Kris Wall reviews Carmageddon: Max Damage…
Nostalgia can be a funny thing, it means we tend to look back on things from our youth through rose tinted specs, our views remaining undiminished by the endless passing of time. Unlike games like Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario World which remain timeless classics, many games were very much of a time and a place, which we tend to forget when we reminisce, until we rediscover them and find they’re about as welcome in the modern day as finding Timmy Mallet sporting a full on perm, breaking into your house.
We all remember the very first Mortal Kombat game, more for the fact that it felt shocking, controversial and a bit naughty when we were young, rather than it actually being a good fighting game, which it wasn’t. Carmageddon was another such game that I encountered when I was young, me and my friends had heard it had been banned, the controversy around it only served to make it all the more exciting for us to track down, the idea of playing something that had been banned providing some sort of rebellious thrill. Eventually we tracked it down, finding Carmageddon (along with Soldier of Fortune, another digital nasty of the time) on one of those naughty boots discs that were seemingly everywhere back then, unleashing hours upon hours of smooshing pedestrians into the concrete behind the backs of our parents and giggling like idiots about it. That was 1997 though, this is 2016.
Carmageddon: Max Damage invites you to take part in a series of death races around post apocalyptic environments, whereby your opponents can be destroyed by ramming them or using power ups and the pedestrians and animals that run around can be splattered across the road for money to progress, and that’s it. There’s a modicum of strategy involved in using your money to either repair or reset your car, which you’ll be doing almost constantly, or pocketing it to unlock the more advanced championships, but the game goes out of its way to make sure you feel like switching it off rather than progressing forward. The A.I in the game is absolutely laughable, seemingly struggling to cope with anything beyond heading in a straight line, or following you around like a lost puppy, gently nuzzling up against your bumper rather than attacking, providing a constant irritant rather than a challenge. The first time you manage to slam another car at high speed gives you some amount of pleasure, but that’s probably the only time you’ll glean anything positive from this experience.
Carmageddon: Max Damage hasn’t bothered to evolve the series at all, still relying on that cheap shock and revulsion that seemed to captivate us as children. I still have a pretty crass and juvenile sense of humour no matter how old I’ve gotten, yet Carmageddon: Max Damage still managed to feel constantly insulting. Get hit from behind and the game will throw up ‘TOOK IT UP THE ARSE’ across the screen, spinning a car out screams ‘DIZZY TART’ ,whilst splatting a pedestrian with your door brings out the delightful ‘GET YER FLAPS OUT’, until you’re left wondering if the creative director of the game is Roy Chubby Brown. It will probably be argued that this is the point of a Carmageddon game, to provoke and inspire that guttural revulsion, but it just feels embarrassing for everyone involved, ‘LOOK, squish that pedestrian, SHE’S OLD, there’s another one over there, HE’S FAT, now over there, get that one, THAT ONE IS DISABLED, now that one, OLD AND DISABLED, don’t you feel naughty ‘, it’s honestly like being endlessly yelled at by a moron, the sort of moron that would argue that Van Damme’s Cyborg is a better sci-fi film than Terminator 2, it isn’t, and you’re still a moron at the end of every day. As a final insult, some truly awful metal music from a bygone era from bands with unpronounceable names is playing over the top of it all, landing the bitter cherry on top of a cake made entirely of disappointment.
If you’re going to try and make a great, or even just a passable driving game, it’s rather crucial that your handling model doesn’t suck every single ounce of fun out of your game like a sponge made solely from barbed wire and shattered glass. All of the cars handle like an 18 wheeler with buckets for wheels, and when they get up to speed it suddenly feels like they’re on ice, slipping and sliding all over the place while you spend ages trying to wrestle back control. Daring to clip a curb wrong at speed will spin you all over the place as well,and hitting one of the curiously immovable lamp posts will stop you dead in your tracks. Given the car combat nature of the game, the handling model lacks the precision needed to make it fun, trying to line up other cars to ram is just exhausting, whilst trying to powerslide the car with the handbrake has all the grace and finesse of trying to throw a cruise liner around a hairpin bend in a canal. It’s absolutely no fun at all.
