Developer Bugbear’s previously titled (untitled?) Next Car Game was pretty impressive from the get-go—all the way back in 2014 when the Sneak Peak was released, which featured the impressive physics that would later appear in the recently released full version. Now just titled Wreckfest, it completely delivers on Bugbear’s car smashing promises, and even manages to make a car game that can roll with the big dogs while differentiating itself with its smashingly niche gameplay.
While Wreckfest features circuit races, it’s as if every racing event was also a demolition derby. Of course, there are just straight-up demolition matches–where the goal is to smash as many cars as possible and be the last functioning car left—but the real fun is just how impactful the whole demolition shtick is for the entirety of the game. While some racing games penalize you for hitting the wall or another driver, Wreckfest actively encourages car-to-car contact.
Wreckfest presents itself as most racing games do–with the normal lineup of single player and multiplayer modes. There are free races you can set up, or you can follow the career mode and work your way from crashing into the local scene to being an international smash. What sets Wreckfest apart from most racing titles is the insane events you’ll participate in—starting with lawnmower races, and getting crazier and crazier with events where you race full sized school buses (who merrily smash into one another), race on figure eight tracks that are designed for collisions where the track meets, and speed down tracks that will literally have you travelling back against traffic.
The insane physics capabilities in Wreckfest help make this all believable. Running through a wooden fence smashes it to bits and sends wood flying into the air; running through a tire barricade sends tires scattering all over the place. Smashing into other cars feel satisfying, and impacts leave satisfying damage on cars. Each of the car’s systems are roughly simulated, so the physical damage matches the damage the car’s internals are taking. It seems cars in Wreckfest can take a whole lot of damage, though, as sometimes cars that look like they should be crippled are still able to be driven around.
The action in Wreckfest can be extremely intense and brutal. Unlike most car games, accidents in Wreckfest are depicted with ragdoll drivers who can be ejected, run over, or dragged along the track. While this can be a little disturbing, there is no gore. And even though you get rewarded for smashing up your fellow racers’ cars, there is no reward for running over drivers in the track, making these ragdoll bodies just props.
While racing in Wreckfest is a combination race and demolition derby, the actual demolition derby events in Wreckfest can feel a little luck-based. You will start in an arena with around twenty other drivers, with the goal of being the last car standing. There is a much different mentality invoked for a demolition derby event than a race. You do more damage by ramming a car head on, but you can also suffer more damage yourself—so it’s a balance between smash, and dash. It’s possible to get ganged up on early, though–especially against real players or tougher computer opponents. If you find yourself constantly smashed up, you can always work on outfitting your cars in the garage—and build one specifically to wreck other cars.
You can use the garage to upgrade your car to be a beast for demolition events—or lighten its load, and put some performance parts on it to make it a speedster for racing events. You earn credits through racing, but you can also earn parts and other cars from doing specific events. There are multiple classes of cars, with different events requiring different vehicles for entry—standard racing game stuff. Though, I feel like they missed an opportunity with how wrecked cars work. For those who want to get into the action fast, you’ll be happy to know if your car gets wrecked, you don’t get penalized. I would have liked to see a mode where you have to manage multiple wreckers for these events, while procuring and upgrading new ones. Wreckfest is all about quickly getting you back into the action—you don’t lose wrecked cars, or even credits to fixed broken cars.
The multiplayer in Wreckfest is alive and well, and full of other players willing to smash you up. Unlike a lot of racing games where there is inherent frustration in making contact with other players online—and the inevitable trolls that make sure that happens—Wreckfest is all about reveling in the carnage you can inflict on others. Crash away!
The cars themselves feel great to drive, and while it doesn’t have as realistic driving simulation as, say, the Dirt series, it manages to make driving feel good. There are assists you can turn off to add to the realism and challenge, but nothing quite removes the semi-arcadey feeling. I think that works perfectly for Wreckfest, though. Developer Bugbear also managed to nail the feel of transitioning between dirt and asphalt, and made your increasingly beat-up car feel damaged, but not un-fun to drive.
While the cars feel good to drive, and the impacts mostly feel weighty, the sound is a little lacking. It’s serviceable, but crashes sound weak, and engines don’t give that feeling of power other car games muster. The soundtrack is also hit or miss, depending on your preference for music. Even being a fan of heavier rock, some of the song choices were grating, and I ended up muting the soundtrack.
Wreckfest is probably the most fun I’ve had playing a racing game in years. Though it’s not like any racing game I’ve played, it’s so much more than just a series of demolition derbies. Wreckfest is full of insane challenges like I’ve never seen, and it is so much fun. Wreckfest is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows.