by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 13th September, 2018
Summer's almost gone but in case you look for a game to fill out the last couple of weeks of sunshine, holidays, and summer breaks you should definitely check out Wreckfest, a perfect summer game and the latest entry in a long-running series of driving games that put destruction in front of everything else.
Many of you might wonder what the hell am I talking about because obviously there's no number after Wreckfest, right? Nor there's any subtitle that could imply the game's a sequel or an expansion, or a standalone title that's still part of the main series. But Wreckfest actually us a spiritual successor of FlatOut 2, one of the best stunt arcade racers of all time. The game was a blast to play with one of the best soundtracks of all times - just listen to this YouTube playlist - awesome tracks, a colorful cast of characters, excellent car models, amazing destruction physics, and an overall incredible racing experience. It was a game where you'd rather destroy the car of a racer behind you than finish in first place. It was a game where destruction and racing complemented each other perfectly. It was a game that, along with Burnout games, celebrated racing chaos and destruction in a deeply entertaining way.
Sadly though, Bugbear lost rights to FlatOut franchise and the series became a way for a ruthless cash grab that were FlatOut 3 and 4, two generic and oh so bad games that should be buried and forgotten. Never, ever play those two.
Luckily, folks from Bugbear managed to secure funds for a new racing game and in 2014 Next Car Game landed on Steam Early Access. It was soon after renamed to Wreckfest and after four long years it exited Early Access as a complete and finished product during June 2018 and managed to make a small but noticeable bang in PC gamer community. Bugbear created a worthy successor to FlatOut 2 and a destruction fest that should be played by anyone loving racing games, stunt racers, FlatOut, destruction derby games, and car carnage in general.
And the game is perfect for summer because, during summer we want to play something interesting, pretty looking, challenging at times yet easy to pick up, absorbing but also being able to play in small chunks of time and most importantly, something that doesn't take itself too seriously. Wreckfest tick all those sweet boxes.
The game doesn't take itself too seriously and that's great. All cards look like they've been scrounged from a nearby wrecking yard just before they were turned into boxes, and then filled with an angry engine, dusty seat before being given to local madmen to drive them in races. And the special events, like the one where you are put behind a wheel of a huge school bus with a goal of destroying as many Reliant Supervans as you can, or "superfast" lawn mowers, or the crazy double decker races will surely steal a smile even from the grumpiest of faces.
The game is filled with flat-out laugh moments with tons of wrecking happening on a second to the second basis along with hilarious details such as the sheer creativity of driver names that look like they are coming from "drunk account names" Steam group. Wreckfest is an extremely aggressive game but also one where you will be laughing out loud every time you play it. The why-so-serious nature of the game is best presented during multiplayer races where everyone is trying to wreck everyone else so if you take multiplayer seriously and try some clean racing you will be disappointed, frustrated, and won't have a good time. But at least the game's small but faithful online community is friendly and always ready to deal with those who take things too far south, who ruin the game for everyone else by driving in opposite direction or simply stop and halt and play the role of an obstacle right at the trickiest part of the trickiest turn on a specific track.
And the game is pretty as heaven. Lighting looks stunning, filled with bloom and saturated colors while cars shine brightly and reflect everything around them. Racetracks aren't filled with tiny details like Forza, Project Cars, or Gran Turismo games but they also are quite pretty and with lots of details that make every track unique and immediately recognizable. Car models won't make you stare in awe but they look more than decent for a modern racing game. While not quite detailed as in big budget games, cars feature unmatched damage model that will put every other game, even Burnout Paradise, to shame. And here summer never ends. The game doesn't support stuff like dynamic weather and change between night and day during races. And you won't see any fog or rain, or overcast weather. Now, this might be a minus but surely not for a game you want to play during summer. In Wreckest the sun always shines and your opponents constantly want to kill you, which is great if you ask me.
Impact physics are great making your car earning unique bends from hitting other drivers as well as track object during each race, and watching how your car turns into slightly banged but almost untouched racing vehicle into a pile of metal without hood, doors, and almost all other chassis parts completely wrecked is beautiful and hilariously fun. Extremely detailed destruction system makes demolition derby events magnificent shows of untamed obliteration. And every track is filled with destructive objects like tire walls and metal and wood fences just further increasing havoc that happens during every race.
