Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 9, 2014

Extras:

Rik Hard is in last place.

Rik Hard is in last place.

Crashday earned a brief mention on FFG some years ago, as a potentially exciting forthcoming release that promised to combine elements of Carmageddon and, more importantly, the fondly-remembered DOS racer, 4D Sports: Driving (also known as Stunts). I did actually read this somewhere in the gaming press at the time, although I can’t find it now [that’ll teach you not to cite sources – FFG reader], and it stuck in the head mainly because, despite 4DSD’s ongoing cult following, it still seemed unusual – at the time – for a mainstream developer to refer to back to an ageing racer so directly.

Until Trackmania, a game we’ve talked about before here (and may do so again), came along, I’m not aware of any other attempts to update our old favourite, and so it seems a little odd now that I didn’t rush out and get Crashday when it was released, given my fondness for Stunts. To be fair, I was probably hampered by a lack of money and a decent PC at the time, and when I did happen upon it in a second hand shop some years later I decided to pick it up and see if any of the old Stunts magic had been successfully re-captured.

We’ll come back to all that, though, and try and judge Crashday on its own merits, or at least without constantly using 4DSD as a reference point, in the first instance. So, Crashday, then: it’s a racing game, with combat elements, and a number of different race and event types. You can play any of these individually, or select the career mode, which, predictably enough, gives you the opportunity to try out a combination of events as you make the progression from the easy races, with a crap car and no money, to all round moneybags and überchampion with a variety of souped up vehicles in your garage.

There's a cockpit view, but it's not much use if you want to see what you're doing.

There’s a cockpit view, but it’s not much use if you want to see what you’re doing.

The career mode comes packaged with a bizarre attempt at a storyline, which basically amounts to a man reading out a short script prior to each race. From what I can tell, he’s supposed to be a millionaire businessman telling the tale of how the motor-racing sport of ‘Crashday’ became a global phenomenon. We’re told of shady business dealings, rivalry between drivers and other political shenanigans, but there’s been no attempt in-game to support any of this background, and nothing relates to what you’ll actually be doing on the track. You can safely ignore most of it, although you won’t be able to suppress a snigger at the poor chap tasked with voiceover duties, who gives a very German flavour to his American accent, which comes out sounding like a Europop version of either Vin Diesel or Elliot Gould (I can’t decide which). Why this was (presumably) tacked on at the last minute, I don’t know: a game like Crashday doesn’t really need context.

The racing and wrecking modes are most obviously reminiscent of FlatOut, although the latter adds an extra dimension in the form of weapons, with a minigun attachment and, er, missiles that launch mysteriously from your car windscreen, both available to purchase as you progress. The latter, in particular, make battles fairly short lived, with opponents opting to drive straight up to you and fire from short range to cause instadeath. With wrecking happening so frequently, there’s sensibly a scoring system in place to add a little longevity, and you’re usually aiming for a set total of wrecked opponents to win. Sometimes you’ll be on a team of two or three aiming to achieve a team total. It’s fun for a while, but not exactly deep or nuanced, and it’s hampered by fairly hopeless AI.

Shooting stuff. Occasionally, in team matches, you just get loaned a better car for some unexplained reason.

Shooting stuff. Occasionally, in team matches, you just get loaned a better car for some unexplained reason.

The straight races are lacking the thrills and spills of the FlatOut games, though, and despite a similarly slippery handling model, the tracks are usually pretty flat, with no attempt to incorporate any jumps and stunts, possibly because crashes are non-fatal and there are no time penalties for going off road and cutting corners, so you could just drive round any tricky bits even if they were there. The obvious advantages of cutting corners are generally lost on your AI opponents, meaning they rarely pose any challenge. The time-based races are the most rewarding, although they’re few and far between.

With stunts and racing kept apart, the stunt show event is more about earning points for ludicrous jumps and combinations and beating your opponents’ score within the given time. Despite the multitude of jumps and loops available, these events are curiously lacking in excitement, with the main successful strategy being to launch your car miles into the air and use the scientifically unlikely ‘air steering’ to spin it around as you plummet back to earth. Rinse, and repeat, and victory is assured – with very little skill required.

