Stainless’ mobile port of the original Carmageddon may not look as pretty as other games currently topping the charts on iOS but what it does bring is a genuinely entertaining, challenging and unique game to the platform. Older gamers will be drawn to a franchise they remember and younger gamers may get their first taste of a classic series before the reboot next year. Is the game strong enough to contend with modern handheld titles? Is that even the point?
If you’ve ever watched the David Carradine / Sly Stallone vehicular B-movie Death Race 2000 then you’ll have a good idea of what Carmageddon is all about. In honesty though, if you’ve never heard of Carmageddon then you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last fifteen years – Carmageddon is easily a contender for the most controversial game of all time and certainly of the 90s.
Carmageddon was the zenith of an escalating arms race in the nineties for the bloodiest, most outrageous video game. Outstripping Midway’s Mortal Kombat of its ludicrous, over-the-top violence and gore, Stainless’ DOS racer caused quite a stir in its day; the Daily Mail in particular had a field day with the game. In the halcyon days before Jack Thompson and MAVAV the biggest threat to our children’s sanity was violent films – concerned (read: interfering) focus groups called for franchises like Friday the 13th and Chucky to be banned for fears of the content having a negative effect on the suggestible minds of youngsters and then all of a sudden along come interactive video games which revel in murder, soaking our screens in blood and bones. Originally released in 1997, this DOS-based 3D racer not only allows but encourages the running-over of pedestrians and the destruction of your opponents. Crowd goes wild.
Stainless have recently released an iOS port of their original DOS game (actually, it’s a port of the Gizmondo version, but let’s not get bogged down with semantics) and have promised an Android version is shortly behind. The game itself is essentially Carmageddon verbatim, as it was fifteen years ago with some extra shiny gumph on top and a bunch of touchscreen controls. As a primer for next year’s Carmageddon: Reincarnation there’s really not much of a better way to (re)introduce people to the franchise.
Initially the gamer is asked to take control of either of two selectable characters – series stalwart Max Damage or the ever-glamorous Die Anna. The player then embarks on a campaign of copious race courses ranging from urban streets, forests, icy plains, mines, industrial plants and more besides. There is a vast selection of vehicles – slim at first, but which gradually grows as milestones are hit and new cars unlocked – all of which can be upgraded with faster engines, sharper spikes or thicker armour et al.
Races can be won in one of three ways – finish the race (undoubtedly the most humdrum), wasting your competitors or the third, more arduous option of running over every pedestrian inhabiting the huge levels; a worthwhile victory in itself even without an unlockable achievement – the average sum of peds runs into 400 a level so your work is cut out for you if you’re a completist. That is the game in a nutshell. There’s no complex story-driven structure, no engaging characters to identify with; just a car covered in spikes and hundreds of people to kill. Sometimes it seems that the simplest ideas are often the best ones.
Each of the thirty-odd courses features dozens of collectable bonuses whether they’re points, extra time on the clock or one of the hilariously fun upgrades. Extra points are earned by running things over and by pulling cunning stunts. It’s probably that pervasive, British sense of humour that keeps bringing me back to Carmageddon – the final level is called Beef Curtains for crying out loud. There are dozens of puns, gags and extensive and insidious use of toilet humour running through the entire game and this just reinforces that the game is a product of fun. Each track is designed with fun in mind – pinch points and bottlenecks increase the chances of utter carnage and ill-placed ramps boost your chances of a dodgy landing – in Carmageddon this isn’t a bad thing, it’s the whole point. Some might argue that once you get the joke so to speak, the game holds nothing more for you. Carmageddon Funsize isn’t as strong a racing game as many other games of its ilk; even other arcade-style racers like Crazy Taxi, Blur or even Mario Kart trump it at being better at what they do. This has always been the case though – even in 1997 there were better driving games but I don’t think Carmageddon was ever intended to compete with other games – the game is about having fun and nothing more. Despite the genuine ground-breaking nature of the first game, the sole intention of Carmageddon is to enjoy yourself. The very fact that the game is often touted as a sandbox racer pays testament to the design; rather than be confined to the track, the gamer can go anywhere, the first course in particular often sees the player driving into an American Football stadium and mowing down some thirty players. The freedom of movement is important as collecting powerups and scything down members of the public is arguably as –if not more- important as driving on the track.
The controls are the game’s weakest point. Stainless have done a great job of updating an old game but the game suffers at the tyrannical grip of a touchscreen device. The controls themselves are beautifully intuitive – pedals and steering are immediately obvious and the more esoteric commands are just as innate; to repair, touch the damaged part on your diagnostic window, to pause, touch the clock. If there’s an instruction manual you won’t need it, everything is there and it’s all instinctive. The problem lies with the device itself. It’s hard to consider touchscreen-only devices as gaming devices – touchscreens offer no haptic feedback so it’s very hard to tell if you’re hitting the right button without looking. If you’re looking at where the buttons are, you’re not playing the game. This isn’t Stainless’ fault and is par for the course on an iOS game but in a game as fast-paced and frantic as Carmageddon you might find yourself accidentally steering left instead of right, or braking instead of gassing it.
The physics of the cars is good – J-turning and 360-degree spins are part and parcel of the experience here and many of the cars have hugely powerful engines capable of shredding some rubber and spinning the gamer out if they’re not paying attention in the bends. It’s a shame that such attention to detail often plays second fiddle to something as lowly as the touchscreen.
A less discerning reviewer might mark Carmageddon Funsize down for its very old-fashioned visuals. Considering the assets have been largely untouched for fifteen years (save for some bigger textures and a few beauty passes here and there) they are certainly showing their age, specifically on the iPad version which we played. The old flat texture characters and x-trees dotted around the landscape were part and parcel for a mid-nineties title but you have to be honest and admit that for a platform that gave us Real Racing and (more aptly) Death Rally, Carmageddon is lacking in the graphics department. If you don’t mind that the visuals aren’t impeccable – they’re certainly serviceable – then it’s of no major concern but if you’re one of these milkshakes who’s on the good-visuals bandwagon it might be best to think about that before buying this game. That said, we did actually play the iPhone / iPod Touch version a couple of weeks ago and the smaller screen is much more forgiving in that respect. As visuals are low down on my list of importance I would say not to give too much import to the issue.
The original soundtrack is intact meaning that gamers are once again obliterating pensioners whilst listening to the blisteringly-good instrumental Fear Factory. Honestly, this is one of the best bits about this game. Nothing reminds me of how good it was to be thirteen than industrial metal and DOS games.
It’s the little things that make this game for me, the little touches that still work to this day. The music, the out-of-control controls, the gags and the sheer silliness of the game still rings a bell for me. Are there better racing games out there? Certainly. Are there better-looking games? Sure. Whilst Carmageddon Funsize doesn’t look as good and it certainly doesn’t take itself as seriously as any other game out there, I think that that’s the point – the plus points of this fifteen-year old game still shine through so get out there and have fun!
Whether you’re an old-school gamer looking for a fix of retro amusement or you’re a series newbie looking to get your teeth into one of the most infamous games ever developed, if you can get over your pre-occupations and just sit back and enjoy the carnage, you’ll have a bloody good time.