Carmageddon – PC
Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher(s): SCi, Interplay
Release Date (NA): June 30, 1997
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Vehicular Manslaughter Rating: 10 out of 10!
Valentine’s Day. To many, it means boxes full of chocolate hearts, expensive roses that die in less than a week, trite Hallmark cards, and the couch if we don’t nab at least two out of three before we get home to our significant others (assuming you’re reading this with testosterone, anyways). But to others, it means BLOOD, VIOLENCE, AND DEATH! It’s certainly that way to Stainless Games, who are following the Apogee model of Coming Back From The Grave Kicking with their recent title, Carmageddon Reincarnation, hitting public beta in the aptly-named Valentine’s Day Massacre event. To celebrate the full-circle return of one of the greatest outlets of stress ever to be put into a box, and to help keep the crazies who love this game off the streets on such a maritally-vital holiday, I’m going to take a look at the game that started this series on its long road to success, the original Carmageddon from the late nineties. Put on your crash helmet and be sure to hit the flagman as you follow me along this path of bloody bodies and wrecked death machines!
Released on June 30, 1997 by Stainless Games, the original Carmageddon is a racing game where each event can be beaten by satisfying one of the three following conditions:
- Race through checkpoints and complete every lap.
- Waste the cars of your rival racers.
- Wipe out the pedestrian population of the entire racing area.
As you can imagine, these aren’t arbitrary goals: The entire Carmageddon formula revolves around these three ideals, and for every violent act you commit, whether by running over five screaming innocents in a row or T-boning that car that took the lead position from you, you’re rewarded with credits to spend and extra time for the event clock that’s always ticking down toward zero. If you run out of time, the event is over, and you don’t get extra time just by racing. In this respect, the game is more like a sandbox than a serious racing game, encouraging you to explore the environment and go off the beaten path so that you can find more pedestrians to turn into pavement pulp and hunt down the opposition so you can crunch them into a wall like a spent can of beer.
Carmageddon has a special touch that can be felt from the very beginning. The cursor is a severed hand that oozes blood onto the screen whenever you click. When you hit “New Game”, it has difficulty settings that go from “As Easy as Killing Bunnies with Axes” to “Harder Than French-Kissing a Cobra”. And then when you read up on the tracks you have available to you and the short biography blurbs about your opponents, you’ll know what kind of game this is going to be. It gets better as you enter the arenas and see little in-jokes written on billboards and signs, like “The Name of the Game: MAIM”. And amid all of the carnage, you can do a flip and land right-side up with your car by accident and the game will still have the presence of mind to reward you with a fistful of credits for a Cunning Stunt Bonus. It has a dark, but at the same time, quirky sense of humor that will draw out the most eccentric of the madmen ready to get behind the wheel, and you and your fellow drivers are no exception.
After the game gives you a choice between Max Damage (the male protagonist) and Die Anna (the female protagonist), you soon find your red (or yellow) instrument of death has stiff competition, from everything to street punks driving off-roaders and crazed androids behind the wheel of performance race cars to rabid tow-truck drivers and psychotic earthmover operators. Carmageddon has a colorful cast of chemically-imbalanced cuckoos all driving a storied lot of murderous machines, each with its own strengths and weaknesses in a variety of zones. Some cars are adorned with very intriguing ways to carve up the competition and the cockamamie lot of pedestrians who thought being outside on a day like this was a bright idea, with the sky being the limit as far as the designs go. You’ll quickly find your favorites, as even though you can’t buy the cars, a select number of them have a small percentage chance of being “stolen” after you waste them in a race event, adding them to your Car Change list and letting you drive them at any time after earning them on the field of battle. You’ll need to change up after a while, too, because some of these competitors are bringing very fearsome behemoths on the road and your high-performance mauler won’t do the job alone.
Carmageddon uses a ranking system that starts with 99 and moves up toward 1, with the ranks passing by based on how many credits you accumulate in the race. The ranks control which tracks you can play (to a limit of five at any one time, meaning older tracks will be phased out as you move beyond their reach), but credits are far from merely a benchmark. They’re quite possibly the most valuable thing in the game, controlling three absolutely crucial elements that will help you master the game: Repairing, Recovering, and Upgrades. If you get hurt, and you will, holding the Backspace key will spend credits to repair the damage done to your car, and you should always try to be at tip-top shape. If you’re stuck and can’t get yourself out (or you’re about to get into a situation that you REALLY don’t like), hitting R will Recover your car for 2000 credits each time you press it, each time bringing it back to a point on the track you were at a few more seconds earlier, making it good for undoing mistakes before they get too hairy, or just getting you back on solid ground. Upgrades add to your Armor, Power, and Offensive ratings, making you harder to damage, faster on the road, and harder-hitting against your opponents. The upgrades apply to every car you drive and will be sorely needed as time goes on and stronger opponents start showing up in the lineup (and those damn cops start trying to crash the party).
