Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Carmageddon (MS-DOS)

Developer:Stainless Games|Release Date:1997|Systems:PC, Mac, Android, iOS

This week on Super Adventures you can look forward to several words on the subject of PlayStation-era vehicular carnage racing game Carmageddon! Or is that supposed to be CarmaGeddoN? The oversized letters are throwing me off.

It feels like it's been ages since I've had a racing game on the site. In fact looking back through the archives it seems like the last one was Super Mario Kart all the way back in 2013. I don't remember much about this besides what I can pull from my fuzzy memories of old magazines, but I expect it to be dissimilar.

I'm also expecting to be driving a red car with spikes running down the middle. Plus I'm sure this is the one with a picture of a bloke in the top left of the screen that makes faces when you run people over. Or run zombies over if you're playing the censored version with the green blood, which I'm hopefully not. I've had enough zombies lately thanks, no more zombies.

I'll be playing the Carmageddon Max Pack from GOG, all packaged up to run on modern PCs with nGlide pretending I've got a 3dfx card. So the graphics may potentially be a little prettier than they were back in the day, but I wouldn't bother clicking the screenshots for a better view because they'll all be 640x480 resolution or less.



That's the car I remember in the middle, the one that looks like a cross between a Ferrari F-40 and the Tim Burton Batmobile. Though I'm not sure Batman would approve of the serrated blade running across the roof... oh wait, Tim Burton's Batman would be all over that thing, especially if it has guns hidden away in there too.

The announcer announces that the race begins in one minute, and that members of the public should use that time to reach minimum safe distance. Then the intro spends that whole minute panning around 3D models of the cars as they get their engines revved up for the race, with 'Zero Signal' by Fear Factory playing in the background.
"Those who are about to die, we salute you."
The countdown begins, someone rushes home, a cat leaps over a fence, and then they all race off early, with the driver of the red car heading straight for the guy holding the starting flag!

Whoa, this has to be a first for a racing game. They've got a bloke in sensible clothes and a fluorescent vest starting the race instead of a hot model. Didn't work out for him though.

Alright, now that the game's got me hyped I have to stop and sort out my menu settings. 

The game's 20 years old this year so I feel comfortable with turning all graphics to full. I'm less confident I'll remember all these unfamiliar keys though. Repair, wheelspin, buy armour... I can buy armour during a race? No gear change options though I've noticed.

There's a joystick button there but I'll be using the keyboard for the sake of nostalgia. I always used to play PC racing games with arrow keys... oh hang on, this isn't letting me use the arrow keys. Well fine, I'll use L X , / then, see how it likes that. I'll need the mouse and keyboard handy either way as it doesn't seem to like me using my controller in menus and it didn't recognise many of the buttons.

Hey, I can pick my character! Though there's only these two to choose from.

Die Anna seems to be having more fun and the stats say that her car's faster, but Max Damage's car has more strength and more importantly it's the red one from the intro. So I'm going with him. I can also change his name, but why would I want to? It's perfect!

Next it let me pick my difficulty, which is always nice, so I went with 'normal everyday carnage'.

These rendered menu screens really love to flip around every bloody time I select something.

I clicked out 'Change Race' first, expecting to be disappointed, but it turns out that I have a choice of three races to pick from already. The list keeps going, but to unlock more I'll need to improve my rank so that I'm not the worst racer on the board.

So that's my personal goal for this game then: I want to complete all three starting races and do it well enough to unlock the next one. Then I'll be happy enough to turn the game off and pretend I understand it well enough to write my mini review at the end!

The game didn't let me choose a different car yet though (I'm stuck in the Red Eagle), but I can change my grid position! Well I can choose to be at the back or in the middle at least, and I don't see any reason why I'd want to be at the back. Unless the alternative is starting with that guy with the drill behind me.

Hey it's the guy from the box art, with 'LOADING' tattooed across his forehead! This might actually be Max Damage himself, but I don't remember him having that scar over his eye.

Also Max was smart enough hang on to his helmet.


RACE 1: MAIM STREET.


