Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Stainless Games
Release Date: May 21, 2015
In the immortal words of Dr. Ian Malcolm (paraphrasing): just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes that applies to remakes of classic 90s video games.
I was a big fan of Carmageddon back in the day. The violent destruction derby combined standard racing with large, fully explorable zones. Racing through checkpoints was only one of three ways to win.
The others involved either destroying your fellow racers, or running over every poor pedestrian that wandered into range of your four-wheeled death machine. It was silly, over-the-top violence that was very 90s and very fun. An expansion pack added more fun, while a middling sequel suggested that the magic may have already died a bit.
Skip ahead to our current Kickstarter-addled, nostalgic fueled age. Stainless Games bought back the rights to their beloved car-smashing series and jumped onto the Kickstarter bandwagon back in 2012. An official remake was in the works.
Carmageddon: Reincarnation was finally released three years later after a hefty dose of time in open development via Steam Early Access. The result was a buggy, poorly optimized mess that I initially shied away from, despite being a Kickstarter backer. Thankfully a few months of post-launch patches and support have stabilized the gameplay and the result is a briefly nostalgic, but ultimately forgettable experience.
Carmageddon: Reincarnation works hard to capture every little detail and quirk of the original, from the goofy sound effects to the grotesque splattering of the pedestrians. Entire levels are remade piece by piece, while every unique and fun car design returns. It’s a fun trip seeing familiar racers like Screwie Lewie, Max Damage, and The Brothers Grimm in their iconic vehicles.
Unfortunately the transition made the floaty controls even worse, to the point of constant frustration that just about ruins the entire experience. Even when driving on asphalt with a very heavy vehicle I still spun out of control on a frequent basis. Drifting is an absolute joke, and only useful if you want to do a complete 180. If you’re driving on dirt, grass, or snow, which many maps employ, forget about having any semblance of control once you take the slightest nudge in any direction.
Tight controls are kind of important in a racing game, and Carmageddon: Reincarnation completely fails in that regard. Thankfully the game isn’t all about racing. Many courses quickly turn into a destruction derby fest, and the AI is all too happy to fight back. The new real-time damage and repairs look fantastic, though I found the actual parts flying back into your car as you repair on the fly to be incredibly distracting.
Your own destruction comes swiftly and often. Recovery and repairs cost credits, which are earned by doing good things like hitting other cars and people. The ratio of getting destroyed is completely out of whack, however. Early and mid-game especially I was constantly getting destroyed, even when upgrading my armor and driving supposedly tougher-ranked vehicles.
Since you advance through the career mode by earning credits, every death and blow sustained costs you progress, making many scenarios more frustrating than fun. In the latter half of the game I abandoned racing entirely since it didn’t pay out enough credits. Career mode simply unlocks additional courses and gameplay modes, while allowing you to unlock new vehicles by destroying them. I did enjoy unlocking new vehicles far more frequently than the original game, and being able to customize their paint job is a nice touch.
The new gameplay modes are a unique addition to Carmageddon: Reincarnation. Ped Chase and Checkpoint Stampede both create really fun “Chase After the Thing” scenarios, forcing everyone into chaotic death zones. Fox ‘N Hounds is Carmageddon‘s version of playing Tag, as one player is “It” with a countdown timer, while the others try to touch you (Unfortunately the AI flounders at catching a half-way decent player).
Other modes were a slog that I soon skipped every time they came up. Death Race focuses on just doing laps around a track. Given Carmageddon‘s aforementioned terrible controls, this focuses on entirely the wrong elements of gameplay. Car Crusher seems like a good idea – get the most kills. In practice it’s utterly frustrating as even if you win you end up repairing so much damage that it’s just not worth playing in Career mode.
Carmageddon: Reincarnation also brings back the goofy power-ups and weapons that would make Super Mario Kart raise an eyebrow. Power-ups include weapons like death rays and mines as well as ongoing effects, such as lunar gravity, frozen opponents, and pinball mode. The insane effects reinforce the goofy, darkly-humorous tone of the game. But often the effects compound the already poor controls – good luck trying to drive at all under the bouncing, twirling effects of lunar gravity.
Multiplayer was completely dead, so I was unable to give it a try. Unsurprising given its poor reception upon release. I have a mid to high-range gaming PC but had to scale the graphics back to medium as high was completely unplayable. I also experienced frequent crashes and lockups, one of which completely locked up my entire PC, which I don’t think has happened since I built it two years ago.
As a pure racing game Carmageddon: Reincarnation is far too frustrating, with floaty controls and power-ups that often further derail your driving. As a car-smashing game it retains the fun of the original, though I wish the ratio of destroying enemies versus being wrecked yourself was far more favorable – it feels utterly impossible to play a lighter weight vehicle and even attempt to destroy other cars.
The new gameplay modes are a mixed bag, but I’m glad they added them in addition to the Classic Carma – of which only wrecking opponents is really enjoyable. Carmageddon: Reincarnation is built for fans and only hardcore fans may be willing to forgive its many issues.
- Fun nostalgic trip for fans of the original
- Large levels are fun to explore off-track
- New vehicles and gameplay modes are welcome additions
- Awful, frustrating controls
- You always feel far more weaker and vulnerable than your opponents
- Some of the new gameplay modes don’t work well
- Multiplayer is dead
- Numerous crashes and freezes