Developer: Bugbear Entertainment; Publisher: THQ Nordic
Released: June 14th, 2018; Review Platform: PC
System Specifications: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16 GB DDR 4 RAM, GeForce GTX 1070 8GB
Get it on: Steam
I never imagined riding a lawn mower on a race track will be so much fun, as those vehicles tend to be far from fast or entertaining in real life. The new game from Bugbear proved that it very well can be, especially when you put 24 mowers against each other in demolition derby. Wreckfest has been stuck in Steam Early Access for such a long time that I’ve entirely forgot about the game’s existence up until its recent full release. The developer Bugbear Entertainment, which many would remember as creators of the FlatOut series, announced this title back in 2012 as Next Car Game. Through lengthy development, numerous delays, and finding a publisher, Wreckfest has finally released on PC, and its long time coming looks to have paid off very well. With a career mode, custom events, mod support and a varied selection of cars, this is a proper FlatOut sequel many have been waiting for, and a realistic damage model is icing on top of the cake. Bugbear have delivered an excellent demolition derby racing title packed full of fun moments, and its numerous release delays really paid off to finish work on this game. Now that the game left Early Access, there is a lot to enjoy about Wreckfest, and long time fans of demolition racing games got a well-made release, even if the developer no longer has the rights to the series’ name they’re well known for.
Wreckfest feels instantly familiar to anyone who’s played Bugbear’s previous titles, and with proper destruction physics, plays even better. Players partake in various types of events, with normal circuit races, survival challenges and the signature demolition derby mode, which literally becomes a massive wreckfest. In standard races, there is still plenty of potential to knock competitors off course and cause a large cluster of vehicles to pile up. The focus remains on coming in first however, so there isn’t much room to play around as you can easily crash out yourself. With additional objectives in these events that often require causing chaos, completionists will need to strike a delicate balance between racing at full speed and hitting opponents. Numerous challenges provide a nice distraction from standard races, with certain twists to an event, such as a head-to-head competition, or even more fun survival races. One of those pitted me in a Reliant Robin, which doesn’t handle any better in game than in real life, against 23 school buses racing on an oval track, where survival became my main objective.
Demolition derby events, while far less numerous than racing, are the standout points of Wreckfest. Placing 24 competitors in a free-for-all destruction show, demolition events instantly turn brand new vehicles into pieces of junk on wheels, which never stops being fun. While it is inherently fun to smash opponents, the realistic damage model requires careful planning and strategy, as running into everything always wrecks your car more quickly than remaining a last man standing. Damaging opponents also damages your own car, and if you don’t have a specific angle to hit others, your car will take roughly the same damage as the player would cause. This makes the demolition mode especially challenging, as the race runs until only two players remain, no matter how many takedowns are achieved. The player can’t drive around the circle outside the main vehicle mass either, as after a certain point a “no-contact” timer comes up, and if it runs out, the game initiates a fail state. All of these elements make for a fantastic demolition derby mode, where Wreckfest particularly excels at realistic vehicle crashes.
Said destruction model is a major highlight of Wreckfest, and showcases vehicles crumbling under high impact and parts flying all over. There is extensive detail in vehicle damage, from dislocated parts to crumbled bodywork, which can look spectacular at times when you get a particularly strong hit. Steering isn’t affected as much as I’d like, and even with a fully smashed up vehicle I could still drive somewhat well, although to the game’s credit, this doesn’t require as many restarts during races. Hit a single spot too many times, however, and an important part such as one of the wheels can come off and render the car useless, which is always something to look out for. Although apart from the demolition derby events, there are few chances to really get damaged unless the player actively pursuits crashing out opponents. Wreckfest’s extensive damage model shows the care developers have put into their game concept, which necessitates the numerous delays the game incurred.