Look at these classic fake 3dfx accelerated graphics! Also my car really does look like the Batmobile in that top view on the bottom right. In the top left I've got the 'Prat Cam' showing Max's reactions as I'm driving around, and around the rest of the screen I've got various gauges and counters, some obvious, some less so.

One thing I already dislike about the game is how it's still playing the menu music instead of giving a new track for the race. But then one of the racers immediately ran over the flagman just like in the intro and I forgave it. Dumbass was trying to start the race with a chequered flag.


30 SECONDS LATER.


Okay I’ve learned two things already: the race has got checkpoints and this bloody car of mine doesn't want to turn. Or more accurately it doesn’t want me to turn it; it’s fine with spinning out all on its own.

Another problem I'm having is that the game's a bit vague on which way I'm meant to turn as well. There are barriers with chevrons on but they're kind of easy to miss from a distance.

I managed to nail this next turn perfectly though. It was easy after I burned off some speed by accidentally ploughing into some traffic lights. That also wrecked my engine though, which isn't really what you want to do 1 minute into the race.

Hang on, it just flashed up "Wrong checkpoint". What do you mean wrong checkpoint? I'm sure this has to be the right way, those road signs aren't that hard to spot.

Oh damn, I must have slipped around that other one in the last screenshot without triggering it when I crashed. Should I go back for it? It seems like there's 30 seconds between checkpoints and I've got 30 seconds left, so I might make it!

Well the bad news is that my engine blew up entirely, so I can't drive any more. But the good news is that this gentleman behind me seems to want to push my car all the way to the end of the race. We're moving slowly, but I'm the one doing the steering so it seems like I could get to the end like this and I'd be guaranteed not to come last!

These pedestrians are a little out of my way over on the sidewalk here, but hitting them is getting me credits so even if I don't win I'll be walking away with a profit. It's all very Grand Theft Auto. Actually it's very Death Race 2000, as the game was going to have the licence at one point and it inspired a lot of the design. Before that they were going for the Mad Max licence and I guess that inspired half the guy's name.

OUT OF TIME! Turns out that 7 seconds wasn't enough time to complete one and a half laps.

My failure was rewarded with this clip of Max throwing an entirely different looking helmet off screen in anger... and it coming back around from the other side of the screen to smack him.

Alright, I'm going to try that again and this time I'm going to try to hit all the checkpoints in the right order.


ATTEMPT #2.


I'm not very good at getting the car to turn.

This utter balls up did provide an opportunity to try out the reset button though, so I pressed it and it restarted me facing directly into the water on the right, then charged me for the service. So I had to carefully get the car pointed somewhere less damp, which was harder than you'd think (car don't wanna turn).

I'm still struggling on the corners, having to slow right down or take my chances with the handbrake, but at least I haven't missed any checkpoints on this second attempt.

Plus if I'm reading the HUD correctly, I'm 1st of 8 right now! No I must be reading that wrong as there's only 6 of us in this race. Well now I'm just confused. Oh... it must mean 1st of 8 checkpoints, because I just started the second lap.

I'm pretty sure I've hit 21 out of 527 pedestrians though, which is crazy. Did these people not hear the announcer telling them to get off the road or they'd die? He gave them a whole minute to run away!

You can see what I mean about the barrier signs being a little less than ideal. This pair has been tucked over to the side, so if I wasn't paying attention I would've driven straight into that football stadium up there. Which is probably not where I want to be with 11 seconds left on the clock, even if it does have a cool video sign over the entrance.

It's strange that the game's giving me so much space to drive around in outside the track though. It's not a sandbox city, it hasn't gone full GTA, but they've given me a lot of room to stray off the path and zero time to waste doing it.

And I managed to hit the next checkpoint with 5 seconds to spare!

But I didn't get a time bonus, what the fuck? Another OUT OF TIME! failure. I'm really getting confused now. What does this game want from me?

There's two types of racing games in this world: the ones I do quite well at, and the ones I never get past the first race in, and this seems like it may belong to category B. Give me something forgiving like a Need for Speed game and I'll generally do okay, but I've never gotten on with ultra-serious racing simulations with realistic car handling or bastard hard arcade games with tight time limits.


ATTEMPT #3.


