Carmageddon: Reincarnation Early Access Review

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GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

A thought occurred as I watched my cherry-red, blade-adorned car sail end over end through a crowd of screaming pedestrians and confused bovines, spewing chunks of flayed meat onto the asphalt behind me: there is a depressing lack of modern games that embrace the simple joy brought about by casual vehicular manslaughter. They were easier to find back in the day, when games like Carmageddon and even the original Grand Theft Auto ruled, and when the overhead camera was still in fashion, embracing and rewarding sidewalk surfing while in the safety and comfort of a two-ton metal death machine.

Damage models can often be hilarious.
Damage models can often be hilarious.

Stainless Games is attempting to resurrect those treasured moments with Carmageddon: Reincarnation, the first game in the franchise in more than a decade. However, while this early build appears faithful to the classic series, the game still needs a lot of tinkering under the hood before it's roadworthy.

Like its forebears, Carmageddon: Reincarnation puts you behind the wheel as Max Damage, a thrill-seeking cyborg with a maniacal grin just out for a little fun. The build includes six different vehicles ready to shred the road across three maps. At the moment, the game includes only one mode. In Classic Carma, which harks back to the days of the original games, victory is rewarded by completing one of three objectives. To win in this mode, you must complete a set number of laps, kill a certain number of pedestrians, or completely obliterate the other racers.

Maps contain plenty of cows to slaughter and loops to master.
Maps contain plenty of cows to slaughter and loops to master.

The game is currently in pre-alpha, which is something akin to a barely playable demo. The true state the game is in becomes apparent as soon as the checkered flag is dropped. Carmageddon: Reincarnation has severe performance issues, and even if you decrease the graphics settings to the lowest levels, the frame rate still suffers. Expect frame rates to hover around 20 the majority of the time, while plummeting far lower during busier moments. The developer has acknowledged issues with the frame rate and has promised enhanced performance as the game moves out of pre-alpha.

It was difficult for me to get a grasp on the game's overall feel. There were times when I raced along the cracked asphalt, chuckling as pedestrians scrambled for cover as my car thundered along with enemy racers hot in pursuit. But just as those warm feelings of nostalgia began to resurface, the game would become a slideshow, often to the point of crashing, forcing me to restart my computer. The clunky controls don't aid much, and most of the cars feel weighty and unnatural. The simple act of turning a corner may prove challenging, since the slightest correction can cause the car to fishtail wildly, often forcing you to careen into a cement barrier or over a ledge. Other issues include an inconsistent physics engine, which, on occasion, causes your car to go flying in an odd direction either by getting pushed into a wall by an enemy or by hitting a small bump in the road.

There are six available cars, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
There are six available cars, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Vehicles come with their own list of strengths and weaknesses. The bright-green racer owned by Count Slash is one of the fastest on the road, and is perfect for those who prefer blinding speed over death dancing with other racers. Its durability is low, however, so running into a slower yet more armored car can turn this green blur into a tumbling inferno. The low scoop of Cleaver's car easily tosses other vehicles over the hood, while serrated blades protruding from the hubcaps tear apart wheels and kneecaps alike. And, of course, there is the Eagle R, the balanced red racer often used as the franchise's mascot, and owned by Max himself.

The damage models look good, often with a hilarious result, and your car's performance changes drastically as pieces shear off. Metal frames get bent, causing your car to pull to the right or left, and tires can be deflated or torn off completely. The engine is the most important part of your car, and if it takes enough damage, your vehicle may explode. Offensive and defensive power-ups are scattered throughout the maps, and once acquired, you can purchase them for later use using points via the in-game store. Points are acquired by killing pedestrians, destroying opponents, clearing checkpoints, and performing map-centric tricks such as jumping off ramps.

Classic Carma features three paths to victory.
Classic Carma features three paths to victory.

The three maps are unfinished, and large sections are covered in placeholder textures. Out of the three, my favorite is Dusty Trails, an island level that includes jumps, sandy beaches, and plenty of cows to slaughter. This map in particular demonstrates Carmageddon's potential versatility. If you choose not to participate in the race, you can travel around the island in search of your own activities. There is a massive loop-the-loop you can challenge yourself to complete, or you can collect special blue canisters that allow you to drive around underwater; amass points killing cows in a hidden pasture; or terrorize the sleepy beach town of Grey's Rest. The other two maps, which feature a large glacier and a shipping port surrounded in green goop, don't offer as much variation, but the untextured sections hold some potential.

Carmageddon: Reincarnation feels like a flashback to my teenage youth, when my definition of cool included cyborgs, fast cars, cheesy guitar riffs, and plenty of juvenile humor. You can see the possibilities, but the number of issues in the current build prevent them from shining through. For those who crave the vehicular mayhem of the free-roaming, pedestrian-smearing days of old, Carmageddon: Reincarnation sadly isn't it just yet.

What's There?

Three open yet unfinished maps and six available racers. A single game mode, called Classic Carma, which offers gamers three different paths to victory.

What's to Come?

More maps, including the series' classic, Bleak City, as well as more game modes, including multiplayer. The official press release has more information on upcoming features.

What Does it Cost?

$29.99, available via Steam.

When Will it Be Finished?

The developer hasn't set a clear release date, but has said the game is due "later on this year."

What's the Verdict?

There might be a fun game in Carmageddon: Reincarnation, but it is buried under a host of glitches and performance issues. The amount of patience required to enjoy the game in its current build is not worth the price of admission just yet.

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