Every car engine sounds like it smoked a tobacco filed worth of cigarettes before it was installed in chassis, they all are angry muscle car sounds that lift the overall aggro feel of the game to a higher level. Add to that an amazing soundtrack filled with all kinds of aggressive guitar sounds ranging from stoner rock to alt rock to metalcore to post-hardcore to modern Gothenburg metal - along with a couple of drum and bass tracks playing in menus - and you got yourself one highly hostile sound package. If you're into this kind of music, Wreckfest has one of the best soundtracks in years. If not, at least listening to the tracks will make you want to obliterate every other car on the track, which is kind of the point of the whole game meaning that the soundtrack absolutely accomplishes its mission.
The driving model is leaning towards simulation but it isn't a full-fledged sim like we've seen in Project Cars of Asseto Corsa. Here, handbrake is the king and every turn should be attacked with its help. You can use classic breaking to handle turns but the wrecking nature of the game combined with a complete chaos happening during every race and the fact that most tracks feature dirt favors handbrake. Also, the second most favorite way to break is to simply slam into the race leader, at the same time nullifying their chance to win the race and crowning yourself as the leader of the pack.
The game's driving model is pretty unique and can be learned after just a couple of races. Every car has a distinctive handling model, with front wheel vehicles bearing completely different feel to them than rear-wheel driving beasts. The former are in a noticeable minority but that's okay because rear-drive cars are much more fun to drive because they are unstable during turns (especially after you upgrade their specs a couple of times - but faster during straights. Overall, the driving model can be compared to the one in recent Dirt games, which is great. There are regular driving assists available and if you plan on having fun with Wreckfest and want the best summer experience available to turn them off and start destroying other racers.
On the other hand, if you want a challenge just turn assists off and play the game on hard difficulty and you will get plenty of challenge and who knows, maybe even a destroyed controller or two. The game also offers simple tuning options that can give you an edge on different tracks. The best of all they all are explained in detail so you will know which setup to use with different cars and on different tracks. And no, you won't see replay assistance here so get ready to restart races quite often. Luckily most of them have only 3 laps and pretty short tracks so that's not a problem at all.
AI is excellently done and here's why. Firstly, you will think there's some kind of catch-up mechanic working here because no matter how good you're driving a few cars will always be just behind you. But that's not true. The truth is, every racer in this game has similar skill meaning they all can win a race. And they can be extremely challenging to beat on hard difficulty (at least until you get lots of engine upgrades when your car becomes fastest of the bunch by far) and will slam into you every time they get the opportunity. All this makes for a skill-based game with a ton of slamming and wrecking and destroying other cars, making it very tough to escape from the pack. It's simple, Bugbear created an AI that perfectly emulates racers who participate in banger racing meaning they know how to drive and they are quite good at it but they would rather just smash into the nearest opponent if they have a chance.
As soon as you take the first place by PIT maneuvering them into oblivion some other racer will start breathing down your neck. All this makes for exceptionally dynamic races where everyone can win. And this is great because, in Wreckfest, you don't have to finish first - except in single events of course - in every single event of a series in order to triumph. The competitions aren't dull as in Forza where you have one main rival who always finishes second - or first if they manage to beat you - and a bunch of other people who are there just to fill up the race. Here you can freely slam into other cars, destroy your rivals, finish as third, fourth, second, and first and still win a championship because each race has a different winner, enabling you to just enjoy the game and wreck others.
Wreckfest also can be addictive as Coke (drink, not the white powder), keeping you stitched to the screen for hours and hours but it also can be played in small chunks of time. Single events can be finished in just ten minutes, even faster if you're good, and most tracks appearing in championship series are pretty short and have just 3 laps, making an average time of a race somewhere at around five minutes. Sure, you will restart races regularly but even with half a dozen restarts in case you end up wrecked or someone sends you spinning out of the track, most races can be finished in 20 minutes or less. This is perfect for the summer because you can play it for a whole day in case the day gets ruined by rain, or just for a half an hours before friends call you to join them at a pool.
The single-player campaign spans hundreds of events and will last of 20 or more hours, with multiplayer that is extremely fun to play and plenty of cars to unlock. Banger racing featured in the game is wild, crashes are hilarious, the number of events is enough for a long-term engagement, opponent AI is skilled and without any unfair advantage, visuals are pretty, the game is aggressive and yet with a great sense of humor. So, if you are searching for a game to fill out these last days of summer look no more. Wreckfest is a perfect choice.