Aha! I had a suspicion that hitting pedestrians was getting me some time back, so I kept one eye on the clock this time and my time limit was extended by 8 seconds. So as long as I'm killing 7.5 innocents per minute I'll have enough time to finish the race!

The trade off is that swerving to hit people has left me in last place, as they're awkward little buggers to run over. They like to pick a direction and sprint off when I get close, like they've got some kind of instinct for self preservation or something.

Oh damn I just noticed Max's latest expression up in the corner. The guy has all the best faces.

In fact he's got so many faces I'm not sure how they can all belong to the same bloke.

This Prat Cam box is more distracting than the Doomguy on Doom's HUD, but there's no way I'm turning it off, because it's also amazing.. The actor should've won an Oscar for his performance of a lunatic suffering through my shitty driving.

This asshole just rammed me into a lamp post and lit my damage meter up all different colours! I'm used to lamp posts snapping off in racing games, in fact I remember once or twice trying to clear an entire track of them on my way to first place. In this though hitting a lamp post is the quickest way to lose my engine.

But then I thought back to that controls screen at the start and remembered I have a 'repair' button. It cost me 1480, but I got my car back in shape! Then he gave me another shove into the lamp post and broke it again.

Alright, next time I'm going to press 'recover' first to teleport me out of the way, then 'repair'. And then I'll give the race a fourth try because I've clearly fucked up here.

Well I got the car over the finish line this time, though I'm fairly sure I must have been lapped three times on a two lap race. Wait, I got the rank increase I was after? So I actually won then?

But... I... huh? Works for me though, I'll take my winnings and check out the parts shop.

Oh, unfortunately my winnings weren't enough to get me any of these upgrades, not by a long shot. Aside from armour, power and offensive parts there's nothing else here to spend my cash on, no cosmetic mods or paint options (and I still haven't got a new car to buy), so I might as well start the second race.

Hang on, it says 'armor' on the right, but it's spelled 'armour' on the left. It's like the developers weren't even American!


RACE 2: COASTAL CARNAGE.


Man it's nice to get out of that city.

I fell off the bridge though, due to the massive gaps in it, so I'm mincing a few cows for extra time while I find my way back up. The game's kind of gross at times, especially as it looks like they're shitting blood in terror when they see me coming.

Though at least I can see them! People aren't so easy to spot at a distance, especially as the pop-in doesn't give me much distance to spot them in. At full speed I get very little time to react and change my aim, and on the rare occasions that I am quick enough a gentle tap of the steering buttons is more likely to send my car spinning out instead. So I'm taking it easy.

See, look at these people; they're hard enough to spot even when they're on screen!

Plus the game's given me another fork in the road. I'm tempted to go right and see what's there, but I'm worried about losing the next checkpoint and running out of time so I won't. It'll have to hold onto its mysteries for another lap.

Oh shit, that’s a loop! The game thinks its Fatal Racing all of a sudden. I've been swerving all over the place though so I'm going to need to go back and get more speed for this. Either that or I could skip it with that jump on the right.

I went off-road to turn around for a bigger run up and ran into a mega-turbo barrel on the way! Extra speed in a can, for a limited time only. So I'm going to get back on track and give this another shot before the timer runs out.

I've seen a few barrels around, each containing something that'll either help me out or make my life awkward for the next 20 seconds. Those green ones are awesome as they've been giving me extra time, so I'll always go out of my way to hit them.

The trouble is that barrels suffer from the same pop-in as the people, so I have no idea they're there until I'm right on top of them. If I was deliberately looking for them I'd have to drive into the barren emptiness and hope I got lucky.

Well a couple of things went wrong here. First I ran out of boost, then I ran off the road. In my defence it's hard to stay on track when all I can see is a bumper because racing game cameras weren't designed for loops. Oh duh, I should've switched to cockpit view! I forgot I even had that button.

At least I got a Cunning Stunt bonus when I landed on the roof. It's a spoonerism!


RACE 3: FRIDGE RACER.


Race #2 went so well for me after I slowed down to a few extra barrels and people along the way  that I'm not going to bother with the racing part this time. I'm going to take my time, look for all the pickups, hit all the pedestrians and not even worry about the other cars. They can do whatever it is they do (mostly get stuck on ramps I've noticed).

