The hard-hitting steel on steel appeal of Wreckfest

, | Game reviews

“I don’t give a good goddamn. You get out there right now and wash it. I’m not going to be seen in the car like that.”

I knew my dad meant business because he was cussing.

My dad only cussed when he wanted you to know he meant business. I was staying with him for the summer. When he went to work every morning, he let me drop him off and then take the car for the day. I didn’t have a lot to do in this city where I didn’t know anyone, because my dad was only ever someone I visited. But at least he let me have the car, so I could not have a lot to do somewhere other than his boring apartment.

One day, I took the car out into the desert. I drove really fast along dirt roads and splashed around in the mud and pretended I was Mad Max. From certain angles, an old 1970 Ford Maverick looks like a V8 Interceptor. Especially when it’s all dusty and mud spattered, as if it’s been roaming the Australian wasteland scavenging for gasoline. It was beautiful.

My dad didn’t think so when I picked him up from work. I tried to explain it had more character this way. He hadn’t even seen Road Warrior, so he didn’t understand. He was pissed. He wouldn’t let me use any of the towels to wash the car. I had to wash it with newspapers. It’s not easy washing a car with wet newspaper.

When you’re a kid, you learn certain things that never leave you. For instance, not cussing unless you mean business. Or an appreciation for the aesthetics of the beater. A tough car that doesn’t preen. It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts. It’s got big knobby tires because apocalypses don’t lend themselves to smooth roads. It’s loaded with horsepower, survival gear, weapons. I actually taped a kitchen knife under my Ford Pinto once. In case a raider held me at crossbowpoint and demanded that I disarm the explosive booby trap bolted to the undercarriage. I used to run around with my right sleeve pushed up. Just the right sleeve. See?

People would ask me why just the right sleeve? I was too embarrassed to tell them, but I pushed it up anyway. I imagined the sawed-off shotgun on my hip and the sere wasteland all around me.

The point of all this is that you might not appreciate Wreckfest as much as I do. Sure, you might be into racing games enough to appreciate the driving physics. Especially when you turn off the assists. Assists are anathema to driving models. They leach them of character. Turn off the assists if you want to really experience what Wreckfest offers. Grip, weight, oversteer, traction, sway, suspension, all that stuff. Drive with a manual transmission, of course. If you do all this, you’ll be rewarded with double experience points and a better game.

Sure, you might appreciate the career progression, which is as solid as it should be in any caRPG. Everything you do helps you unlock, buy, and upgrade cars, whether you’re into multiplayer, custom events, or the campaign. You unlock, buy, and upgrade specific cars, so you’ll have to pick a favorite. A main. The events — they’re not all races — force you to use a good variety of cars, so you’ll also have your alts. You can drop a better engine into a crappier car and let it race against the better cars. There’s a lot of latitude in Wreckfest for what you drive and when you drive it and how you upgrade it. Which feathers nicely into the driving physics for how different cars drive differently.

Sure, you might appreciate the online multiplayer. There have been plenty of populated servers in the week since Wreckfest’s release. It’s nice to click on multiplayer and get a list of servers to browse instead of having to blindly trust some under-the-hood peer-to-peer voodoo. It’s nice to see a game that looks like it can sustain a healthy multiplayer community, or at least one that can’t hide it if it doesn’t. I wish there were servers set to play without assists, but I’d probably be the only one to join them. Did I mention that Wreckfest is a better game when you turn off the assists?

Sure, you might appreciate the deliriously over-the-top hijinks that fondly recall the genius of Test Drive: Eve of Destruction. For instance, racing a pokey little compact car against 27 school buses, all banging into each other while you dodge between them, like a speed boat among runaway ocean liners. By the time you’re on the third lap of this simple oval, you’re navigating a maze of wrecked buses. I’ve never played a racing game with emergent labyrinths.

Wreckfest has its share of events that play like conventional races, but its core value is rough and tumble instead of shaving a few seconds off a lap. It’s for those of us who long to drive like we did when we were teenage boys: rude and reckless, like we’re the star of an action movie instead of sharing a road with other cars. It’s certainly how the AI longs to drive. This is a game where you can be in first place and some a-hole taps your rear fender during a tight turn, so you spin out and now you’re in 12th place and there’s only half a lap to go, so you blew that race. This is a game where you vindictively T-bone the car designated as your rival — he T-boned you first — and now you’ve got two laps to go with a car one fender-bender away from being wrecked and placing you “did not finish”. This is a game where the audio design isn’t just glorious engine sounds and tire squeals, but the hearty tump, crunch, and thud of cars hitting stuff. Wreckfest isn’t called Racefest. Find the line, other games tell you. Fuck the line, Wreckfest says. If there’s one thing more gratifying than speed, it’s impact. Wreckfest knows you know this.

Sure, you might appreciate the replay feature. It adores your car and your driving prowess as much as you do. It’s as unfettered a camera as I’ve ever seen in a replay feature. You might appreciate all the liveries and goofy accessories (just the straight-up primer black for me, thankyouverymuch). You might appreciate the mod support, the muscular graphics engine, and the polish that comes after a long early access period.

But what you and I might not have in common, even though we both appreciate a good rough and tumble racing game, is an appreciation of Wreckfest’s fundamental identity as a game about battered cars built to get the job done and not to look pretty. It is the anti-Forza. It luxuriates in the dents on a day-to-day sedan instead of the aerodynamic swoop of something Italian and impossibly expensive. It’s too serious for Electronic Arts, but too wild for Papyrus. It’s not interested in car culture or faux social media or sexy street racing. It hasn’t seen any of the Fast and Furious movies. It loves tough cars, not sleek cars. It knows dents add character. You don’t need to drive these beasts around in the desert to make them look like they’ve been scavenging the wasteland. They come that way.

  • Wreckfest

  • Rating:

  • PC
  • Sure, where the rubber meets the road is important. But finally, a game where the steel meets the steel is just as important.