There’s a totally destroyed car heading right for me with all the momentum its jauntily-angled wheels can muster. Its front bumper has been completely torn off, exposing its engine block, which is midway through dislodging itself from the rest of the chassis and is angrily spewing fire as it does so. The driver’s face is obscured behind a simple black helmet, which boasts a terrifyingly emotionless countenance.
We’re going to have a crash, and it’s going to be glorious.
Since I first picked up a PS2 controller, crashing has been the thing I’ve spent by far the most time doing in the litany of driving and racing games I’ve played since that point. It’s often been a source of frustration for me, and remains an occasional annoyance, even now that I’ve shaken off the life of a carefree child and gained the slightly improved my reflexes and hand-eye coordination of an adult that’s just about passable at video games.
Back in the day, there was a series that served as a bit of a refuge I could head for wherever I got tired of actually trying to avoid the looming barriers, grassy verges and cliffside drops that so often left my poor automobiles battered, bruised and unable to push on. It was Burnout, and it was a nirvana for people like me, whose virtual driving exploits always tend – whether intentionally or not – towards blazing a path of destruction along whichever roads we’re given.
While 2011’s Burnout Crash! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title) technically serves as the series’ final entry, depending upon whether you think remasters count, 2008’s Burnout Paradise – the recipient of that remaster – feels to me like both the pinnacle of the series and the point at which it began the process of ceasing to be. In the years since EA put the team behind it to work on Need For Speed, I’ve had to look elsewhere for my fix of adrenaline-filled automotive armageddon.
Wreckfest, which celebrates the tenth anniversary of its release via Steam early access under the moniker ‘Next Car Game’ today, is the game that’s come closest to providing that for me. Ironically, Bugbear Entertainment and THQNordic’s title about demolition derbies and banger racing is actually a bit of a spiritual successor to another arcade racing series that people liked in the 2000s – FlatOut, as well as the likes of Destruction Derby 64. That doesn’t matter though, its spirit and gameplay mechanics are enough to make any Burnout fan feel right at home.
It starts with picking out a car with a rather silly made-up name – because actual manufacturers tend not to like the idea of their products being reduced to steaming hunks of broken metal – and painting it a tastelessly bright or searingly edgy colour. It only gets better as you pick out a course or arena that’s specifically designed to make bashing, beating, and banging between not just likely, but downright inevitable. It peaks when you jump into the action and – surrounded by a maelstrom of squealing tires, paint being traded, and chassis being ripped apart – slam into another car so hard it careens into a wall and has its health bar wrenched down to zero.
You’re not angry in the slightest, but it’s road rage through and through. That isn’t the only Burnout mode you can easily emulate the challenge of in Wreckfest either. Pick one of the tracks that doesn’t have a totally lethal first corner (this is hard, but they do exist, I swear) and you can have yourself a straight-up race with plenty of variables to keep things interesting between points A and B. Opt to get behind the wheel of a regularly-sized car and take on a field of trucks, school buses, or combine harvesters, and you’ve got yourself a marked man event.
Then, there are the derbies, or as they’re arguably better dubbed in this context, crash mode without as much of a run up. It’s the amount of rides you totally wreck or how long you can survive that’s being measured rather than how much damage you do in cash terms, but the result is much the same. A knock-down, drag-out, throw someone over the counter of a bar kind of brawl raging among a crowd of several tonne machines that can only tap out by conking out.
All of these activities are like sermons to the great god of pretty violent, but totally bloodless automotive armageddon, whose patron saint once encouraged you to slam harshly coloured sedans, vans, and pickups into the scenery while blasting the likes of Faith No More or Guns n’ Roses. You won’t find DJ Atomika (thank god), the infamous boost, or anything directly referred to as a takedown in Wreckfest.
However, you will find exactly what made Burnout the best. Simple fun, and a metric crap tonne of utterly magnificent crashes.