STAFF REVIEW of Wreckfest (Xbox One)

Saturday, September 14, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Wreckfest Box art One of my all-time favorite games was back on PS1 with Destruction Derby. Since then I’ve always loved watching derbies. I even wore out a VHS tape my grandma had that was some local derby event when I was kid. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a truly great derby game though, and while the FlatOut series somewhat filled that gap, nothing’s really grabbed my attention long term or impressed the way Wreckfest has done.

Developed by Bugbear, the people who actually made the first two FlatOut’s, Wreckfest has actually been on my Steam wishlist for quite some time, but I never got around to pulling the trigger. Things sometimes works out though, and now fans can enjoy Wreckfest on Xbox One. Luckily, it seems the wait has been worth it as well, as full on collision, wrecking and smashing is in full force without any slowdown. While you may think that Wreckfest is simply a racing game with crash physics, which it does have, you’ll need to become quite used to full-contact racing and breaking the rules if you want to emerge victorious.

While there’s no story contained within the campaign, which is fine, there’s plenty of content to dig through, even if you don’t plan on playing online with randoms and friends. Career mode is sectioned into different leagues and events, starting with the Regional Juniors. Each league has a dozen or so events that you can partake in, given you have the proper type of car, and you earn points for winning said events.

To graduate to the next level of completion and unlock more events, you’ll need to reach the point threshold in your current championship. For example, once you reach 2000/2000 points in Regional Juniors, you’ll unlock the next series and a whole new set of races and events. While it’s a basic structure, the events are quite varied and will have you racing and smashing in derbies and more. Certain events have car restrictions, like imports, FWD, etc, so you’ll eventually need to purchase new cars if you want to partake in all of the events and progress. As you win events you’ll earn XP and money, which can then be used towards new purchases and upgrades.

The tonality of Wreckfest makes it a completely different experience to say a Forza racing game. In Forza, if there’s a jerk driving backwards or smashing you into a corner, you generally get upset, because that’s not the way that type of racer is supposed to be played. In Wreckfest however, it’s not only encouraged, but it’s quite rare when someone isn’t trying to smash you into a wall or wreaking havoc with a bus in the middle of a figure eight intersection.

What I also really enjoyed about Wreckfest was its lack of rules. Yes you need to drive the right direction, but for example, there’s a track that’s shaped like a horseshoe with both ends having a looped turnaround to get you going back the same way you came. Most people tend to stick to the outside and loop back in on the inside, but Wreckfest doesn’t force this. If you’re like me and want to be a little more chaotic, you can take the loop on the inside and exit on the outer edge. Sure it’s risky with the chance of more head-on collisions, but there’s risk vs reward.

Many of the maps are a ton of fun as well. Some are figure eights, which after a few laps is complete insanity and destruction at the intersection, and others have a lot of overlap where head-ons occur. There’s even one track that has a loop, aptly titled Death Loop, and you can imagine the chaos that ensues with lots of ramps and jumps.

While there are no licensed cars, some are quite obvious as to what vehicle their real world counterpart are. Each vehicle takes some time to get used to, especially with cornering, as they are quite heavy and weighted, and that’s before you start to take damage from your opponents. These cars aren’t generally meant for drifting, so cornering will take some getting used to, but be prepared to crash a lot, especially with ramps, barriers and opponents that are using you to bounce off of.

While collisions and cars being smashed is nothing new in racers, none have taken it to the level that Wreckfest has. Not only will your vehicle become barely recognizable after a few good hits, but you can even lose parts, wheels, smash in your ends and more. Damage yourself too much and you’ll be completely wrecked and out of the race, though trying to limp across the finish line with a wheel missing is always hilarious to watch. Sure, it would be nice if everyone drove perfectly and didn’t try to hit one another, but don’t expect that here. I’m already at the point where I don’t get upset if I get smashed into a wall or wrecked in a race, it’s just part of the Wreckfest experience.

Cars are basically junkers once you purchase and unlock them. This is where the cash you’ve been earning by playing campaign, or online, comes into play. You’ll find everything from sedans, speedsters, muscle cars, wagons, busses, limos, harvesters, lawnmowers and even a couch. Yes, you read all of that right. Wreckfest adds a ton of variety, not only with the great track design, but unique vehicles as well. There’s nothing quite like trying to do a loop in a motorized couch or lawnmower.

