Carmageddon: Max Damage, an updated version of the PC exclusive Carmageddon: Reincarnation, is the first in the storied franchise to hit consoles since the original game way back in 1999. Stainless Games (the same developer that made the original) haven’t strayed far from the initial formula with Max Damage, which proves both a canny and disappointing choice.
The idea if you’re not familiar with the series (and can’t figure it out from the name) is pretty straight forward. You need to drive a car in an incredibly reckless way in an attempt to beat your opponents. Whether you do that by racing them through the various checkpoints or pulverizing them into powder is up to you. Technically, you can also win by killing all of the pedestrians before one of your opponents win via another means, but I’ve never managed that in any of the various versions of the game.
Max Damage adds some new options, and you’ll need to defeat different mission types as you progress through career mode. Varieties on a theme, they task you to do things like kill the marked pedestrian, win a race, play fox and hound, etcetera. For the most part, they’re a welcome change of pace, but they also by their very nature task you with doing something specific in your car, which increases the frustration factor ten-fold.
Carmageddon’s cars, you see, handle like arse. When you’re just cruising around, seeing what the various physics-bending powerups do, it’s not that big of a deal; you can generally convince your car to do 80 percent of what you need it to and then wing the rest. If you’re trying to hit a tiny pedestrian, however, things get decidedly more dicey. When you lose the points you earned for hitting those pedestrians because you accidently hit a mine… don’t play this game if you have a bad temper.
Otherwise, Carmageddon’s pretty much exactly what it always was: an open-world car game with a loose racing theme and a penchant for the gory dismemberment of pedestrians. Power-ups perform much as they always have, letting you do all manner of things to pedestrians / opponents / yourself (and not always things you’d like to be doing), and this sprinkles a unique blend of spice on top of what would be pretty ordinary without them.
It looks a bit “meh” by today’s standards (if you’d told me it was running on an Xbox 360, I wouldn’t have been surprised), which completely fails to explain away the game’s major technical shortcomings: it takes aaaages to load each level and the frame rate often dips below 30fps. The PC release was similarly unimpressive technically when it released – to much outrage – so it’s disappointing (if not surprising) to see that Stainless has been unable to deliver in this regard on consoles either.
All that said, however, Carmageddon’s always had a crazy X factor that allows players to extract more entertainment from it than would be reasonable if just summing its parts. Max Damage is no exception; there’s chaos here and that occasionally leads to the sort of insane, pants-ripping inanity that you just can’t get anywhere else. Think: Rocket League but with corpses and blood and you’re most of the way there.
A tentative recommendation, then, with a big slice of “buyer beware”. The bits and pieces of Carmageddon just aren’t very good, and if that bothers you it might well be enough to stop you from enjoying the strange synergistic chaos / fun that emerges on occasion.