Thanks to the inexplicable inclusion of timed exploration tasks in between the racing levels, Carmageddon 3 is exactly one half fun and one half frustration.
Love it or hate it, the Carmageddon series has always been about hitting innocent pedestrians with a car. Since first climbing out of a boiling prehistoric puddle to test out its new lungs, humankind has dreamed of plowing over others with monster trucks. It's a sick fantasy that doesn't really need a whole lot of explanation; therefore, it hasn't been saddled with a whole lot of unnecessary plot in the previous Carmageddons. However, perhaps in an attempt to broaden the series' horizons, the developers of Carmageddon 3: TDR 2000 have injected some story and adventure elements into this third installment. And to be quite honest, these new elements are simply a tedious distraction from why you're likely playing the game in the first place: running people - and sometimes animals - over with an alligator-finned Frankenstein car.
The story goes something like this: blah, blah, blah, something happened, blah, blah, blah, urban nightmare, etc., etc., and now you're running people over. And if the plot stopped after a few paragraphs in the manual and a couple of cutscenes, there'd be no problem. Unfortunately, the game is structured as a series of relatively enjoyable race levels with an often incredibly frustrating mandatory exploration level stuck between each one. For instance, the very first sequence requires you to scour an amusement park, look for three bomb pieces, and then drop off the bomb in front of a specific building. The problem is that the game's trademark exaggerated car physics work well for wacky, destruction derby-style racing at high speeds, but are totally unsuited to slow-paced exploration. And when you combine the exaggerated physics with cramped level design - which often has you navigating lots of twisty little alleys, the interiors of buildings, and catwalks - and then further compound the problem by imposing strict time limits on every mission, you end up with one big headache instead of having any fun. Imagine controlling Tomb Raider's Lara Croft as if she were a truck - she'd roll over onto her back every time she jumped.
On the other hand, the racing levels, for the most part, provide the wild, car-flinging, pedestrian-smashing action that fans of the series have come to expect. The tracks are large, and they offer a lot of variety in terms of obstacles and scenery. There are plenty of jumps, loops, shortcuts, and, of course, foot traffic. As in the previous installments, you can win a race by destroying all your opponents or killing all the pedestrians on the level. You can also win by actually winning the race. Each track has a series of checkpoints that make up a full lap. How you get from one checkpoint to another is up to you, as long as you hit them in order. Each checkpoint also grants you more time, which is another new and unwelcome feature to the series. The timer from the exploration levels is also present in the racing levels - run out of time, and you're out of the race. And since you're given so little time, completing the checkpoints becomes more or less the only option for winning the races. You can pick up various power-ups and weapons that help you attack the other vehicles, but the time constraint is so severe that it won't really make much difference. Still, the races - complete with huge jumps, crazy pileups, and constant action - can be pretty enjoyable.
The series' graphics have always been a little behind the curve, so strict traditionalists will be happy to hear that part three's visuals are not especially spectacular. Though the tracks are large, and though they have a lot of little polygon people running around on them, everything's pretty blocky. Plus, the textures all seem blurry and smeared. Fortunately, the cars look good and appear to be a lot more detailed than the surrounding environments. As they take damage, parts fly off the vehicles until they finally become flaming skeletal wrecks. The huge variety in the different damage that each car can display is probably Carmageddon 3's most impressive feature.
The game's soundtrack by Utah Saints is appropriate, if forgettable, though it's nice to see they're still getting work. The sound effects, from the roar of engines to the screams and curses of pedestrians, are generally well done.
The game also features six different multiplayer modes that are playable over TCP/IP, a modem, or a direct serial connection. The games range from straightforward racing to destruction derby to a vehicular version of the playground classic Red Rover. Multiplayer offers plenty of mindless action, but no in-game server finder is provided, so you may have a tough time tracking down a match.
Thanks to the inexplicable inclusion of timed exploration tasks in between the racing levels, Carmageddon 3 is exactly one half fun and one half frustration. Unfortunately, the frustrating parts tend to overshadow the good ones.