Living Life a Quarter Mile at a Time, a Wreckfest Review
After a decade filled with nice and clean sim racers that make it their mission to ensure a nice and clean playing field, Wreckfest throws a muddy spanner into the works. Made by Finnish video game developers Bugbear Entertainment, Wreckfest has been described by many as a spiritual successor to the FlatOut series. Make no mistake, this is the automotive equivalent of a no-holds barred bar-room brawl.
Gran Turismo can be described as something of a gentleman’s racer. With strict online etiquette and a ranking system showcasing your sportsmanship and skill. Wreckfest takes that etiquette and in no kind terms tells you exactly where to put it. The races are brutal and intense. You can quickly find yourself in the middle of a metal sandwich. Loud and heavy moving metal coffins on either side, quickly engulfing you as you gasp for air. You can see sparks fly and you can hear the engines majestically roar under the pressure. Once you ‘survive’ a race, you might just be begging for more.
Don’t let me fool you into thinking this is an easy arcade racer. Underneath the thick layer of mayhem and carnage is a robust driving system that requires more skill than just putting the pedal to the metal. There is a healthy variety of difficulty modifiers and settings but that is almost expected in any racer these days. The real challenge comes from turning off most of the driver aids and working hard to wrestle control of your vehicle amidst the chaos.
Speaking of control—the vehicles in Wreckfest handle brilliantly. There’s over 40 cars in the game if you count the DLC vehicles. These range from heavy-hitting American muscle cars to the more agile European and Japanese vehicles. These cars often require different skill sets to tackle. An American muscle car requires you to exert strength over your wheel as you battle for control and slide around corners with Hollywood bravado. The Japanese vehicles require a more delicate touch as they creak along the racetrack with nimble efficiency. There’s also a healthy dose of ‘special’ vehicles that range from school buses to a toilet seat. Some of these special vehicles can be dangerously fun. A small bump in the road led to me going head over heels straight out of my toilet seat like I was afflicted by explosive diarrhea.
All the cars in the world wouldn’t matter if the game shoehorned you into using a small handful of them. Thankfully, Wreckfest manages to showcase its roster by providing a healthy variety of challenges across its Career Mode and an underrated custom race editor. The career mode goes just as you would expect, with a nice variety of challenges that are set across its 34 different tracks. These range from straight up races to demolition-derby style events.
There’s nothing too flashy to keep you coming back to the career mode, but it does serve as a good introductory stage to experience the different vehicles. Some events are locked until you buy the requisite car type. The bread and butter of this game comes from the excellent custom race editor. This is jam-packed with a wide array of options to keep things fresh. Sure, you may survive 1 lap in a toilet seat on a map. But can you survive 20 laps against 10 school buses? The custom race editor keeps hooking me back in to test out more wacky combinations.
Furthermore, I didn’t have any issues with the online racing. Wreckfest does feature online racing with a fully fledged server browser that makes it easy to hop into a server for some quick racing. There were no issues finding any games in OCE during peak hours. The real draw is actually one of the newer features—the excellent Tournament mode. This mode pits you against other other drivers in a rotating series of time trial challenges. Only the best of the best get good rewards—so it provides an addicting loop of trying to beat that next milestone. I found myself spending hours just trying to shave seconds off my runs. The tournament shop also provides a steady drip of worthwhile rewards—from new cars to different skins. I can see myself returning regularly if these rewards are constantly refreshed.
The tracks themselves are also tonally superb. There’s a very muddy and grassroots feel to the maps. These range from the grimy dirt tracks and rally-cross circuits to the more dangerous figure-eight tracks. The tracks themselves wear and tear as the races go on, with full destruction enabled throughout. You’ll always be reminded of the carnage that has taken place, with debris strewn all over the tracks by the 3rd lap. The sheer amount of debris and metal can feel intoxicating at times, but never overwhelming as the game maintains a good frame rate despite all the visual clutter that is on the screen.
Unfortunately, not everything comes up Millhouse. I would’ve loved to seen a more robust car upgrade system. The current system feels a little bit out of place, with an RPG-style progression system of leveling up to unlock new upgrade parts for your cars that seems to be at odds with what the game is trying to achieve. I didn’t feel a need for me to reach an arbitrary number just to customize my starter car. I would’ve much preferred to have all upgrade options available for purchase once I unlocked a vehicle. This is particularly a shame since the armor customization is brilliant. You can add a variety of different armor styles on your car that affect the weight and speed. You can end up with some very Mad Max looking vehicles at your behest.
The AI can feel like they’re driven straight out of George Miller’s Mad Max at times. These opponents fear no evil and I’ll admit that I’ve sworn a few times when an opponent comes careening straight into my vehicle like its a trampoline. If you decide to give the AI an inch, they’ll take a yard and use that to put you out of commission with reckless abandon. The game even incentivizes revenge by marking the name of your would-be nemesis and giving you extra points if you dish some damage back. This can prove a challenge if your rival is in 1st place however, and this is where one of the game’s problems rears its ugly head.
It is extremely difficult to catch the person in 1st place on many of the tracks. They’re largely safe from the screeching cacophony of metal that is the middle of the race pack. You’ll often run into a few races where the driver in 1st place remains in 1st place throughout. It can just be too difficult at times to get past the dogpile of cars in the middle. To its credit, the game does solve this issue on a few tracks by smartly using figure-eight tracks or looping racers to drive back the way they came. But there are definitely too many tracks where it feels fruitless to try and come first once you fall slightly behind.
I’m really glad I bit the bullet and bought Wreckfest. The game really brings back that familiar feeling of being a kid and playing the old-school destruction derby games on the PlayStation. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty racing, there’s no better game out there than Wreckfest. The minor issues it does have are easily drowned out in the carnage and destruction it brings to the racing genre. Playing this game with a wheel is an immense lesson in speed and momentum. Chaos is a ladder, and it’s never been so fun to climb.
You can also find it for the PS4 and Xbox One (physically and digitally).