Oh shit, there's 517 civilians on this track? Well, uh, maybe I'll just get a third of the them then.


126 KILLS LATER.


Am I at a third of them yet? No?

Man, I've been driving around this village for 20 minutes and I have to be honest, all this pedestrian slaughter is getting kind of tedious. I keep thinking that I'll stop and go cross the finish line already to end it, but then I'll spot someone, or a whole crowd of someones, and it seems wrong to just drive off and leave that free-roaming score bonus unclaimed.

The weird thing is that despite my low kill count, after 4 laps the place is practically a ghost town, there's barely anyone left. So either the 300-something survivors are hiding in an underground tunnel network or they're in the next town over. Or maybe I have to kill a certain number for the next wave to step out of their houses.


SOON.


Whoa, what the hell? I've discovered an underground tunnel network full of people! Though with these graphics I feel like I’ve driven into Alien Trilogy. If I find any xenomorphs down here I'm turning back, I don't need a molecular acid eating through my paintwork.

And there's way up the hills leading to another group of buildings way off the road! This place is much bigger than I thought it was.

I've also discovered that ice is bad. At full throttle I'm barely moving on this frozen lake and the chances of me getting the car to slide towards those barrels and pedestrians seems slim. I would've built up speed and got my aim right before hitting the ice, but the draw distance means I didn't know they were there until I started skidding.

Whoa, I just got a massive time bonus for smashing Scarlett into the rocks. Plus I also got time for every hit it took to wear her down first, so that's interesting.

I've been treating the other racers as annoyances that'll occasionally shove me into a wall when I'm busy trying to line up with the next pedestrian (I've given them half an hour and they still haven't beaten me in this race), but it turns out that trying to wreck them is very much the opposite of a waste of my time.

So basically every assumption I had when I started playing was the exact opposite of right.

Another spectacular win means that I get to watch Max knocked off his wall by a giant champagne bottle swinging down again. Presumably dropped by 255 ghosts.

Right, I've beaten three races and gotten the rank I need to unlock the fourth, so I've achieved my goal and I'm done with the game. Though I quickly want to try the first race again to see what it's like when I play it properly.


RACE 1: MAIM STREET (AGAIN).


Okay this is a very different experience. I've learned that the time display maxes out at 19:59, that’s how different it's been. Now instead of cursing the football stadium for being a dead end and sticking to the track, I'm in here raking in the points and time bonuses. Bonus barrels too!

I'm trying to remember the name of that power up I picked up a minute ago. Whatever it was, it was awesome.

Oh right, that's what it was! It automatically zaps any pedestrian in my path without me having to go to the trouble of driving into them. Very convenient, shame it doesn't last long. I also found a power up that makes me constantly bounce, and I was very glad that didn't last long.

Then something happened I didn't expect: the other cars turned up to join in! I don't usually see the other racers, aside from when one decides to ram me into a lamp post. They don't gang up on me and they don't kill each other either, so they've been easy to ignore. But in this confined stadium I can turn this into a proper demolition derby and wreck all of them!

Huh, wrecking them all is another way to win? Well I'm glad I found that out before I turned the game off, that seems kind of important to know.


RACE 2: COASTAL CARNAGE (AGAIN).


Oh shit, I have a map? Man, I never realised how open the levels were until now.

Of course I have a map, I set a key for it back when I first started playing. I also set a key for wheelspins and that’s something I didn’t think to try until now either. It’s like a handbrake turn I can use when I'm going slow! Though it's a bit hard to aim when I'm using a tiny window in the top left corner; The game could use a minimap.

I learned about the map after getting a power up which sprinkled a million tiny yellow dots over it, each showing the location of a cow or pedestrian. With this power I could finally get them all! Also I now I know where the road that forked to the right goes: right past checkpoints 2, 3 and 4.


RACE 3: FRIDGE RACER (AGAIN).


I figured I should give Die Anna a go before turning it off and it turns out that I can't tell the difference between how they play at all. Though I did find the cockpit view button, which has made it a bit easier to bullseye these folks up on the floor.

