As you may have guessed from the not-so-subtle subtitle, Wreckfest is a new entry in the oft sidelined genre of demolition racer. Steering clear of sim racing like the Dirt Rally or Gran Turismo series’, Wreckfest is a ho down of a racer/arena brawler that sees you mangling many an automobile.
It’s a welcome change if you’re getting a bit bored with the routine racers, as Wreckfest allows to smash up all kinds of cars: from Buicks to Beetles, wagons to three wheelers, even going as wacky as combine harvesters and motorised sofas. Complete with wacky exhausts.
So far, so good, right? Well, for the most part, yes. But with every yin comes a yang, in this case being some unnecessary rubber banding (more on that later), and loading times that would put pre-patch Bloodborne to shame.
But let’s not stall this ride any longer, as I drive full throttle into the beautiful mayhem of Wreckfest…
Right from the off, it’s not hard to see the heavy American influence on Wreckfest (I don’t mean Americans are heavy, I mean the American influence is heavy on the game), as this kind of sport is mostly popular in the US of A. Hell, even the first proper car you’re driving in the campaign has the American flag livery on it. But, that’s not to say the game is solely based in America, as there are events in Scandinavian regions too. It adds a bit of culture to game, instead of just being an inherently rootin’, tootin’ experience, which is nice. For the most part, and largely in part for this review, the majority of the racing is in American territories.
Whilst the majority of Wreckfest is either racing or demolition derbies, it does a sterling job of throwing something random in the mix to keep your attention piqued. You’ve probably heard about how most Formula 1 drivers started their careers on the go kart circuits and the like. Well, Wreckfest pays homage to that in its particular way.
Except they’re not go karts, they’re ride-on lawnmowers. Sensibly de-bladed, but just as lethal as you punt other racers off of theirs in the first derby of the career. Honestly, it’s as daft as it sounds, with a good shunt blasting someone Team Rocket-style off of their little engine that couldn’t if you hit them with enough speed. It’s mad, it’s hilarious, and it’s a perfect setup to what Wreckfest holds in store for you.
Starting off at the Amateur level of your career progression, you’re tasked with hitting a certain point limit before you can unlock the next stage. Each level has a number of events, each one earning you points depending on your podium/overall finish, as well as in-event challenges to finish.
These events range from your standard demolition derby, which features twenty four drivers all smashing seven bells out of each other, to circuit races with fifteen opponents. Some are just one off events, some are multiple race points acquisition, and on occasion it’s a mano-a-mano race against a single opponent. Challenges are varied in type and difficulty: it could be as easy as wrecking at least one opponent in one race, to spinning out a minimum of three over a four-race event. Others could be finish with a certain minimum distance between you and the first place loser, or inflicting a certain amount of damage across an event. Luckily, the pause menu keeps a progression counter so you can keep up to speed on how you’re doing.
The beauty of these events is that you can start them in any order that you like, provided you have the right vehicle for it. More often than not, your starter car will do the job, but some events are locked until you earn enough dough to purchase a suitable car. This might be down to the front or rear wheel drive class restrictions, or the specific type of car needed. But at least being able to see what you need gives you an idea as what to aim for, so that you don’t go wasting your hard earned on a vehicle you won’t need until another progression level. As you move up the race levels, you’ll notice that only a few events are available at the start of each group, so you’ll be needing a relevant car to get the points necessary to unlock more.
But cars are not just a cosmetic or practical reliance at face value, there’s some quite extensive upgrading and tuning you can put into your speedwagon, if that takes your fancy. Much like the highly respected Forza series, Wreckfest features a heavily similar performance index for your garage. For the uninitiated, it means that whilst you can add performance and output upgrades to your car(s), it increases the cars index number. If this reaches the threshold, it means it could bump it into the next class on the index list. Whilst overall this is well and good, you run the risk of annexing it from being eligible in its current class. So by all means add a new exhaust, but don’t go too crazy, too soon, if you need that car for a few more events. Remember kids, points means progression, to buy more cars. You don’t want to blast your credits on a car that is too pimped out to finish the block of events.
Now, this not being a full simulation racing game, the tuning side of Wreckfest has been somewhat “dumbed down” for the non-petrol heads… like me. I am not ashamed to admit it: I know how a car works, I even drive one, but if you asked me to repair it, or add a new part, I’d be scratching my head. Luckily, Wreckfest caters for us non-mechanically minded by utilising a slider-style of tuning. Suspension, for example, has a hard or soft option, with a neutral balance in the middle. Helpfully, there’s a little text box at the end of each one telling you what these changes will bring. This does give you some element of preparation for the race(s) ahead, if you’re aiming for those top times. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll ignore all of this and wang it around a track on its default setting, hoping for the best.
Another thing to consider as you’re hooning about tracks/arenas, which Bugbear have had time to work on since previous titles Flatout 1 and 2, is the damage you can inflict and receive to yourself and others. Utilising what they call a “soft body” destruction engine, that’s essentially fancy talk for fully realised, appropriate damage modelling.
