Written by: Rik

Date posted: March 9, 2008


Something’s gone wrong here, I reckon.

Had the original Carmageddon never been developed, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the world could happily have lived without it, or indeed any game based around a similar premise. To be fair though, despite all the controversy the pedestrian-squishing was only one aspect of the game, and by offering players the ability to roam freely through some fairly sizable maps, it represented a refreshing change from other racers keen to keep you from leaving the road by putting up the dreaded ‘invisible barrier’.

Whether we really needed a sequel is another matter, especially as the developers have gone down the oft-trodden road of cashing in on a vaguely novel concept by bashing out an uninventive sequel offering more of the same. While the original certainly offered a few good hours of mayhem, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most hardcore fan wanting more once they’d ploughed through the entire range of single-player missions, although the demand was clearly there, fuelled by some prominent and extremely generous reviews in certain sections of the gaming press.

So what we have here is basically a shinier, more polished version of Carmageddon. The game follows the same template as its predecessor: you’re dropped into an arena where you either have to complete a set number of laps by racing through checkpoints, kill all of the pedestrians on a level, or smash all of your opponents to progress. It just so happens that everything looks a bit nicer, with the grainy 320×200 visuals of the original replaced by comparatively impressive Direct3D-powered graphics. While there are a few issues with draw distance, and there are one or two other raggedy bits, it’s clear that this is one area that’s been given a serious overhaul.

Some familiar-looking vehicles feature throughout. This guy built a death machine…out of a Delorean.

Aside from the all of general glossiness that 3D acceleration brings, there are some other nice touches. Vehicles now deform in a slightly more believable way than before, with windows smashing and pieces of bodywork becoming detached rather than your car just crumpling up into jagged ball of metal. Polygonal pedestrians have replaced the cartoony sprites of the original, too, and if the developers’ intention was to make it feel more like you’re actually hitting something solid and fleshy when they collide with your car, well – mission accomplished. That isn’t an especially good thing in my book though.

The new engine also allows for bigger and more detailed levels, and there are even more opportunities to explore each map in search of hidden goodies. Scenery is more interactive, and there are a few more things to play around with in this regard. Unfortunately, though, your car still handles like a wet fish, seemingly more so than in the original game, and you seem increasingly ill-equipped to deal with the tight turns and crazy jumps you’re required to perform on each track. Instances of your car getting stuck on scenery or ending up in impossible situations are also more prevalent, and although as before a quick bash of the ‘recovery’ button will soon set you right, it can get pretty annoying (and it costs you, too).

If you can get to the end of the TV satellite-smashing mission without swearing once, you’ve got the patience of Job, frankly.

At no stage are these flaws more significant than during the ‘mission’ levels, Carmageddon II’s only notable attempt at innovation. In contrast to the freeform mayhem that forms the basis of the majority of the game, every so often you have to complete a different kind of challenge, normally against the clock, in order to progress. With the focus on driving rather than carnage, the slippery handling of your car becomes even more of an issue, especially as extra time can no longer be earned in the usual fashion.

The more charitably minded may describe these sections as a good attempt to provide some variety and much needed focus to a generally open-ended game. “Fairly rubbish” would be my own take on them. The difficulty level is pitched pretty high from the offset, with even minor errors making failure inevitable, and is seemingly at odds with that of the rest of the game’s tracks, which can be completed with relative ease. Although repetitive gameplay eventually became a problem after a few hours spent with the original, here you’ll be tearing your hair out in sheer frustration much earlier on.

Once you’ve beaten a mission level, you’re back into more familiar territory, although even here the lack of progress from the original soon becomes apparent. As before, the only viable (and fun) way to complete a level is by smashing into your opponents’ cars to destroy them, a task made more simple by the consistently low level of intelligence displayed by the AI vehicles, who never seem remotely interested in emerging victorious, instead preferring to mill around making occasional half-hearted attempts to smash into you (should they notice you at all).

Okay, here’s a picture of a horrifying, bloody death. Happy now?

Carmageddon II is simultaneously slightly better and slightly worse than its predecessor. While graphically it’s definitely more palatable, the gameplay offers very little that’s new, and suffers from the presence of the irritatingly fiddly mission levels. Judged side by side, there’s not a lot to choose between them, although the lingering feeling that a sequel was never really necessary in the first place is perhaps enough to tip the balance in favour of the original. Still, if hitting pedestrians in a car is your thing, I guess you can’t really go wrong with either of them. Or, er, the other one that they made (we’ll let you know about that).