Carmageddon 3: TDR 2000 Review
By Mitsuo Takemoto |
I have nothing against running people over. Whatever my personal feelings, I understand and can appreciate depictions of wanton and gratuitous carnage. But having an appreciation for The Wild Bunch or Soldier of Fortune has nothing to do with Carmageddon. This game rewards you for demolishing property and running people over. I think that's an idea ripe with all sorts of gaming goodness. So now that you know I don't have anything against violence per se (the game is rated for audiences over 17 years of age), I can safely say that I don't like this game at all. While there are some decent ideas here and there, the overall effect of Carmageddon is one of boredom and frustration. The challenge is less in finding the secrets to each level and more in finding a reason to keep playing.
The premise is fine. You're a motorist with a mercenary mentality. You alternate checkpoint races with mission based scavenger hunts. Equal parts demolition derby and vehicular manslaughter, Carmageddon translates into a whole lot of who gives a damn. And that's where the problem is: I don't care about what's going on. Part of that might be blamed on my cynical and jaded attitude, but I think we've got to lay most of the blame on the game itself. While the levels are pretty large and varied, they're too random and chaotic to be believable. And the game presents some ridiculous challenges. It becomes less a matter of how well you can drive and more a matter of how well you can find hidden power ups and secret doors and how often you're willing to go back and retry a given level until you've found the secrets that the designers have placed there.
The racing half of the game is actually pretty engaging. You and seven other cars must race around a circuit hitting key checkpoints. It's great to have the sense of competition here and the enemy AI is pretty savvy. It's not the smartest I've ever faced but these racers have an understanding of basic driving that's pretty impressive given the emphasis on physical contact in this game. I mean, these guys will really muscle you out of the way and will push you into all sorts of obstacles (and there are lots of obstacles). The AI does have a few problems extricating itself from a pile up once it's started though and I did have a few problems getting pinned against a wall with another racer while the rest of the pack sped by. But overall, the race portions of the game are solid.
But the mission half of things is just silly. Instead of the straight competitiveness of the races, most of the missions pit you against a clock. You must manage to locate certain items, hit certain switches, make certain jumps, etc. The few missions that actually pit you against another opponent are much better and offer more of a sense of involvement. Otherwise it's just a time sensitive scavenger hunt. Once you've failed the mission a couple of times, you'll know where everything is and you'll be able to pull it off pretty easily. And by that point, you've usually exhausted most of the fun in the level.
And while I understand that the premise of the game can't be as sophisticated as the Cannonball Run, the ideas behind the missions are rarely convincing. Not even in a fantastic kind of way. Without giving anything away, let me just talk about one of the very first missions you have to perform. You're stuck in an amusement park and are looking for a way to escape. You have to drive around collecting bombs to blow up a door to get in the computer lab to discover that there's a switch in the graveyard that releases a giant shark in a nearby pond. Once you throw that switch, the mission ends. While it might be neat in an MDK setting, it just seems like not enough thought was put into creating a meaningful conflict within the game.
The graphics engine has been overhauled for this game but it doesn't look that much better than last year's Carpocalypse Now. While the models are okay, textures are clunky and there are numerous clipping problems both with the models and with the camera. What the game does very well is simulate the outrageous damage that is so much a part of this game. The damage textures for the cars are some of the best I've ever seen and the way the pieces fly off is something that has to be seen to be believed. On a more disturbing level, the bloody splats when you hit the various pedestrians and sheep that populate the levels are really great. If you can stomach them that is. Your tires even leave bloody tracks when you run people down. It's a nice touch...if by nice you mean really gross.
As far as the physics engine goes, Carmageddon just doesn't feel right. A game like this begs for more of a kart style model, but here the brakes are far too tight. Pulling off a powerslide is rare as your car often comes to a complete stop when you apply too much brake or goes flying off the far side of the track if you apply too little. I know a lot of you are saying "so what?" right now, but the small margin of error when applying the brakes keeps you from maintaining speed through the numerous turns the game throws in front of you.
The steering model is very fishy as well. It's got that speedboat feeling where the car drifts from side to side with the slightest touch of the controls. This is totally fine and acceptable when you're going 100mph (I've done my share in real life) but even when you're just getting off the starting line, the car fishtails for no apparent reason. Add to that the complications of other drivers sideswiping your car and steering becomes really, really difficult. And when you've got to drive down some really narrow lanes, this can be much more frustrating.
I don't want to sound like I hate for a game to be challenging. I wound up letting loose a stream of obscenities during the later stages of Midtown Madness 2. And I loved every minute of the frustration too. But in Carmageddon, the frustration isn't tempered by any sort of reward. I mean, completing portions of the game does result in opening up new options, but it's just not any fun. You know you've got problems when the top quote on the box tells you that Maxim gave the game five out of five stars. I mean, that should tell you something immediately, right?
-- Stephen Butts