It's was bit of a surprise to me to learn that the car has a proper dashboard, and more so to learn that Max and Die's cars have a different look. Max's inside view also has a big blade running across the windscreen though, which isn't necessarily what you want when you're driving.

Right, I'm done now.


CONCLUSION

I'm not entirely sure what I expected from Carmageddon, but I guess I was thinking it was something like Destruction Derby except with less emphasis on wrecking cars and more on flattening bystanders. And it is kind of in that ballpark, except I severely underestimated how much freedom the game gives you to screw around and entertain yourself instead of focusing on winning.

In fact it wasn't until I stopped trying so hard to be first and slowed down to hit a few pedestrians that I had any success at all. By the time I was exploring off the track and taking my time to eradicate all life wherever I went I was jumping multiple ranks in one race! Trouble is that if you get lured into hunting down the civilians it becomes a tedious collect 'em up. You can spend half an hour or more in each level just running people over as long as you're getting more time back than you're wasting, so it can become a test of endurance, to see how many you can get before you get sick of it and finish off the last few laps/cars instead.

I wish I could say whether the driving physics are any good, but I don't honestly know. I'd believe you if you told me they were good for the time, and better than expected for a game like this, but it seemed to be take an unusual amount of effort to get the car travelling the way I wanted it to. It definitely felt like a 'driving aids: off' situation, but I don't stray into the deep end of racing games often so I'm not sure. Though I got better with practice, and I eventually switched over to my Xbox controller and started handbreak turning and wheelspinning all over the place. Sometimes even on purpose!

It surprised me to learn that the game predates Grand Theft Auto by a few months, because I figured it must've been inspired by it. The two games are all about finding the fun in flattening pedestrians and causing mayhem, but this is a little more sophisticated graphically. In fact I think it looks pretty good for 1997, with the cars deforming as they take damage and the Prat Cam showing what you think about that. They're all made up cars mind you, no licensed Porsches or Lamborghinis here, but the designs are pretty cool. It's halfway to being Wacky Races, if Dick Dastardly ran over 150 people each race and then destroyed his competitors by repeatedly slamming each of them against a wall until their cars exploded (while Muttley's on the Prat Cam laughing his tail off). You can even review your murder sprees in their entirety with the built in Action Replay feature, which is cool, though they forgot to let you save your replays.

Out of curiosity I checked out the other games with Carmageddon on the box and it turns out that the console ports released a couple of years later aren't ports at all. Even the Game Boy Color game is dramatically different, if you can believe that, and the N64 game seems more like a (terrible) port of the sequel.

Plus I scanned through a walkthrough and it seems like the game's got over 30 tracks, and cops eventually turn up to make your life miserable, so there's plenty of room for it to get frustrating/satisfyingly challenging later. But I liked what I played just fine, and I'd definitely play it some more, so it's definitely earned a Not Crap badge for me.

And it's got me wanting to rewatch Death Race 2000 so there's also that.



Coming up next on Super Adventures... I have no idea. I'm hoping it's something good though as it'll be posted on the site's 6th birthday.

Leave a comment if you want to!

5 comments:

  1. "... but I guess I was thinking it was something like Destruction Derby..."
    Thats kind of my first thought too.
    But unlike Carmageddon, Destruction Derby RAW that i play has more complete car shop
    also cool-name moves but no power up at all

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  2. IIRC the clock doesn't max out at 19:59, it just doesn't display any higher values. On the map you can see the correct clock (plus warping enemy cars after they drove off a cliff).

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  3. You also can change your cars and have different attributes(mostly hidden) like the big fucking truck dose more damage.

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  4. If it helps, it took me right up to the end of your review to realise that "Fridge racer" was a pun.

    This is the most difficult Next Game guess ever. Is it Mercenary II: Damocles?

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  5. Amazing account of your experience :) This is eerily similar to PC Zone's review at the time by Duncan MacDonald, where he chose to lay out a scenario of two people who thought they were playing a sane racing game, going through the same gradual realization: http://archive.li/TRJCu

    The physics and handling are absurdly heavy for some reason... at high speed it's virtually impossible to even turn. It's a strange choice for a driving game, but I sort of got used to it over the many, many hours I spent with this game :)

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