The console release of Wreckfest, launching this week on Playstation 4 and Xbox One, marks a major milestone in the development of the Bugbear racer. Is it all we had hoped for? Let’s find out….
The racing community has been keeping track of Wreckfest for over five years, when an ill-fated Kickstarter campaign for Bugbear’s “Next Car Game” turned into a lengthy early access phase for what became Wreckfest. Along the way, the game was picked up by THQ Nordic and launched out of early access just over a year ago. The current console releases thus mark the end of a long development cycle, although post-release content is also planned for the game (including new cars and decals).
I bring up Wreckfest’s development cycle for a reason. When we first saw the game, it wasn’t much more than a tech demo showing off the game’s impressive damage model that caused car parts to fly off in every direction after a crash. The damage model was dynamic as well, and made sure the damage reflected the point and speed of impact in the collision that preceded it.
As it turns out, years later, that is the highlight of the game – although I realize that by saying that I’m not doing the game justice at all. What I mean to say is that Wreckfest – as the title implies – is best enjoyed when you’re not playing nice on the track, and the payoff is excellent thanks to the aforementioned technology.
Of course, Bugbear is no stranger to vehicular carnage, with their Flatout series still being a solid reference point within the genre. Chaos is the name of the game in Wreckfest, and that even applies to its “regular” races. A well-placed nudge can send your opponent (or yourself) flying – and an even better one will cause a huge pileup of cars behind you, stopping others in their tracks for a moment and giving you the chance to get ahead.
Actually getting to the finish line isn’t something that’s a given here either – I’ve had instances where my car finally died on me just seconds before the finish line. It’s frustrating, but the realistic damage model makes it feel fair – you know it’s because you went a little crazy or didn’t avoid those aggressive racers earlier on.
Besides racing, you can also engage in “last man driving” events similar to the classic Destruction Derby formula. This is where the damage model shines most brightly in Wreckfest, since it’s non-stop carnage in this mode and there are always a ton of chances to see a few impressive bumps, grinds and collisions in a slow motion replay. What’s also fun in Wreckfest is the ability to drive around in a few alternate vehicles and cause mayhem that way, but these always felt like fun diversions rather than a meaningful core gameplay element.
Multiplayer is an online affair, which is a shame because both the races and the derbies would make for amazing local multiplayer experiences. It’s been a wish of Bugbear’s to include this, so fingers crossed for a post-release update. But speaking of which…. there’s a day 1 update planned as well, and it’s meant to fix a few serious issues. Performance is fine once you’re in-game, but load times can be very long and we had a few stability issues as well. Feels like some optimizing needs to be done first because local multiplayer can be considered, but let’s hope it comes.
The console version of Wreckfest has a large number of courses to play on, including a few that are absolutely insane and make you almost want to fail just to see what might happen if you fall from the very top of a huge loop. Console owners actually get a few courses that weren’t in the PC release as well, but that version is due to receive them in a free update as well.
Visually, the car models looks absolutely gorgeous, but the surrounding scenery isn’t as rich as what we’ve seen in Forza or Need for Speed. Obviously this is a design choice (and one that pays off when you check out the damage model), but it still stands out. Luckily the audiovisual presentation is helped by a diverse and upbeat soundtrack that’s a great fit for the type of gameplay on offer here, and it’s from a bare bones kind of presentation.
Wreckfest may be designed with a very particular goal (and audience) in mind, but it fits that purpose very well. Even six years down the road, it has a unique character and it’s a ton of fun. Let’s hope it received a little post-release love as well, both in terms of fixes and new (multiplayer) features.