After an arduously long period of development, a failed Kickstarter run and lots of rewriting in the alpha, Bugbear's "Next Car Game" finally took shape. It got re-branded as Wreckfest and finally released from Steam Early Access on June 14, 2018. Unlike most racing and driving games published in recent years (looking at you, The Crew 2), Wreckfest is on the point: there are no unnecessarily long cutscenes, no Fast and Furious-inspired stories and no open world to explore -- it is just pure racing on closed tracks and in arenas. While its development took more time than some of the modern open-world titles, it was well worth the wait for those who want a simple no-frills arcade racing experience with good amounts of vehicle customization and destruction.
Wreckfest is available on Steam for 44.99 EUR / 44.99 USD.
Wreckfest - Official Launch Trailer
Unlike Bugbear's previous racing-themed games -- the FlatOut series -, Wreckfest takes a somewhat more serious approach to destructive automotive racing. While it is still all about that sweet crashing action, it doesn't feature drivers flying out of cars or catapulting out of vehicles. Wreckfest focuses on two different destruction derby-style events: banger racing on closed circuits and total mayhem derbies in various arenas. There are 18 tracks and 5 arenas in the game.
The banger racing events are much more brutal than their real-life counterparts -- anything goes there, no such silly rules like "avoid damaging the driver's side of the car". Races take place mostly on regular circuit tracks, but there are some interesting ones too, such as the NASCAR-like oval track or the 8-shaped one, which leads to insane crashing action true to the game's name. The most recent addition is the Bonebreaker Valley track, where hairpin curves and two-way sections ensure complete and total chaos. There is a good variety of tracks here, with gravel and tarmac roads. Some are less enclosed, which means you have to really learn the tracks since swerving out might mean total defeat as there is nothing to stop your car from leaving the race area.
Moving on to the destruction derby theme, Wreckfest doesn't disappoint there either but it isn't anything special either. There are 5 arenas with various kinds of smaller obstacles and bumps scattered around them -- from a tarmac pit to a field with tall grass, there is a good variety here at least in scenery. I think Dirt Showdown back in 2012 had a bit more variety in terms of arena layouts -- I particularly enjoyed the arenas where the middle sections had elevated platform, so you could knock down other cars at its edges -- these are sadly absent from Wreckfest.
As one can expect from a game where full soft-body destruction is a staple feature, all cars in Wreckfest are fictitious -- they have fancy names such as Bumblebee, Rocket or Gremlin. There is some good variety there too, just like in tracks -- from small 2-person vehicles resembling the famous Volkswagen Beetle, to massive SUVs and 4x4 jeep-like cars, you can find all kinds of vehicles here. Playing through the Career mode even unlocks some unique choices such as a lawnmower, a schoolbus or a fire truck. I can tell you, it is quite fun to set up a custom event with me using a bus while the AI opponents all have the VW Beetle-like Killerbee -- total mayhem!
With the exception of the aforementioned special vehicles, all cars can be tuned, upgraded and painted. You can upgrade several components such as the engine, the fuel system, the radiator and more, each affecting the vehicle's performance and rating in a different way. They can also be outfitted with armor on 4 different areas -- a cage for the driver's space, front and back bumpers, and side protectors. These all make the vehicle heavier and slower, but in turn, increase its ramming strength and survivability.
As you can see in the screenshot above, there are some ridiculous ornaments for many vehicles, such as this baby carriage for the Gremlin. Some other cars have shark fins, oversized antennae and more, adding to the visual variety.
Game modes and progression
There are three game modes in Wreckfest -- Career, Custom Event and Multiplayer. Career is just a series of various banger racing and demolition derby events with 5 main stages. To reach the next stage featuring more difficult events with better cars, you have to earn enough points in the previous one. Sounds simple enough, but there are two things I don't like here. First, it is too easy to completely reset an already finished event, it just takes two button presses and all your progress in it is gone. Instead, I would prefer if it kept your previous score and only modified it if you managed to beat it. The second is that the game doesn't tell you the reason of not being eligible for some events, just like in the screenshot below. If you look at it very closely, you can see the fine print-sized text in the lower right corner that I need 1,000 points to unlock this event, but it is barely noticeable if you don't know what to look for.
The same goes for vehicle classes -- they are ambiguous and the game doesn't explain what makes a car B or C class, for example. By tuning them and changing performance pars, it seems there are some thresholds where cars move a class up or down.
Custom Event is where you can choose a track and game mode, your car and the opponents' amount, vehicle class and number of laps, and off you go. It is a good way of learning the tracks and practicing against the somewhat mediocre AI.
Multiplayer is where it's at -- it is extremely aggressive and is great fun, when it works properly. Sadly, the servers can be quite a bit laggy even though there are dedicated server options for the community and also some officials are available too. There is no matchmaking -- Wreckfest is a good old-fashioned game even in this regard.
You can either start your own game on the Internet or on LAN, and joining is done by picking a server from the list. Having LAN support in this day and age is definitely commendable. I think online MP involves a bit too much waiting -- about 1 minute before each race (not counting loading screens), and you will have to wait out the ongoing race if you join mid-game. There aren't too many online players, but it is just enough to play races with real people. Sadly, deathmatch and classic derbies can barely be found, 95% of the servers are focused on banger racing.
Graphics and audio
While the game looks nothing like Forza Horizon 3 or The Crew, the graphics are quite good for what they are. While the surroundings of the tracks are a bit lacking in quality (especially the trees), the tracks themselves and the cars look quite good. Even minor dents are very noticeable on the vehicles, and as the races progress, more and more debris and car parts litter the sections where big crashes happened. The game sounds very good -- I haven't heard such great motor sounds in car-themed games in a long while. As the cars get damaged and various internal parts break, the sounds they make also change a bit, adding to the immersion. Crashes sound somewhat terrifyingly real.
Performance-wise, I think Wreckfest is in a good spot -- it can hold 60 FPS on medium-high settings on a i5-7600k and a GTX 1050 Ti. I only encountered one reproducible crash when clicking on the Settings menu -- this was solved by uninstalling a USB gamepad-emulating software called vJoy.
I enjoyed playing Wreckfest, but the technical issues and lots of waiting in online multiplayer make it a bit difficult to recommend wholeheartedly. The game itself is great and plays well, but after beating the career and playing a few Custom Events, there isn't much to do here apart from grinding some credits for another car. However, if you can play this with friends in a LAN environment, I definitely recommend to pick this one up in a sale. I think it is a plus that the game doesn't have any story just to fulfill some artificial requirement for it -- not every game needs it, and Wreckfest with its destruction derby theme certainly doesn't.
|+ Great physics||-- Lots of downtime in multiplayer|
|+ Gets to the point quickly -- no story||-- Lacks longevity|
|+ Good variety of banger racing tracks||-- Mediocre environment graphics|
|+ Has LAN support|