It’s like the creators, Stainless Games have made a game for 12 year old me, completely forgetting the fact that I’ve grown up since and discovered games like Red Dead Redemption and The Last of Us, that maybe I want a bit more than cheap thrills behind my parents back now. I can imagine that if I was still that 12 year old idiot, this would probably be my favourite game of the year, probably even of all time, instead it’s without doubt one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game, it made me question every poor life choice I’ve ever made that could possibly have led me to the moment that I sat down with this game, whilst also doubling up as a stark reminder that Carmageddon 2 was absolutely nowhere near as good as I remembered it to be.
Carmageddon: Max Damage also looks like a game from the PlayStation 2 era of gaming, lacking neither the polish and sheen expected of current gen gaming, nor the unique stylings that makes the smaller or independent games stand out from the crowd. In this day and age, it seems almost impossible to make a game that looks as bad as this does, yet Stainless Games have somehow achieved the impossible, which I guess could be seen as some sort of twisted compliment, but it isn’t. I’m sure the developers will argue the graphics are to retain the spirit of the Carmageddon games, I would call bullshit on that, this is lazy and half arsed development of the worst kind, plain and simple. Strider received a reboot in recent years, another game from around that era, which was brought into the modern day with a highly unique and stylized look, updated mechanics and level design, yet also retaining the spirit that made it unmistakably a Strider game, and a fun one too.
Carmageddon: Max Damage is a game that has been developed with absolutely no heart and no soul, and to me it feels like a developer trying to follow the Blumhouse horror model of making a film for relatively cheap, and receiving maximum profit in ticket sales. The difference being that The Purge and Insidious films are entertaining films, Carmageddon: Max Damage is just plainly insulting. I’m left wondering if Stainless Games employed any sort of QA testers while the game was in development, and if they did was there some sort of aptitude test for applicants? Basic common sense or even complimentary eye tests? I’m honestly trying to be as rational and balanced as I can with this game, but never before in all my history of playing video games has a game managed to provoke such a visceral hatred from me, not even Duke Nukem Forever, even that managed to have some mildly entertaining bits.
Sadly, there’s absolutely no redeeming qualities to salvage from Carmageddon: Max Damage, it’s vulgar and depraved simply for the sake of trying to be edgy and controversial, unlike the way that Rockstar can masterfully mine the darkest recesses of our minds and probe controversy for subversive entertainment. It’s hard to even know who to recommend Max Damage to, it’s like somebody who hates video games, partnered up with The Farrelly Brothers to make a video game exclusively for Juggalos, those weird fans of The Insane Clown Posse who are also still trying to figure out how magnets work, because they’re the only sort of people who I can think this might be aimed at. Make no mistake about it, this is an incredibly masochistic game to play, even if you’re into that kind of thing. it’s just painful.
Every part of this game conspired with another to annoy me in some way, until I was left grinding away at it solely for the purpose of review rather than actually having any fun with it, a battle of attrition in which my patience was constantly being eroded, and my soul felt like it was ultimately at stake. The makers of Carmageddon: Max Damage had the opportunity to reinvent and revitalise the series for a new generation, instead they’ve churned out a hollow and soulless experience, cheaply thrown together to try and quickly cash in on bloodthirsty nostalgia.
I can only hope that Sony now sees this barren wasteland of a game and takes the opportunity to reboot Twisted Metal for the PlayStation 4 and give us the car combat game that we truly deserve! This game would have been insulting as a tech demo, as a game being sold at £29.99, it’s just plain offensive to anyone with an IQ above double digits. If ever you were looking for your next Duke Nukem Forever, and God forbid you ever would be, then Carmageddon: Max Damage is it, an absolutely shambolic travesty of a game that never should have existed. Carmageddon is a series that’s definitely best left in the past.
+ The first (and only) time you successfully ram a car at speed
+ It can be turned off at any point
– It looks like a PlayStation 2 game
– Atrocious handling
– Embarassing A.I
– Long load times
– Crass, juvenile, offensive and pointlessly controversial
– It exists
Kris Wall – Follow me on Twitter