The Dead Should Stay Dead

User Rating: 3 | Carmageddon: Reincarnation PC

Whenever a company uses a word like “reincarnation” or “resurrection” in the title of their attempts to bring back an old franchise I can't help but think of the old story The Monkey's Paw. The White family come into possession of a mummified monkey's paw which grants its owner 3 wishes. Their first wish, for money, comes true at the expense of their only son. He dies in an accident in the factory where he works. The money comes in the form of a “goodwill payment” from the owners of the factory. Ten days after his death and a week after the funeral Mrs. White is mad with grief. She begs her husband to wish their son back to life. He makes the wish and there's a knocking at the door. The terrible consequence of this wish is quite clear: their son has come back in his current state. He was horribly mutilated in the accident and now he's also been buried for a week.

This is a lesson we can apply directly to Carmageddon: Reincarnation. In the story Mr White uses his third and final wish to make the hideous, mutilated, resurrected corpse of their son disappear. We don't have that luxury, so those of us who chose to try and satisfy our need to recapture the fun of the original game are now stuck with this reanimated, rotting corpse stuck in our game collections. Mine is stinking up my Steam library.

Through its original run the Carmageddon series had some ups and downs. The first game was a triumph of a gimmick game. It was “the racing game for the chemically imbalanced”. It delivered. You could spend your time running rampant through the crudely built polygonal cityscapes splattering the two-dimensional denizens of this post-apocalyptic world, enjoying the humorously named bonuses you picked up as you found new ways to destroy them. Instead of running from checkpoint to checkpoint you could destroy your fellow racers' cars. When the last car is crushed the race is over. Killing what the game called “peds” and damaging your opponents' cars earned you massive time bonuses, too, so chasing checkpoints was a moot point.

The cars all behaved like the tires were made of grease and the landscape was ice. At any speeds turning was not going to happen. Your car would spin like a top while sliding like a granite stone in an Olympic curling match. This is what usually created the interesting ways your car would splatter peds.

The AI had a very awkward strategy for dealing with you, as well. They just plaster themselves to you. They stay pressed to your side. You turn, they turn. It's like being trapped in a frustrating waltz. Most damage is dealt through hard-charging impacts from a distance. It's almost as if the AI isn't concerned with doing much of anything.

Carmageddon 2 introduced a new element to the race/splat/crash formula: Missions. Every fourth “race” was a mission. Several of these just made chasing checkpoints mandatory. There were some with actual objectives to accomplish, but your car sliding around like a greased-up booger on a pane of polished glass made these goals feel more like an exercise in futility than a challenge.

Part three featured the best possible physics, making the missions a little more feasible. However, this third installment removed the original appeal of the franchise. Mashing peds and wasting your fellow racers no longer netted large time bonuses and their cars were a hell of a lot tougher than they were in the first two games. This made ticking off checkpoints the only reasonable way to win. It's like after the physics fix they decided to scrap everything that made the series unique.

This brings me to Reincarnation. I know, you were waiting patiently me for me to finally get back to the game I'm supposed to be reviewing. “Hi. I'm the point. I know you've missed me!” Carmageddon: Reincarnation is the rotting, fetid corpse of the franchise we foolishly wished to see again, pounding on our door. And we don't have another wish so we're stuck with the consequences of our foolish wish. Sure, they've tried to prop it up with some improved graphics (which are still sub-par for the generation), but those slippery tires and awkward AI tactics from the first and second games really help to remind you that racing game physics have improved. Furthermore the game adds different race styles in a way similar to the third game, which are every bit as frustrating as they were when they made their debut in part 2.

Again, it seems like the people at Stainless learned all the wrong lessons from their previous games. In the face of modern racing games with their impressive physics engines, amazing damage modeling, and much more satisfying gameplay even the most nostalgic Carmageddon fan will find very little to hold their interest in this game and next to nothing to justify paying for it.

We should take a lesson from parables like The Money's Paw that warn us of the folly of trying to bring back the dead. Dead things should remain dead. Reboots are much more than giving a graphical face lift to an old franchise. So I shall end this review by metaphorically throwing a handful of dirt on Carmageddon's coffin and saying “Rest in peace, and thank you for all the memories”.