We take the finished PAL version of Studio 33's action-packed online racer for a test drive.
When the PlayStation was launched back in 1995, one of the better titles available for it was Psygnosis' Destruction Derby. The game rewarded you not only for winning races but also for spinning and damaging your opponents' cars en route to the finish line. Destruction Derby also featured a number of "destruction bowls" in which your only goal was to destroy other cars while sustaining as little damage as possible. Destruction Derby 2 and Destruction Derby Raw, which were released in 1996 and 2000 respectively, both followed the same formula. This trend looks set to continue with the imminent release of Studio 33's Destruction Derby Arenas.
Available in Europe since December, Destruction Derby Arenas adds a number of new features to the Destruction Derby formula, but at the same time, it offers fewer gameplay options than any other game in the series. The wrecking racing, destruction bowl, and championship modes of play from previous Destruction Derby games are all present, along with a new online play option that allows you to compete in a field of up to 20 players. The game also supports up to four players on a single screen, but for some reason, Studio 33 has seen fit to do away with all of the additional multiplayer modes that appeared in Destruction Derby Raw. The skyscraper battle, pass da bomb, and assault modes weren't the greatest multiplayer games ever to appear in a racing game, but they were certainly better than none at all--which is exactly how many additional modes of play Arenas has on offer.
Destruction Derby Raw also doesn't have any options with which to customize your game, so whether you're racing in a championship or in a single event against friends, you'll always race just four laps. More frustrating still is that the destruction bowl events are always played against a five-minute time limit--with no option to turn the timer off so that it becomes a last-man-standing contest. Granted, the last-man-standing thing might not work too well, what with repair power-ups and the like available. But then, an option to turn off the power-ups completely would also be a welcome addition, in our opinion.
On the plus side, Destruction Derby Arenas features some great and varied course designs and is fun to play, at least for a while. There's something very satisfying about ramming opponents into barriers, pushing them into pits, and spinning them around as they attempt to corner. All of the cars in the game feature realistic-looking damage but, bizarrely, said damage has no effect on their arcade-style handling or performance. Fans of the original Destruction Derby will remember that damage could result in your car losing speed or constantly trying to steer in one direction. It was frustrating at times, but it encouraged you to look after your own car during races. Furthermore, it had you constantly making decisions as to whether or not you should try for destruction or finishing position points.
Most of the courses in the game are very well designed and are set in locations such as Chinatown, a steelworks, an airfield, a construction site, and a refinery. Jump ramps and crossovers ensure that the races are never without incident, and the fact that almost everything you see is destructible means that you certainly don't need to worry about hitting lampposts, bus shelters, and the like. In fact, you can rack up quite a substantial number of points simply by trashing the circuits as you race them, with a massive 5,000 point bonus awarded for picking up the detonator power-up that automatically blows up a large chunk of scenery ahead of you, thus sending debris down on to your opponents--if you're lucky. Other power-ups in the game include nitrous oxide, armor, shield, repair, extra grip, and a power-drain weapon that essentially freezes the controls of the next car you collide with. The power-ups definitely add something to the Destruction Derby formula, but as we mentioned earlier, an option to switch all or some of them off would definitely be welcome.
It's conceivable, of course, that further gameplay options will become available to you upon completion of the game's championship mode, but to date, the only thing we've unlocked are most of the 20 playable drivers. It's also apparent that there are at least five bonus vehicles waiting to be unlocked, but at the time of this writing, we haven't managed to gain access to any of them. Each of the championships in Destruction Derby Arenas is composed of three races and a destruction bowl event. To unlock new characters, you simply need to beat their scores on their home circuits. Any characters that you've unlocked in the single-player game can be used online, although--because of the nature of the gameplay--you won't necessarily find yourself at a disadvantage if you opt for one of the drivers available to you from the outset. Online play definitely looks to be Destruction Derby Arena's biggest selling point, and we're pleased to report that even with the maximum number of players competing, we haven't really experienced any problems with game slowing down. Destruction bowls appear to be far more popular with European players than the wrecking racing events (at the moment), but on the few occasions that we set up our own wrecking racing event, it didn't take long for a decent number of players to join in.
Based on what we've seen of it so far, Destruction Derby Arenas is an adequate addition to the series, but it's one that doesn't do nearly as much as it might have done to improve upon its predecessors. Dedicated solo players will likely beat the championship mode in a few sittings, and even those able to race online will no doubt tire of the game's 13 circuits and handful of bowls after a little while. Destruction Derby Arenas is scheduled to ship in North America through Gathering on April 5. We'll bring you more information on the game closer to its release.