's less fun are the destruction derbies. Though you'd imagine a game called something like Wreckfest would be all about the demolition, there's something about these destruction derbies that just doesn't quite click - and it's all thanks to the realism. Yes, though you'd imagine a game that sees you racing sofas round a track might not give two jots about realism, Wreckfest actually has a fairly "realistic" damage model running under the bonnet. Depending on how your car crashes, you can damage any one of a number of key components, from your suspension and wheels, to your engine - and although it's not 100% real, as cars have a health bar rather than taking one bad smash and breaking a cam belt, it's this damage model that makes the demolition derbies a chore.
One of the biggest issues is that it seems to take into account where the important bits are in your car. With crashes being a two-way street, ramming an enemy doesn't just damage them, but it damages you too. If you crash head on, you could end up taking as much damage - if not more - than the guy you crash into, as your engine takes the hit. And so, at least half the AI cars you see in the demolition derbies will spend the vast majority of the race driving around backwards, so the bit of the car they're hitting you with doesn't actually have all that much crucial equipment in there. And unfortunately, it makes the demolition derbies kind of naff. What ought to be a real fender-bending wreckfest turns into more a game of strategy and simply avoiding being hit, doing your best to simply survive while the other cars take themselves out, only swooping in to stop yourself from being counted out when the timer pops up telling you off for inactivity. In all, it's a bit of a missed opportunity.
It's lucky, then, that it feels like Bugbear almost felt the same way, as there's not actually all that many demolition events in the game's "career". Made up of a huge number of events, each of which rewards you a number of points based on your position, plus a handful of stars for a number of bonus objectives (wreck 3 cars, finish 50 feet ahead, etc), there are a lot of events to sink your teeth into here - and mercifully few demolition races.
For the most part, Wreckfest is a game that seems to know exactly what it does well, and gives you plenty of it. There's surprisingly few racing games that don't force you to play by the oh-so-clinical rules, and Wreckfest is a game that really takes the gloves off. There are few feelings more satisfying that nudging your opponent at just the right time to send them fender-first into a brick wall, or a well placed rock, and the fact the game outright encourages that sort of driving (and lets you use it to get miles and miles ahead) is a breath of fresh air.
Yet despite what it gets right, it's worth taking a look at what feels like it's "missing", even if it is only based on Bugbear's previous games. If you've ever played any of the FlatOut games, you'll probably have fond memories of the ridiculous stunt driver mini-games, where you get to fire your driver through the windscreen, and use them to play darts, curling, poker, and the high jump amongst others. Much to our eternal disappointment, Wreckfest contains nothing in the way of those driver-launching mini-games - which means it's much more of a single-player experience, with no "pass the controller" party fun to be had here.
Perhaps more disappointing, though, is the rest of the game's multiplayer set up. With the racing here being so fun - and with a great range of weird and wonderful vehicles to get to grips with - Wreckfest was one of those games that looked like a dead cert for online multiplayer nights with a few friends - maybe recreating the lawnmowers-vs-one-combine-harvester style gameplay with your buds. Only you actually can't, because incredibly, Wreckfest doesn't allow for private games. Instead, all that's on offer here is a server browser, where 21 servers run a set of Bugbear approved courses and modes, and your only real option is to try and find one that has space, running something you might be interested in. While dedicated servers is one of those things that tends to get people excited, it kind of goes against the grain here, when all we really want to do is put a few dents in our friends...
Equally disappointing are the game's loading times. While loading times used to be much worse than they are now, it's rare that a game leaves you stuck staring at a loading screen for quite as long as this, with the load times sitting at a good 30 seconds+. While we're at it, we should probably mention the game's season pass looks set to leave a bad taste in the mouth too. £18.99 for 20 cars may not sound too bad, but when the game itself is £35, you're looking at half the price of the game again for a tiny fraction of the content (no new tracks, no new gameplay). Holding back some of the coolest cars, only to charge such a crazy amount for them kind of goes against the goodwill of releasing the game at a "budget" price.
Still, despite the best efforts of the destruction derbies, Wreckfest is a game that is a lot of fun - albeit one that you won't be able to share with your friends. If you've grown tired of things like F1 telling you off for even clipping a corner, and you want a bit more fun from your racing games, give this a try, and get ready to spin your opponents out like there's no tomorrow.
And in traditional Outcyders fashion, no sooner had we published this review than Bugbear added a private multiplayer mode, so you can just take on your friends. We've adjusted to score to suit.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4