Written by: Rik

Date posted: June 27, 2007

I’m not too hot on the rules of American football, but I’m pretty sure there shouldn’t be a hundred players on the pitch. And people should probably be discouraged from driving onto the field of play.

Hmm – where to start with this one? Well, I guess it’s worth pointing out for those who aren’t familiar with it already (or haven’t guessed from the screenshots) that Carmageddon is a game where you drive at people in your car and run them over. Not only can you hit pedestrians at high speed and watch their blood and internal organs explode over your windscreen – you’re actively encouraged to do so. Gosh. Not surprisingly, this caused a bit of a stir when it was first released, and for once the tabloid press weren’t compelled to exaggerate about the content (‘Paedophiles love to play Doom; a sick, violent computer game in which the player is rewarded for TORTURING CHILDREN’) because the truth was grisly enough in itself.

The developers, publishers, game-related press and wider gaming public had little they could say in Carmageddon‘s defence, other than ‘It’s only a game’. Carmageddon is fairly gratuitous; unlike, say, Soldier of Fortune or Grand Theft Auto, there’s no plot-related justification for all of the bloodshed – you’re just plopped into an arena filled with several hundred pedestrians and a handful of other psychotic AI drivers and left largely to your own devices. Initially (in the UK at least), the ‘real blood’ version of the game was banned and the pedestrians were replaced with zombies that exploded in a shower of green liquid instead. In this version, there was also a hastily tacked-on plot about zombies invading the earth and having to ‘drive to survive’ and in a way, this at least attempted to make some sense of the whole enterprise.

Tonight on Watchdog, we investigate claims of a car that can make the stomachs of passers by explode without warning.

Eventually, the ‘red blood’ version made it onto the shelves, albeit with an ‘over 18s only’ label stamped all over it, and it was back to hitting peds for fun. It’s ironic that Carmageddon should get a ‘mature’ rating, when its target audience is almost certainly sniggering teenage boys. The tone of the whole game is rather infantile, and if you’ve been ranting on to any non-gamers recently about how games are an underestimated and misunderstood form of entertainment, they’d better not catch you playing this, a game which gives you extra points for knocking down people in a particularly artistic way or rewards a particularly reckless piece of driving with a ‘Cunning Stunt Bonus’. (sigh) Maybe I’m just getting old; when I played this first time around I thought it was quite cool how you could drive into a field and run over cows and I liked the little touches, like the way the blood of pedestrians got all over your tyres – but now, it all just seems a little bit unnecessary.

Unquestionably, Carmageddon was over-rated on release, with some reviewers declaring it one of the greatest games of all time. To be fair, this enthusiasm was probably rooted in a frustration with the dull, claustrophobic and increasingly generic racers of the day. While there is a set track on each level here, you’re free to leave it at any point and explore the wider environs of the map. This ‘go anywhere’ approach was quite novel for the time, and even now, the wide open spaces on offer are reasonably impressive. The mechanics of the game are quite simple: you begin with a small amount of time on your game clock, and more time is earned by doing a number of things, such as running over pedestrians, smashing into opponent cars, or by reaching the next checkpoint on the map. There are other bonuses you can pick up, but essentially it’s a case of doing a combination of the above three things to stop the clock ticking down to zero and ‘game over’. Completing a level is also down to these three essentials – you can either race round the track going through checkpoints and completing a set number of laps, kill all of the pedestrians on a level, or smash all of your opponents into oblivion until your car is the only one left.

Will he make it? Tune in next week to find out.

Given that the first of these is dull, and the second rather impractical and time-consuming, it’s approach number three that generally seems the most entertaining and successful method of progressing. Retro-gamers (and one-time PSOne owners) may recall a game called Destruction Derby, which also actively encouraged smashing into your opponents, and the action is similar here. Clearly, high speed and head on collisions are the order of the day, and while your opponents spin away in a blur of smoke and twisted metal, your can repair your own vehicle with a simple push of the backspace key. The open levels allow some scope for more creative methods of destruction, and you can push your opponents off some high ledges, into water or even into a minefield in a bid to finish them off.

Despite what we’ve said already, there are some fun, unscripted, moments in Carmageddon, particularly when you’re sauntering aimlessly around a level and witness two AI cars go flying over your head into the nearest wall. The game ensures you’re rarely far from the action, and although the computer drivers generally go about their own business during races, they sporadically regroup to converge on your location and try and slam you into the nearest wall. The AI is hardly sophisticated, but it’s in keeping with the bone-headed nature of the game; they’ll try and smash you for a while, but they may get bored and go off and do something else instead. You’ll probably end up taking this approach, too: even if you’re trying to waste your opponents, it sometimes pays to drive off, pass a couple of checkpoints and run over a few pedestrians before taking them on again in a slightly different location.

Yeah, we smashed ‘em real good. God, I love computer games.

Eventually, though, the whole thing becomes a bit tiresome, and the game is arguably the most fun when it’s not presenting much of a challenge, allowing you to smash enemy cars with gay abandon and rarely being in danger yourself. There’s not much variety in the levels, either, and once the novelty of the game has worn off, there’s not much there to keep you interested. As you progress, you can upgrade your car and even steal those of other drivers, but as the game gets tougher, the twitchy handling and increasingly solid opponents make each level a bit of a slog, and only the most dedicated of gamers will bother progressing to the end.

All-in-all, if you can ignore the ropey graphics (no 3D acceleration, save for the increasingly-redundant 3dfx support) and the general tastelessness of proceedings, you’ll find at least a weekend’s worth of fun here. If the former bothers you more than the latter, then you could also consider Carmageddon‘s two sequels, both of which boast Direct3D support. Ultimately, though, the only question you have to ask yourself is whether you really need a game like this in your collection. When you find yourself staying in on Saturday nights to pretend to run people over on your computer, perhaps it’s time to take a look at what’s missing in your life.