Carmageddon Max Damage

A Rage Quit Review

Carmageddon is FBT’s Spirit Animal. The reboot puts it down.

In the late nineties, there was a new breed of unapologetic video games; they didn’t signal the end times as the media and parents feared, they did something better - agitated the bland gaming landscape and forced it to grow up, get good. And now, yet again, the game industry has become corporate, cautious, careful. While most games from that original era sold out or burnt out, we have the return of the baddest of them all - the first game to be banned by the BBFC, the game that sent the Daily Mail into meltdown, the game that let you run over pedestrians - Carmageddon. When Carmageddon Regeneration was announced I was more than a little excited. Time to kick modern gaming in the cunning stunt.

I was more than a little disappointed when C:R was released. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but it was … meh. How could Carma be meh? Everything was there yet my beloved free-roaming, ped-killing, opponent-exploding Die Anna had become … inoffensive. I got bored. Bored! The power-ups were cartoony, the level design dull, the cars lacked that oomph, even the peds seemed indifferent to being run over. The original was Never Mind the Bollocks, this was Flogging a Dead Horse. I didn’t Rage Quit, I just got fed up and never went back. Until I saw Carmageddon Max Damage. A second chance. I was buying this.

Yes, I was stupid enough to buy the Carma Reboot twice. Max Damage is the premium version of Kickstarter’s Regeneration. Damnit. Is this karma for liking what the Daily Mail called a ‘sick death game’? Let’s see if Max Damage hits the spot.

The cars are all there, and the first track is the original’s Maim Street. Get in. I chose my beloved Die Anna, rev the Hawk and aim for the flag-waving guy. As I sail over the first hill, ready to become death … it feels a bit pointless. I’m having an existential crisis. Was the Daily Mail right? Have I become so desensitised that I’m unmoved when I run over a cheerleader? Have the past 20 years of ultra-violence been a gaming form of Ludovico? I look for Anna’s grinning face. Having a compatriot to all this mayhem will bring me back - no in-game Anna? Whoa. I hit the handbrake to swerve into the Peds. The car comes to a slow stop like I just performed an emergency brake in my driving test. The Peds all saunter off. Okay. Time for extreme measures.

I find the stadium and the electro-bastard ray is where I left it; but taking out the NFL teams and the crowds isn’t doing it either so I decide to get into it with the other cars to see if that livens things up, but it takes an age to find them let alone get into a fight, and I don’t get that screaming, out of control feel as I pootle along - you used to build up insane speed, bounce, careen, flip out of the map, land on a passing grandad or take out an opponent by accident; it was raucous, unruly, exhilarating, and Die Anna would woo-hoo along with you. Now neither of us are.

It's a very empty game and nothing much happens by accident, but the problem is the original Carma’s attitude has become part of free-roam driving the same way Doom’s once dizzying action and grisly violence are embedded in modern FPS. Saint’s Row already aces this. It’s not dated, it’s just not necessary. But it’s not just an age thing. It’s also a not-very-good-thing.

The levels are boring to drive about in – they’re fun-looking, like the Area51 or the reworked classic levels, but miss that gritty, grimy feel; they’re much bigger and expansive than the original but that makes them less intense, unfocused. You don’t have those death-runs, those games of chicken. They’re also cluttered and uneven, causing the car to bounce around and that’s when it really starts to grate.

The Eagle and Hawk always felt like they wanted to get away from you in the original, and they were sturdy enough to let them. But now, with their wafer-thin build, they handle like they’re filled with helium. There’s no torque or grip, no sense of weight; how did a game released in 1997 better realise banger cars than the remake 20yrs later? You’re forever missing targets and sticking the corners, never just taking off. Getting a powerup requires a careful three-point-turn. Suddenly I’m being … careful. Still, we’ve still peds to kill. Well, no, because the cars have the turning circle of an oil tanker and alongside the ‘careful now’ handbrake you can’t lob the car about and catch peds on the fly – it’s rare see grandad fly off the bonnet in C:MD. On top of that, and this is a real Rage Quit moment …. it’s not about running people over anymore. Yes, a Carma game that’s not all about running people over. Did the Daily Mail develop this?

To have any real chance of progressing you have to play challenge missions; reach a ped or location first, destroy the most cars – basically all the stuff that requires precision driving and responsive cars. Great. All that happens is an opponent, who is a precision driver in a responsive car, reaches the goal first and the new target is halfway across a map that isn’t much fun to drive across and you’ll get beaten to anyway. FFS. What else?

In the original, you got money in-game and the time you finished with was converted into more to spend on car improvements. Now it’s transformed into XP which unlocks the levels, while upgrades are purchased with coins hidden in the game. Coins?! I’m Die Anna not Mario. I’m on a treasure hunt?! Plus, in the original, unlocked improvements could be attached to any car you stole. Coins upgrade cars individually now, which is a waste because most of the opponent’s cars handle worse than the Eagle. That's it, can I quit now?

Thanks to the crappy cars and uneven levels, when you do get a Power-Up it’s over before you’ve had a chance at some fun, and the actionable powerups are no better. Because Anna is seemingly in a neck-support (understandable) you can’t aim them, only fire from the bonnet of your impossible to maneuver car. Why can’t I free-look/aim!? And the reward bonuses are thin on the ground, as if the game’s less aware of your actions; ‘Nice Shot, Sir!’ is a rarity no matter what you send flying into Peds, while ‘milk it’ pops up every time I hit a cow and ‘recycled!’ gets yelled when I knock a ped off a bike. I get it. And “wrecked’em” wasn’t funny the first time, let alone on every opponent kill, in every level, every time.

That’s it, I can’t take anymore. They got running over people wrong? They had two goes at this! Modern gaming can relax, this isn’t going to shake things up like the original did, even when you have the option to run over a man in a wheelchair – outrageous! Nope. Maybe in 1997 but now its desperate. I’ve done worse in better games that didn’t depend on outrage to be relevant. I would consider myself immature, juvenile - a man-child at a push, but this just doesn’t work anymore as a concept, and as a driver game it’s pretty poor; the original still works because it’s a better game and because I remember when it was wrong. I love a throwback, a retro, a return, but if you’re going to return, have something to say. Something other than "I was in the war!" and think that’s still funny. It’s not Rage Quit, it’s Age Quit.

2015 Regeneration | 2016 Max Damage

Developer / Publisher Stainless Games

Platforms; Win (Steam/GOG)