Regular vehicles can be upgraded though, improving their performance. You can upgrade its engine, boosting its class level should you wish, various other parts and even cosmetic items like wheels, hoods, spoilers and more. Improving the car’s handling, speed and more is quite rewarding, especially once you can start to keep up with the competition, and adding cosmetic changes just adds a flair of welcomed personality.

If you want to race with a bigger emphasis on smashing and wrecking, then maybe you’ll want to outfit your vehicle with more armor. While this will greatly boost your strength, it’ll make you much heavier, so speed, acceleration and cornering will take a hit. My suggestion, create one vehicle specifically for destruction derbies with tons of armor, and a separate for racing events. You’re even able to tune your vehicles before races; nothing to the level of Forza obviously, but the option is there to make some tweaks to your differential and more.

You’re even able to change the paintjob of your car as well. Unfortunately there’s only a handful of liveries and choices, as there’s no painting or layers like we’ve come to expect from a Forza, but at least the colors of each section can be altered if you wish. I do wish there was a little more customization in this department, but at the same time, we all know what happens when people are given free rein to those types of tools.

If you want a break from Career, you can create a custom single player event, completely customizing it however you wish. Want to race busses on a figure eight? Go ahead. Want to have a limo only destruction derby? Feel free to do so. Want a ton of laps or realistic damage? It’s all up to you. My only complaint is that these custom matches are only playable in single player, so there’s no creating a wacky event for you and your friends to play together on.

Arguably, the star of Wreckfest is its destruction derbies. This is where all of the players are put into an arena, with the last car functioning the winner. You get points for smashing, spinning out and obviously, wrecking your opponents. If you think you can simply stay away and try to outlast everyone, think again, as there’s a timer where you need to make contact with another player every minute or so, to thwart people trying to simply run away while everyone else does the work. There’s also a Deathmatch derby mode where it’s a set timer of a few minutes, and the player with the most points at the end wins. Here you can respawn if your car is wrecked, so this takes a different strategy compared to Last Man Standing where you don’t get any second chances.

Wreckfest is visually impressive when considering the amount of damage level and wreckage that takes place on the track, even more so when you realize wrecked cars don’t despawn either and stay on the tracks as an obstacle. While it won’t wow you by simply looking at it, it’s the smaller details that impress more if you take the time to notice. Audio on the other hand is atrocious. While the vehicle and crashing sounds are impactful and sound like they hurt when hit, the in game soundtrack is on a whole other level of terrible, to the point of having to completely mute it and play my own tunes.

I could gush all day about what I love about Wreckfest and that it’s the most multiplayer fun I’ve had in quite some time with a bunch of friends, but there’s also a laundry list of issues that I have as well. While I’m glad it supports 16 players, it’s a shame it’s not the full 24 that the PC version has. While there’s absolutely no slowdown, even when all 16 players are smashing into one another, the loading time before each race is almost to the level of being a joke, even on an Xbox One X. When you’re playing a 3 lap race then having to load a new track between each time, you load for almost as much time as you play. Factor in the minute or two of lobby time between races too and you’ll need to find something to fill your downtime with. The menu system is quite buggy, not always allowing you to change your car for some reason, or explaining why you can’t pick a bus on certain tracks.

There’s seemingly also some crazy slingshot mechanics when racing the AI. You could be in first by a long shot, but the AI will make a comeback out of nowhere, even when your car class is much higher than theirs. While I primarily stick to online play now with friends, this was quite frustrating when I would lose campaign races due to this. And just to reiterate, the soundtrack is absolutely horrible, so make sure to mute it as soon as possible in the options.

If I was to score Wreckfest solely on its fun factor, it would easily get a 12/10, but there are issues here and there that do hinder its enjoyment at times, especially the excessive loading. Even though there’s the odd technical and design issue here and there, I’m still getting on every night after convincing a handful of friends to pick it up, as we race and smash until the middle of the night.

Wreckfest is the epitome of white knuckle driving, as you’ll clench when you can see an oncoming hit about to happen, or laugh uncontrollably once you completely destroy someone and send them flying off the track. Wreckfest is chaotic and frantic fun at its core, and even though it has its issues, it’s a complete blast to play and enjoy.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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