Vroom Kaboom by developer Ratloop Games is pretty unique. It’s a blend of deckbuilding card game, tower defense, and physics-based car combat that hasn’t been seen before. It features lots of fun and hectic physics-based moments, and it’s right on the cusp of merging all of its disparate parts into a satisfying game.
While there isn’t exactly a story to Vroom Kaboom, you can kinda suss out the details through context. There are three major factions that are competing against one another: the laid back Soul Station, the futuristic Drift City, and the Mad Max-inspired Skullborough. Each faction has their own style, music, locations, and vehicles. But we never really know why these factions are fighting–or anything else about them, really.
In Vroom Kaboom when you’re playing against players or AI, you will face your opponent in either a one-versus-one, two-versus-two, or three-versus-three modes. Each team’s goal is to destroy the other team’s oil tanks while defending your own. To do this, you play cards from your hand which are taken from your customizable deck. There are two types of cards to play: vehicles and objects. Objects like roadblocks and airstrikes are placed in order to stop opponents. There are other objects like oil derricks and fire…derricks(?) to gather oil and fire resources (respectively), which are needed to deploy cards. These resources can also be gathered on the battlefield as you or your AI controlled vehicles drive. You can play more than one card at once, and you can choose to take direct control (there’s even a cockpit view, but it seems useless beyond novelty). The whole thing sort of feels like football, but instead of lines of defenders you have a constant stream of cars going towards each other’s fuel reserves.
You can deploy and control all sorts of vehicles in each faction. There are aircraft like helicopters, and airplanes, and an entire array of ground vehicles. Some vehicles have guns; others rely on smashing into opponents to do damage. There is a bit of strategy to the vehicles you deploy. It’s possible to deny your opponents of resources on the field if you play intelligently, and the proper combination of ranged attackers can completely negate an incoming attack. The strategy and deck building aspects of Vroom Kaboom aren’t the best, but they’re interesting and fun. What baffles me is the choices they made with the physics-based driving.
While you can take direct control of vehicles in Vroom Kaboom, the controls are just strange. You can steer, but only by switching lanes. Switching lanes is done with a click, yet the vehicle has physics that act on it as if you’re turning a steering wheel. You don’t have a fine control over this lane changing, so changing lanes at speed can often cause faster cars to careen off course and wreck. Cars can’t slow down or stop once deployed, so if they get caught up on a piece of rubble or terrain they’re stuck, and if they’re stuck for long enough they just explode. For a game that so closely teases car combat like Twisted Metal, it is never quite as satisfying.
There are a few different locations to play in, with each track usually determined by which factions are playing. Each of these arenas (tracks?) are unique, and provide different obstacles and routes. While there aren’t many of them, there does manage to be some interesting variations. Still, I would have liked to see some gameplay variations.
Vroom Kaboom is a deckbuilding game, and as a deckbuilding game there are loot boxes to open and cards to collect. Each card can be earned in-game by purchasing it with scrap. This is a tedious, but not completely unfair process. But, of course, the most powerful cards are locked behind this requirement. If you want to eschew the grind, you can purchase the premium version, which unlocks all of the cards immediately.
There is a paltry amount of single player in Vroom Kaboom. Each faction does have its own campaign, with fifteen matches in each campaign, but these are just a series of matches against AI. They do get progressively more difficult, and there are secondary objectives you can complete, but they’re really nothing more than challenge levels rather than a full-fledged single player campaign. Another single player option is the tutorial, which is absolutely abysmal, and one of the things that makes Vroom Kaboom hard to recommend. It should serve as an introduction on how to play, but it’s just a checklist of activities with no instruction or context. It’s not the most complex game, but it’s so unique and strange that a little more primer would be appreciated.
Vroom Kaboom can be played in Steam VR with the Rift or Vive. Though it isn’t full roomscale, you can use tracked motion controls to play, so you’re not just stuck with keyboard and mouse or controller.
Vroom Kaboom is an interesting experiment, but it’s not entirely successful. It’s not exactly a bad game, it’s just a strange one. For every emergent physics-based moment, or clever use of strategy, there are moments of frustration—mostly because of the confounding decision to not even give the option to control vehicles beyond a few button clicks. Vroom Kaboom is free to play, so you can check it out yourself.
Vroom Kaboom is available today on Steam.