The Destruction Derby series has been around for years, and it's always been a well-liked set of games. The series got its start back on the PlayStation and Saturn in 1996. Over the years, it's evolved a bit, but for better or for worse, it's stayed pretty close to its roots. Destruction Derby Arenas is the latest entry, developed by the UK's Studio 33 and published in the States by Gathering. While it does deliver some online action for up to 20 players this time around, the rest of the game is roughly the same old stuff, and quickly becomes repetitive.
The game has exhibition races that let you jump right in, but cars are unlocked and upgraded in the championship mode, which takes you through multiple seasons of car-smashing action. Each season progresses through several wrecking-racing-style competitions, where you're given points for both smashing up other cars and finishing in a decent position. Each season culminates in a trip to a more-standard destruction derby arena, where your goal is to smash up cars for points so that, if you're good, yours is the last car running. The game also has two-player split-screen play, which works pretty well.
In both modes, points are earned in the same basic way as in all the previous Destruction Derby games--by making the car you hit spin out of control. Spin it 90 degrees for 500 points, 180 for 1,000, and so on. You also acquire points for stylish moves, like skids and jumps. Additionally, you can draw a handful of points for hitting another car hard, and you can secure even more for knocking a car out completely. But it's the "make the other car spin" mentality that really shapes how you play the game. You'd expect that in a game about slamming into other cars that you'd want to score a shot on the front of an opposing one, thus (maybe) knocking out its radiator. Perhaps you'd want a shot on the tires to (possibly) blow them out to make the car less maneuverable. But, instead, you just want to aim for the quarter panels of your target to send it spinning around like a top. While this game isn't really striving for realism in the first place, a game about a destruction derby should be about wrecking other cars--by bashing them into submission--and not about sending them on wimpy spins. However, the game gives more points for spins than for hits, and the damage model in the game doesn't really bust the cars up as much as you'd like.
Graphically, Destruction Derby Arenas isn't a looker. While the tracks are decently-sized and colorful, that's really the only positive thing about the game's visuals. The geometry is a pretty stiff. The car models are blockier than you'd like, making them look a little like toys. While the game does throw a lot of cars into each match, this has the side effect of causing a noticeable amount of slowdown. The sound side of things is pretty uneventful, too. The cars crash into one another and sound fairly realistic, but they don't really stand out at all. The music and announcing is, first and foremost, forgettable.
Online play is the game's most interesting feature. Most games limit you to a maximum of eight or 16 players. Destruction Derby Arenas allows for a theoretical maximum of 20 drivers. The game isn't compatible with dial-up connections, but it runs pretty smoothly over consumer-grade broadband. You'll occasionally see some cars skipping around the track, though, and in a game where you're trying to drive into another car, this can be somewhat troublesome. The game uses the USB headset for communication, but you can only speak in lobbies or at the postmatch screen. Online, the game picks up a few more modes, like speedway, which is just a simple race. There's also a capture-the-trophy mode, which works a bit like the king-of-the-hill mode found in the Tony Hawk series. It's nice that the game's online mode works so well, but with the rest of the game being a little on the underwhelming side, online alone can't save it.
Destruction Derby Arenas is a fantastic idea--on paper. Let's face it. Smashing up cars is huge fun. But with the game's focus on things like racing and making other cars spin, not enough attention is paid to plain ol' vehicular mayhem. The online mode makes this game worth a rental for fans of the genre, but there isn't enough to Arenas to make it worth the $40 retail price.