Wreckfest, developed by Bugbear Entertainment of FlatOut fame, was originally announced as Next Car Game back in 2013. After some public demos, a helping of crowdfunding, and an early access release on Steam, the game has finally come to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One so that it can be enjoyed by a wider audience. At first glance, it looks like a pretty standard arcade racer with an emphasis on destruction, but what is actually under the hood is a beautiful marriage between classic fun and a modern physics-based approach to driving.
I must have sounded like a maniac when I was reviewing Wreckfest, rapidly alternating between grunts of frustration and howls of laughter. No matter how well you are performing in a race, a catastrophic crash is always poised to upset you. Everything can go south quickly, but it always happens in a way that feels fair. That’s precisely what you want from a game like this; It keeps you on edge.
Wreckfest does not hesitate to make its identity known. Odds are, your first event will be a destruction derby where all the participants ride atop supercharged lawnmowers. Collisions send bodies flying, ragdoll-style, into the field. Hesitant, as is my nature, I drove around the edge of the arena taking it all in. The first thing I noticed was that there, on the HUD, was an indicator of the relative health of the different parts of my vehicle. Then, an opponent slammed into me and my lawnmower’s performance significantly decreased. I was enamored.
The way damage plays out is satisfying. At one point, a car I was driving took damage to its front left wheel, which meant my car was basically only good at making hard lefts. This meant that my strategy had to adapt. When colliding with people over and over started to wear on my vehicle, I had to once again change my tactics. Suddenly, I was whipping my car around in a 180 degree turn, trying to slam people using the back end. My AI opponents didn’t react well to that strategy and I was able to take first place, but online, these sorts of situations play out in fast-paced and fiery battles of wit and bravery.
Matches move fast. At first, there’s a moment of congestion. It is here where I usually run and hide. Then, the pack begins to thin, with damage taking its toll on some of the cars. As they crawl along, trying their best, able-bodied mechanical beasts emerge, untethered by traffic and keen to devour the limping prey. If damage is somehow equitable in the match’s opening moments, you might witness a sputtering descent toward impotence wherein hampered piles of garbage gently kiss until some can kiss no more. It’s a bit hilarious to behold and it makes me wish that respawns weren’t commonplace, so more longform strategies could play out. The ideal scenario, where you are operating a pristine vehicle against others who are less fortunate is a joy, but it’s easy to achieve if you respawn. Fortunately, respawning, a result of being wrecked, heavily impacts your place in the standings.
Outside of wrecking other cars, you can gain points by simply doing damage. Different types of damage earn different amounts of points, and there is likely an element of strategy here that seasoned pros grasp, rendering me severely disadvantaged. Once multiplayer went live, I had to accept one of two options. Either everybody is way better than I am at this sort of thing or gamers from the PC release, which has been out for a while now, decided to try their hands at the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
There are different degrees of challenge available in Wreckfest as well. Players have a choice between automatic and manual transmission. They can also elect to play with normal or realistic damage. I tried a variety of settings and vehicles and was impressed to see just how varied this game can feel. A bus with front wheel damage is a vastly different experience than a lawnmower with a front wheel damage.
It’s not all about the destruction derby, though. There is a myriad of events available in Wreckfest and, by earning enough points in a given tier, you are afforded access to higher level events. No matter what you’re doing though, derby or no, destruction is at the heart of this game.
Wreckfest features an array of novel tracks that require different skills. They’re also appropriately exciting when you play a new event type for the first time. I was enthralled by a figure eight course where most drivers were atop their faithful lawnmowers. I was even more enthralled when one of these lawnmowers spun me out in front of a combine harvester named “Big Bob.” I was instantly destroyed and had to begin the track again. On my next attempt, I was obsessed with destroying this vehicle, which had been renamed “Metal Screamer.” I’m happy to report that you can disable it. Despite what you might expect, the combine harvester seemed light, and I was able to tip him over. I then spent quite a while ramming into him again and again, edging him closer and closer to destruction, I think. I never was able to totally wreck him, though. I like to think it might be possible.
But this demonstrates one of Wreckfest’s strengths. There’s a balance you have to maintain between being careful and destructive in order to be a success. I, a person who once wrecked a Ford Fiesta going only 15 miles per hour in real life, err more on the cautious side, but eliminating cars early can pay off in the long run. In something called the Canyon Event, drivers careen around a track that is essentially two bumpy lanes with no guardrail in between attached by a loop on either end. Because of the bumps, you spent about half the race airborne and are always a split second away from oncoming traffic. You can lose the whole event because you collided head on with the driver in the last place position from your presumably comfortable spot in first place. If you can do some damage early on, you’re in a better position.
Wreckfest is also a beautiful game, barring the exception of the occasional glitch. My character, from the winner’s circle, would sometimes try to pump his fist, but his fist just stayed glued to his pocket. Instead, he pumped his arm which elongated and tangled around itself, becoming a writhing mass of black tendril. This happened commonly. Then there’s the sound. The roar of the engines sound great. The screeching metal and collisions are jarring. And even the music, which is outside of what I would normally listen to, is well-placed. I have nothing but a deep appreciation for the unity of design on display here.
Wreckfest combines the exact right elements to create something amazing. It’s big, ridiculous, loud, and chaotic. It’s full of features to dig into, too, like a photo mode, a garage, a market of cars, and the ability to paint vehicles. Most importantly, you can drive a sofa, complete with coffee table, into the side of a school bus. Wreckfest is an absolute blast.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Beautiful game with impressive depictions of crashes and damage 5.0 Control
Accessible controls with room for mastery 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound adds to the experience. Even the corny songs are the perfect fit 5.0 Play Value
Plenty to do and it’s fun the whole way through. Longevity, for some, might be dependent on how long the game maintains a multiplayer scene 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best