If you want to be really good at playing the way Carmageddon wants you to play, you’re going to have to run over more than just pedestrians to survive. Barrels of different colors and degrees of helpfulness lie spotted across every level, and when you hit them, you’ll get a power-up. Sometimes this can be as simple as giving you an extra handful of credits or a time bonus, but this game’s heart comes out when you get the power-ups that really do something. If you hit a Wall Climber power-up, you can drive up the walls for a limited time (assuming you can get all four wheels on there). A Blind Pedestrians power-up means the innocent folks don’t know you’re coming until you’ve already run over them. Some have effects that are felt more strongly than others. Cause Gravity From Jupiter to happen and you won’t want to be pushed over any edges unless you really WANT to be wasted, but if you pick up Pedestrian Electro-Bastard Ray or Solid Granite Car, you’ll be flooded with power and ready to take the death on wheels to the glut of pedestrians or the otherwise insurmountable rival car of your choice. Knowing what power-ups will help you more and when to activate them will help you rule the race and put everyone else in the morgue before suppertime.
Of course, where would I be if I didn’t discuss the gallons and gallons of blood and guts this game splatters in your face and deposits in your lap? Carmageddon is the game that it is today because it doesn’t hold back and laughs at making vehicular manslaughter a fun way to pass the time. Whatever car you choose, whatever track you race, whatever power-up barrel you bust open, hitting pedestrians is the universal constant that takes a great game and makes it even better, letting you scream down the sidewalks and take out adults of all ages in combo strings, netting bonuses for artistic expression, or for pinning them against the wall, or by hitting them with a background element (like a barrier pole or a stationary car). They’re what you’re going to spend most of the game wading through, and it never gets old, at least unless you try taking on the very difficult challenge of single-handedly running over every single pedestrian in a level, and even then, if you’re determined, you’ll be rewarded with a LOT of cash and the warm, bloodthirsty glow that comes from looking out over the horizon and knowing that field of mutilated bodies is something you spend a good half hour or so making with your own four wheels.
Getting down to the crunch of Carmageddon, we get great responsiveness from the controls and semi-realistic physics to boot. The graphics are naturally dated, with a draw distance that can show you anything you can see or make you feel like you’re driving in fog, and limited amount of detail on some cars until you get right up on them or at least a close distance. It’s pretty good for a game made in 1997, though, and even if it’s all blocky textures and 2D sprites, it’s still the product of some real effort. The sound bites are pretty fun too, with the death screams of many varieties of pedestrian preserved and played constantly without losing their appeal, along with the satisfying crunch as you slam your front end into a rival’s car while they’re pinned against the corner of a high-rise, and the less comforting sound of a cop siren as it bears down on you from an overlooked side-street. Along with a selection of in-house industrial tracks made by Stainless Games’ own Lee Grover, the music features instrumental tracks taken from Fear Factory’s album Demanufacture, with Zero Signal used as the game’s main theme. All of these elements hold up and work well to put Carmageddon in a realm of its own making, resulting in a very strong and unique game that still holds up to this day.
Looking at it now, it’s plain to see that Carmageddon has seen a lot of attitude change from the gaming world since the series first took off in 1997. When it was first released, many countries censored it or just outright banned it entirely, its shameless display of motorized mayhem shocking lots of otherwise sensible people and adding more fuel to the fire that video games may promote violence. Today, this level of violence in video games is not only commonplace, but comical, something to be enjoyed as a mindless killing game that you shouldn’t take seriously because, I mean, come on, what are the odds of this really happening? It’s a true example of refuge in audacity, as the series continues to up the ante on itself by showing us more high-definition ways that we can put grandma and her walker in front of the big mean monster truck running everybody over. It’s still a crazy premise and it’s not going to move past that, it’s just going to look better over time, which is why Carmageddon Reincarnation is hopefully going to become a smash hit like its predecessors were, at least once the bugs have been beta-tested out. (Either way, any game in the series is still better than Carmageddon: TDR2000.)
And as for the original Carmageddon, it not only holds up well, but still kicks ass like it did back in 1997. I could talk about it all day, but there’s something to be said about getting the game yourself and giving it a spin. I wholeheartedly recommend this title to anyone who’s looking for something fun to play and isn’t going to let a little blood get in the way of that. It doesn’t matter if you remember the days of the DOS prompt or if you think Steam is when the PC became a real gaming machine, it makes no difference whether you get the Carmageddon Max Pack off of GoodOldGames or Steam, what matters is that you’re willing to rev that car up to life and use it to end a whole mess of other lives before you’re through. Take it from me, a guy who’s been playing this game since he was just over ten years old, the only thing this game will promote is violence against video game sprites and rendered vehicles. In real life, it’s one of the best and most effective stress relievers money can buy, with the added side benefit that all of those nasty road rage tendencies you may have welling up inside you around the holidays finally has a safe outlet to work itself out on! Everyone wins!Well, except the sprited cows. They’re kind of fucked.
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