In its final release, Wreckfest includes a single player career mode, as well as multiplayer compatibility so players can derby race others online. The career mode spans 5 racing championships, each divided into about 10 to 12 events of varying type. For progressing, players need to achieve a certain amount of points in each racing event to hit championship completion requirements, which generally give plenty of room for error. Finishing races also grants players experience, used to unlock performance parts and new cars after each level reached. Wreckfest is fairly generous with rewarding players as I’ve found, with each race win granting a performance or visual part for one of the vehicles in your garage. This doesn’t happen every race, but race finishes also grant in-game currency used to purchase new cars or upgrades. I’ve never had more than enough currency in my bank, although there is never a point in time where you have to grind career races. Multiplayer works well to earn money as well, so players would never feel a drag in unlocking new cars. Challenges usually give vehicles away for free anyways, so one’s garage is constantly expanded with something new.
Speaking of vehicles, Wreckfest features extensive variety in cars, ranging from derby trucks and sports cars to silly examples such as riding lawn mowers, school buses and even crop harvesters. Race events can be restricted by car class, which allows players to use a decent variety of vehicles. Each ride can be extensively customized visually and performance wise, although I’ve found half the visual upgrades essentially useless as parts have a tendency to quickly fall off a vehicle after a hit or two. Still, it’s nice to have a decked out car that will sooner or later end up being smashed into an entirely different form. Cars can be made visually impressive, but in more cases than not, that won’t serve to any benefit in demolition derby. Performance upgrades are broken down into many various parts, all of which however only add increments to car speed, handling and acceleration. Armor parts are also available for demolition derby races, although you’d need to specialize a vehicle in such events, as those upgrades tend to impact speed and handling. Car upgrades add an extra level to make Wreckfest as complete as possible, where developers have hugely succeeded. There is plenty to do visually as well, with lots of vinyls, paints and seriously funny car attachments. A shark fin on your roof, anyone?
Apart from vehicle upgrades, the entire racing experience features a variety of sliders to make the experience as easy or as difficult as it can be. Cars can be tailored for different racing setups, although I never had problems finishing first on a default setup. This likely comes into play on higher difficulty levels , and AI can be raised up to brutally hard. The handling model itself isn’t very challenging, and it’s arcade feel is very reminiscent of FlatOut titles Bugbear was involved in. As that series has been handed over to a different studios, Wreckfest feels more of a sequel to those original titles than any FlatOut games that followed, which is ironic to an extent. Wreckfest delivers on player expectations, however, and those who liked the games made by Bugwear will find lots of enjoyment here.
Although the career mode is over and done quickly, players will then partake in Wreckfest’s multiplayer series, as well as in the challenge mode. This one deserves special mention, as it can lead to creating entertaining events within a specific rule set. Want crop harvesters to participate in demolition derby or school buses to race in a big scramble of 24? Easily doable and the combinations never stop being amusing. There is no lack of variety in Wreckfest, with diverse tracks and a big selection of vehicles which can be put into unusual scenarios. While the career mode is somewhat more reasonable, challenge mode allows players to turn things up to 11 in a literal way.
Despite taking roughly six years to develop Wreckfest, Bugbear Entertainment have created something really exceptional, in what looks and feels like a proper FlatOut sequel. Comparisons aside, Wreckfest has a lot of elements to enjoy, and the extra layers of polish show throughout the experience. With a varied career mode that includes some unusual races alongside the highlight of the game: demolition derby. There is a lot to do in single player, as Wreckfest also includes a custom challenge mode than leads to many amusing combinations of vehicles and tracks. After all is done, Wreckfest players will find a robust multiplayer mode with just the same, if not higher amount of fun. For those who like to modify their cars visually, there are many paint possibilities and custom liveries, as well as bodywork upgrades. Finally, the main spectacle of intense and detailed crashes is also present, with full on vehicle deformation and vital parts falling off. Wreckfest is thoroughly enjoyable throughout, and with few demolition derby titles on the market, easily takes the crown of the best. If you haven’t tried this game out during its Early Access phase, I can easily recommend it in full release form. While there is a large diversity among racing games on PC, Wreckfest fills up a certain niche, and everything it’s developers set out to do is completed with much attention. Wreckfest is now available through Steam, and is slated to come to PS4 and Xbox One some time in the future.