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A Blast from the Past review

FBT's review of Carmageddon, the best racer of the 90s so he says. But he said that about Monster Truck Madness and Road Rage too so who knows.

The Past

I’d always disliked racer games. But Carma was different; originally envisioned by devs Stainless as a demolition derby, it shifted to sandbox when they pursued the Mad Max licence. People-mushing was added after they tried to licence Deathrace instead. Finally, they came up with their own world, ripped from 70s/80s dystopia movies; Rollerball meets Nascar, cars race through slums winning by crossing the finish or stopping anyone else from doing so; running over the ‘peds’ gained you more time to race. It was great. But what made it even greater was the free-roam element. My mates and I would chalk up a healthy amount of ped-death time then go looking for trouble. We would analyse the layout, work out if we could reach building tops, find hidden areas ... We’d spend hours on a single level. Of course, you could attempt to win without running anyone over and that had its own challenges. The biggest of which was not giving in and handbrake-turning into a crowd of people.

The Daily Mail trembled with horror on it's release and demanded Carma be banned, going so far as to claim the character Die Anna was a ‘sick’ reference to the people’s princess. That’s ... okay I wouldn’t put it past Carma, except Princess Di died after its release, but don’t let that stop a headline. Building on the controversy, publishers SCi, decided to submit it to the BBFC … which hugely backfired. The BBFC weren’t exactly open-minded in the nineties and they banned it, supposedly because they enjoyed it so much that suggested people would emulate - what? Stainless released it with zombies instead, who spewed green blood. But what we knew, and the morally-panicked didn’t, was that new internet. From there, Stainless’ own mod quickly made its way to floppies and magazine disks, providing a way to turn the zombies human again. We were back in business. When not one child mowed anyone down in their Dad’s car, the protesters moved on to being dismayed at GTA instead.

In today's moral-choice driven and heartfelt emotional gaming, there’s nothing out there that celebrates your pure homicidal side. Time to Die Anna again.

Still a Blast?

As I race along ‘Maim Street’, the first of thirty-odd races, memories come back and I take off, aiming for the stadium where I mow down NFL teams, then shoot down the road knocking peds for six, blood and body parts spinning. I mistime a corner and obliterate my car, then get rear-ended which causes me to shunt a mailbox that skids off and takes out a passing OAP and earns me a ‘good shot, sir’ bonus. Holy crap this is good. And not in that ‘I want to try this in the real-world’ way. Chasing after the peds is fun, they squeal and take off, yell and swear at you, while hitting the cows in the countryside levels, listening to their Moo turn into a Goo is always a giggle. Although there’s only four or five locations - inner city, coastal, a mine, countryside and industrial areas, each race opens up different or expanded areas, so the races always feel bigger rather than just longer or repetitive. Plus, it gives you another chance to get somewhere you couldn’t earlier. Completing a course gives you points, alongside the points you gain in-game to buy upgrades and unlock your position, which in turn unlocks the races. And more dangerous opponents…

As I crash around, I realise just how much genuine fun I’m having, how exhilarating, exciting and intense it all is. Yes, it’s blocky and dated but that soon disappears because you’re so into it. I miss this, most modern games don’t have this reckless abandon and most of it is my own doing rather than the game manipulating me into a scripted experience. As soon as I finish one level, I’m revving to get onto the next. Carma is just so exciting – that’s not the controversy talking; it’s a really good game. The physics and engine are amazing and the levels are laid out in a way that maximises freedom so you can really take control of the way you play; you quickly learn how much you can push it, anticipate its reactions and gauge when to turn, slide or break. I'd forgotten about Die Anna's face in the corner, reacting to the mayhem as we went, the on-screen congrats as we made good kills, the noises the peds make, the way the levels are filled with things to trip you up or give you the chance to let loose. As the game progresses you get the opportunity to steal opponent’s cars once you’ve wasted them, and they each have their own feel and ability. There’s a caddy with a cattle-catcher, driven by ‘Otis P Jivefunk’ that makes short work of any head-on attacks but is like driving a bouncy castle, Vlad with his hotrod car which will impale yours and there’s OK Stimpson (renamed Juicy Jones in rereleases) who drives what looks a lot like a white-topped Ford Bronco … The opponents and their cars are all very different although their tactics are largely the same – ram you.

There’s not much in the way of in-car fighting and early on it’s a war of attrition as you just batter each other, but later you’re cutting through them like bloody butter; except for the big boys (and girls) like The Plow and Heinz Faust’s tank-car. They’re nightmares, but not as bad as the cops.