The banner ads for Carmageddon: Reincarnation read “Max is back!”. It’s awfully magnanimous of developer Stainless Games to buy ad space to congratulate George Miller for the amazing spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh, wait. The dude in Carmageddon is named Max, isn’t he? Max Damage, I see now from the character select screen. I always chose the chick, so can you blame me for getting confused? Besides, Fury Road is a stunning example of a moribund franchise kicked back into high gear with fully upgraded modern sensibilities. Too bad the same can’t be said for the totally adequate Carmageddon: Reincarnation.
After the jump, what a day.
More Fury Road similarities come to mind as you rediscover Carmageddon: Reincarnation’s crazy cars and crazier action, mostly ported intact from the 1997 original. There are some new bits. I’m sure some of these power-ups are new. The power-ups-on-demand is a new feature, letting you duck into a menu to buy whatever powerup you want once you’ve earned the money. Police cars joining the fray are also new. But whereas Fury Road is an inspired fever dream of new ways to climb around on a speeding tractor-trailer rig, Carmageddon: Reincarnation is mostly a retread.
It feels a tad unfinished. The half-assed controller support makes it clear this was made by a bunch of PC dudes who haven’t played a lot of driving games since the days when we drove with our keyboards. Because, yeah, that really happened. We used to drive with our keyboards. Believe it or not, we even used to play Doom with our keyboards. But no one making a modern shooter is going to half-ass the mouse support the way the Carmageddon devs have half-assed their controller support.
There’s also the excellent — if not overly complicated — replay system in Carmageddon: Reincarnation. What a great way to recapture those classic moments when your car does a triple flip and lands on a cow. Given that the Carmageddon devs are still living in a time when we played driving games with keyboards, is it any surprise they’re not hip to sharing those moments by exporting video or posting it online? The replays in Carmegeddon: Reincarnation exist only inside the game and only for as long as you’re watching them. If you want something more persistent or shareable, run some third-party capture software, because the guys at Stainless don’t have anything for you.
But if Carmageddon: Reincarnation falls short in comparison to Fury Road, the more apt comparison is the original Road Warrior for how it certainly holds up. It’s still a delight running through this small set of levels, finding secrets, splattering pedestrians, ramming the other cars, unlocking the cars to use yourself, and frenetically grooving on the distinct physics of a Carmaggedon game, where gravity is relaxed, friction is taking a holiday, and any given fender’s attachment to its car is non-committal at best. Each of the vehicles has its own personality, and not just for how batshit crazy they look, but for how they handle. If you take a heavy enough car, the flights of physics fancy are more down to earth and Carmageddon plays like it might be an actual driving sim. But why do that? Dunebuggy around in an open-wheel Razorbill, slip and tumble in a nimble Volkswerker beetle, or drive really fast in a straight line as the classic Annihiliator drag racer. One of the great things about this physics model is how much personality it affords all these different cars.
Of course, the cars are only part of the equation. It wouldn’t be Carmageddon without the pedestrians, because it owes more to Death Race than anything Mad Max. Whatever kind of challenge you’re facing, the levels are stocked with different kinds of blood bags, strolling around, sometimes with walkers. Nuns, cheerleaders, the morbidly obese, dogs, all ready to pop like engorged ticks, but this time with a new dismemberment model. The persistence of the gore is probably the most notable thing about the upgraded game engine. This Carmageddon doesn’t look much better than the original — it’s higher resolution, of course — but it’s gorier because bodies and blood don’t just vanish. Those bodies you splattered apart on lap one will still be there on lap five. That long red skid mark isn’t going away anytime soon.
You’ll start in the same old city area with the same stadium in the center that you remember from the original game. You’ll be here for a while as you do events that recycle the same location or two, over and over. But the further you get into the campaign mode — which is mandatory for unlocking cars, locations, and events — the more you’ll find that Stainless has put some thought into how you interact with the different locations. The initial feeling of “oh jeeze, not this same map again” gives way to the giddy discovery of “whoa, I didn’t know this area was here” or “hey, this is a clever layout for a race”.
So what starts as disappointment that Carmegeddon hasn’t come further in nearly 20 years eventually turns into a comfortable familiarity as you rediscover what made Carmageddon great. Not every update has to reinvent itself at a whole new level. Not every sequel or reboot has to reach the level of Fury Road. Sometimes just being as good as the original will do just fine.
Stainless Games is proud to announce the latest ground-breaking game in the series. Yes, Carmageddon: Reincarnation is HERE. And with it comes everything that was great about the original Carmageddon, plus MORE! MORE carnage! MORE LOLZ! MOAR GRANNIES! It's got Career, Freeplay and Multiplayer modes plus CarMODgeddon modding support. It's the latter-day high-octane car smashing ped mashing antidote to racing games.