Pass the Bomb: get the Bomb, drive away from everyone for a while, then with the countdown running out, quickly target someone to pass it onto before it goes off.

Pass the Bomb: get the bomb, drive away from everyone for a while, then with the countdown running out, quickly target someone to pass it onto before it goes off.

There are other modes, including Bomb Run, which requires you to complete a race while maintaining a minimum speed; Hold the Flag, in which you grab or steal a flag and then drive it through checkpoints, while avoiding the attentions of your opponents hoping to to the same; and Pass the Bomb, where you earn points for avoiding possession of a bomb at the end of a timer countdown, but earn more for being the penultimate one to hold it before it blows. All of these have some level of entertainment value, which lasts for about the amount of time it takes to beat each event (usually amounting to a couple of attempts). The last two, in particular, have a very network multiplayer type feel to them, and they could well be more fun in multiplayer, who knows.

Anyway, the single-player career mode lasts between 2-3 hours in total. For the majority of my game I had no problems using the starter vehicle (a police car) until I was tempted to switch to the one that looked a bit like the Trans Am because, well, it looked like a Trans Am, and I’m not entirely convinced that there’s any need to make wide use of the roster of 12, except for similarly superficial reasons. The performance of each car isn’t displayed until after you purchase it, anyway, and neither are the enhancements offered by upgrades, so it’s fortunate in a way that none of it really matters much.

As disappointing as it is to have things finish so quickly and with so little challenge along the way, in a sense it’s a relief that things aren’t dragged out over hours of identical events, because by the time it’s over, Crashday’s appeal has already started to wear thin. As we mentioned earlier, for a game promising extreme racing, it’s all rather sterile and unexciting. With the career mode over, you either have the option to race again on one of the tracks you’ve completed, participate in one of the mini-games such as the long-jump (again reminiscent of FlatOut, although with your vehicle, rather than its passenger, travelling through the air), or create your own track.

This isn't as exciting as it looks.

This isn’t as exciting as it looks.

This would seem to be a good time to come back to our comparison with Stunts, a game similarly light in terms of single player action, but one that was able to save itself through the inclusion of a track editor. Crashday has such an editor, too, and it strongly resembles the one from Stunts, both in terms of layout and available pieces. So obviously the first thing I did was try to recreate my favourite track from the Stunts days (for more on which, see Remaking ‘default’, above).

Despite very similar ingredients though, something is missing here. Perhaps at my age I simply no longer have the time or the same urge to be creative as I did as a bored teenager hunched over a 386. But the racing itself is also part of the problem. As mentioned earlier, there are no penalties for going off road, and – crucially – crashing isn’t terminal, which certainly removes a lot of the tension from proceedings. The handling is also a fairly generic brand of modern arcade slideyness, more forgiving in terms of roadholding than Stunts, and you don’t have the sense that you need to be quite as skilful at the keys to do a good lap. Plus the various cars at your disposal feel like a shell for the same basic handling model, unlike in Stunts where they had different performance stats, and actually felt distinct from each other.

In the final battle against your toughest opponent, 'Waldo'.

In the final battle against your toughest opponent, ‘Waldo’.

For all that Stunts falls into the category of the ridiculous arcade racer, where you can pull off suspension-bending jumps here, there and everywhere, it still requires a certain level of precision driving that forms part of the fun, and Crashday simply doesn’t have that. On top of that, the bright and breezy primary colours of the DOS racer have been given an adolescent angry teenage makeover, with a strong focus on explosions and twisted metal while angry crunching guitars play in the background (although I suppose you have to give some credit for the inclusion of an original theme song, performed by a German metal band called Pencilcase, complete with lyrics: ‘Another place, another time, another Crashdaaayyy….’). I suppose it all makes for a more easily marketable product, but at times you can’t help but pine for something more sunny and optimistic (or perhaps I’m just getting old).

Crashday isn’t totally hateful – it looks OK, there’s a nice replay feature, and it’s good to have the track editor there. But it’s extremely light on content, and the racing isn’t solid enough to make you want to make your own fun. Curious Stunts fans might find it worth a look, but they’re likely to be disappointed with what they find.