Now, that may seem nom de rigueur for a game of this nature, otherwise it’s not doing its job properly, but Wreckfest nails it. Whilst you can toggle how standard or realistic the damage you take can be, every impact can be felt. Even down to the slight hockey check of a solid barrier can have a detrimental impact if you’re not careful, so there has to be some caution that isn’t thrown to the wind when you race. Doubly so for the demolition derby events: you may thing you’re coming down like the sword of judgement as you gun it towards someone, but it is a double-edged sword, after all. Barreling full throttle into someone could take you out too. If, like me, you played the original Psygnosis Demolition Derby’s back in the day, you’ll know that going backwards is the best way to go forwards, and that’s just as applicable here.
For those of you that like the “authentic” racing experience, just slightly short of looking up banger racing careers in your local gazette, you can set the damage to realistic for that extra edge in vehicular battle. Of course, don’t surprised when you take a corner a bit too wide into someone else and it knackers your wheel and suspension… y’know, like a real life, high speed shunt would. You’re probably wondering why you’d even want that option in the first place?
Again, like Forza, Wreckfest uses a score multiplayer at the end of each event to earn you more credits. The less driving aids, higher damage level and opponent AI you have set, the more you earn. Whilst it’s not a game breaker if you want to keep it at the standard level, the option is there if you start to think it’s a bit too easy, and you want to step your game up.
That being said, and you want to give the realistic world of high impact car racing a rest, you can always kick back on the sofa, and race one of those instead.
No, that’s not a typo for Skoda. You can actually race sofas around, in one of the most hilarious racing modes I’ve seen outside of a console mascot kart racer. You can pitch yourself on a grid of 24 racers, in a kitted out couch, in a banger race with a twist. It’s as absurd as it sounds, it’s beautiful to watch racers be ejected from their comfy seats, but to actual race it is like going up against a reclining member of Dark Souls royalty: sofa king hard.
If chez lounges aren’t your thing, then why not aim for something bigger. No, not a Toyota Hilux, think bigger. Like, combine harvester big. That’s right, you get yourself behind the wheel of that gigantic thresher-like monster you see patrolling fields and farmhouses.
Live out those dark thoughts you couldn’t do in Farming Simulator in a cattle royale race, like a farmer with a grudge. They’re big, unwieldy, and not likely to win you any top lap times, but by jove are they fun to drive about.
And it’s not just those little or large extremes that you have the choice of playing with. There’s school buses, Reliant Robin’s (those naff three-wheelers made popular from Only Fools and Horses), a double-decker amalgamation, and many more in between. It’s not just American muscle cars and station wagons. Imported Asian and European cars enter the fray as you start to unlock/afford more, each with different drivetrains and handling abilities, for the car aficionado to sink their sink into.
Each one can be fitted with a whole heap of upgrades, as well as a multitude of liveries for you to take to either single or multiplayer. The same performance index restrictions apply online, too, so there’s no fear of going into a race and getting absolutely from the starting line (unless you suck, obviously).
So, with the heaps of praise must come the inevitable nitpicks, right? Well, sadly so, as Wreckfest isn’t impervious to criticism. My main one, it has to be said, is definitely the soundtrack.
As mentioned, the American-ness is rampant, which unfortunately stretches to the generic butt-rock music throughout. Filled with bands that sound like runners up to open for Nickelback, after you start hearing them on loop, it starts to grate. Whilst it wouldn’t have sounded out of place in any early noughties THQ MX/ATV game (still waiting for Click Click Boom to come on), it’s just so generic and repetitive that after a while you’ll be turning the in-game music down.
Speaking of repetition, like a bad lunch, drivers have a habit of sneaking up on you and spewing ahead of you at times, even if you think you’ve left them in the rear view dust. I get that there is a need for competition, but rubber banding just ruins the fun of a glorious lead if anyone can sneak up on you at warp speed. Yes, it’s beneficial for you if you’re flagging, but it’s such an unnecessary inclusion in this game.
The other unwelcome aspect is the frankly disgusting loading times. I don’t want to be pompous and say, “This has been in development for a few years, they should have gotten this sorted by now”, but at the same time… c’mon.
When you’re in the middle of a four-race event, it’s a bit of an excitement killer when you’re waiting for what seems like a long time between races. Any adrenaline you’ve built up from smashing your opponents (figuratively and literally) on the track quickly dumps as you have to wait an awkward amount between new tracks loading in.
Hopefully, this will patched in at a later date (much like the previously mentioned Bloodborne did). It’d be nice to look back and reminisce about them, than have it being a looming annoyance as it is now.
But in the grand scheme of things, they are only a couple of mild niggles in an otherwise cracking demolition racer.
Proof that TLC and patience pay off, considering this was originally conceived in 2012 by Bugbear, and off the back of a failed Kickstarter campaign a year afterwards, Wreckfest has been a slow build up for a rewarding game. Finally out of Early Access and available for full-game purchase now, it’s a welcome addition to a genre that has been lacking in a decent game.
Strong emphasis of racing/destruction, with a plethora of cars to tweak and modify to your heart’s content, the only gripes are down to musical preference and patience with loading times.
It may not push graphical boundaries, yet ran perfectly fine on my standard Xbox One, it’s still an attractive game. Fully realised car modelling and damage, it makes for entertaining mishaps and crashes when they happen (to other people).
So strap in, trust no one, and hammer that throttle and leave destruction in your wake as you wreck every other motherfluffer on the scene to become the master of Wreckfest.
Wreckfest is available now on Xbox One (reviewed on), PlayStation 4 and Steam
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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