As games get more and more advanced, a lot of them also get more and more complicated. That means longer learning curves, more instructions to sift through, and often more time spent learning the game than actually enjoying it, which makes games like Demolition Racer a treat: You can install it and be playing like a pro in under 30 minutes.
For such a simplistic single-player game, Demolition Racer does have a lot of variety. There are multiple types of races, from the standard chase mode where the winner is the one who gets around the track in the fastest time, to Last Man Standing, an arena-style demolition derby. What makes these races different is that they aren't scored by your final standing alone - that score is multiplied by the amount of damage you inflict on your opponents, so you can't just cruise to the front of the pack and expect victory. Points are scored for sideswipes, head-on collisions, and "death from above," in which you land directly on top of another car and knock it out with a single crunch.
There are ten tracks you can choose from (plus three demolition derby arenas), eight different cars, a single-race mode, and a number of different leagues. A lot of the cars, tracks, and types of races (like "chicken," where some cars drive against the flow of traffic) are hidden when you begin playing, but you unlock these features as you advance in league play.
Demolition Racer's controls are very good, and its physics are great. You'll see cars cartwheel down the track before they burst into flames or skid hundreds of feet upside-down before coming to a stop. The graphics are also good; there are some really nice textures in some places, although some objects look a bit flat. The music, done by bands like Fear Factory and Empirion, really fits well - the booming soundtrack is a great accompaniment to the bone-crushing races.The racing and collision physics are probably the best feature of Demolition Racer. The cars control extremely well and each car has a unique feel depending on its characteristics. Also, the frequent collisions throughout the game are sometimes nothing short of spectacular. You'll keep seeing new and fantastic pileups as you continue to play. Such crashes, as well as Demolition Racer's overall fun factor, make its replay value very high.
Its lack of any multiplayer support is a letdown, but Demolition Racer is great fun even without human opponents. The computer-controlled cars are pretty intelligent and will start coming after you if they know you've been shying away from collisions. However, the game would have been better if you could also smash your friends into oblivion.
The game's simplicity does have consequences, and while these problems are minor, Demolition Racer does have quite a few of them. There is no integrated rear-view mirror (you have to switch modes to see behind you) and no onscreen maps of the track you are on. You are not allowed off the track, which gets especially annoying when your car is flying through the air and you hit an invisible barrier to keep you on course. There isn't much variety in the type of damage your car will sustain either. First your hood will blow off the car, then the rear end will get smashed in, and then finally you'll start spewing smoke - this progression occurs identically each time. You'll also notice small annoyances like the fact that all 16 cars in a race look similar, but none of these really detract from the entertainment.
The biggest detriment to Demolition Racer's replay value is that as the game progresses, tracks start getting more and more difficult to the point where luck (who smashes into other cars the most) rather than skill determines the winner of the race. You'll have to drive a course 15 or 20 times to win, just because you were unlucky early on. The arena courses are particularly difficult in this regard - it's just pure dumb luck as to whether you survive long enough to make it to the next track.
However, in the end, Demolition Racer is a lot of fun. It's easy to play, has nice graphics and great controls and physics. It will definitely tide you over if you're looking for a time waster before the holiday rush of games floods onto shelves, at least to kill a few minutes here and there.