Ask yourself this question: Can you honestly remember the last time you enjoyed a real-life demolition derby, let alone a demolition derby video game? The derby itself has become antiquated, and as far as games go, tried-and-true demolition derby games have pretty much been outshined and outclassed in recent years by crash-happy racers like the Burnout series. Atari and Monster Games' Test Drive: Eve of Destruction is an earnest attempt to try to bring the old-school brand of demolition derby game back into the limelight--and it almost pulls it off. The game features a pretty insane roster of race types, ranging from simple no-rules car races to school bus and trailer races. Unfortunately, some sluggish racing gameplay and a lack of any real depth beyond the game's offline multiplayer component and slightly taxing career mode mar the experience enough to prevent Eve of Destruction from living up to its potential.
From the moment you pop Eve of Destruction into your console, it's apparent that the developers weren't interested in gussying up the experience beyond its core elements. You have only two modes to choose from in the main menu: action and career. The action mode is a basic single- or multiplayer mode; you can choose from any of the game's arenas, cars, and race types and get into a one- to seven-race series. The wide variety of cars range from simple compacts, to midsize sedans, to muscle cars, to big-time machines like school buses and ambulances. Even more impressive than the vehicle list, however, is the list of available race types. If you've ever been to a demolition derby, you can't help but appreciate how Eve of Destruction displays its affection for the "sport" by including everything from chain races to plain old "smash into everybody until you're the last car running" derbies.
The career mode featured in Eve of Destruction is pretty lengthy. You'll begin with a clunker of a car, a modest amount of cash, and a trailer park home in a sleepy little hick town. Then you'll start driving around looking for a race. Each main race area is indicated by an icon on a map, as are other notable areas you can visit, such as the local scrap yard, where you can buy new cars with your winnings, and the auto shop, where you can purchase vehicle upgrades. You'll have to buy cars semi-regularly. Although you can repair cars that you thrash in competition, some damage is irreparable, and that irreparable damage adds up over time. There are also some time trial areas and some areas where you can challenge individual drivers to races for a little extra cash.
With 25 different race events in the career mode, as well as all the little side races you can participate in, you'll definitely be spending a fair amount of time completing your career. With that said, however, while the mode may have some girth to it, it isn't always fun. Although exactly how many races and what types of races are included are randomized throughout each event, you're still basically just driving to an event, running a few races, then driving to another event, over and over again. Thankfully, the side races and occasional trips to the scrap yard break up the monotony a bit, but even so, the career mode isn't consistently fun throughout.
The basic racing mechanics found in Test Drive: Eve of Destruction are as straightforward as you'd expect. The only race controls you have at your disposal are accelerate, brake, and reverse buttons, and there's a fire button for when you have to shoot chickens at your opponents in one of the battle races (we'll get to that in a minute). The handling of the cars isn't especially realistic, but the pacing of the racing seems almost realistic to a fault. Essentially, the game's sense of speed isn't great, and even when you're racing with the fastest cars in the game, you can't help but feel like you're dragging along. While some might argue that this is because you're basically racing nothing but junk cars, the fact remains that the game claims that, at times, you're reaching speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour, but it just does not feel like you are.
However, though it doesn't feel like you're going very fast, your cars react as though you are, leading to a lot of hard slideouts and uncontrollable wrecks. The game is unforgiving when it comes to collisions with objects or walls, and you're going to take some serious damage and slide all over the place when you have such a collision. Wrecks with cars tend to be more forgiving, but they would have to be since you're wrecking into cars all the time. Ultimately, this inconsistency between sense of speed and car control doesn't wreck the racing, but it does give it an occasionally off-kilter feel.
Fortunately, the less-than-stellar car controls are made up for by the sheer insanity of the game's action. The basic derbies are great and feature more than their share of pure car-wrecking glee, and some of the gimmick races (such as the hysterically destructive figure-8 jump race) are simply a hoot. And then there are some of the wholly silly modes, such as the soccer mode, where you and a team of cars take on another team of cars in an arena with two nets and a giant soccer ball to push around, and the battle mode, where you have to shoot the opposing cars with exploding chickens. OK, yes, that last one is dumb, but the soccer mode is cool.
Now, while these race types are all well and good, sadly, they don't hold up well over time as a solely single-player experience, and there's no online functionality in Eve of Destruction. It's fun to wreck cars by yourself of course, but doing it with friends is just so much more enjoyable. Plus, it won't take you more than 10 hours or so to blast through the game's few unlockables, and once you have them all, there isn't much reason to keep coming back. So, essentially, the game's replayability hinges on your ability to get friends to come over and partake in some split-screen multiplayer. Without them, the game can get old pretty quickly.
Visually, Eve of Destruction gets the job done, but not without a couple of caveats. The car models, though not markedly detailed, are nicely done and break well when wrecked into. A little more in the way of visible deformation would have been nice, but as it stands, the wrecks in the game are good. The race arenas are exactly what you would expect from a game of this type, with a lot of dirt tracks and plenty of haystacks and stacks of tires to avoid scattered throughout each track. The one technical issue with the arenas is some slowdown, which happens when clouds of dirt are kicked up off the tracks and when a lot of cars are wrecking at the same time. It's actually quite noticeable and becomes annoying. Not that it's a big shock, but the Xbox version does feature a cleaner, sharper look than the PS2 version, though both versions suffer from the annoying slowdown.
Eve of Destruction's soundtrack consists of only seven songs total. It doesn't take long for the song list to get repetitive. At least the game does feature some decent modern bands, such as Hoobastank, Thursday, and Thrice, but again, there just isn't enough variety to keep it interesting (and come on, this is a demolition derby game; couldn't we get just a little bit of cheesy '80s rock?). On the plus side, if you get the Xbox version, you can insert your own custom soundtracks. There isn't much to say about the remaining components of Eve of Destruction's sound, since there isn't much to it. The engine sounds and wreck effects are OK, but they're not particularly great, and the annoying derby announcer who occasionally has something glib and unfunny to say is far more grating than anything else.
Test Drive: Eve of Destruction is a game that is easy to want to like. It's obvious that the developers have a legitimate affection for demolition derbies, and they really tried to make a game that captured the type of white-trash atmosphere typical of derbies. While they do manage to pull this off, the game's rather limited scope means that you won't necessarily get much out of it for long, especially if you don't have friends nearby to play with. As a rental, Eve of Destruction will provide at least a serviceable distraction for most racing fans, but as a purchase, this one is strictly for the diehard derby-goers, assuming there are still a few of us out there.