15 years after the release of the brilliantly bombastic FlatOut, Finnish developers Bugbear Entertainment are back with a bang. Wreckfest is every bit the spiritual successor to the destruction derby games we know and love from yesteryear.
I’d like to point out really quickly that Wreckfest has been available on PC for some time, and this review is for the console version of the game. With that in mind, let’s get into it.
Wreckfest sets out to achieve one simple goal: to deliver to you your fix of fender bending madness. Does it achieve this goal? Unequivocally yes. Is the game perfect? Alas, no, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, meaning you can still have a huge amount of fun out on the track.
The premise of Wreckfest is incredibly self-explanatory, and if you’ve ever seen or even heard of a destruction derby, you’ll know what to expect. In the game’s career mode, you undertake a series of races and ridiculous challenges, in an attempt to become the most proficient banger racer the world has ever seen.
As a you’d expect from a spiritual successor to FlatOut, Wreckfest uses a delightfully simple PS1 model of gameplay and mixes in the best of modern racing games.
Career mode should be your first stop when booting up the game, where the rules (or lack thereof) are laid out before each race; come in first, be the last one standing, wreck 5 opponents etc etc. Completing these will advance your ranking, gain you credits to spend on new cars and upgrades, and unlock new races for you to continue your progress.
These unlocks come at a steady enough pace to keep you hooked, and even losing will result in a nice little bump of rewards. Losing, by the way, will happen. A lot. The AI drivers who pack out the various race types will drive as mercilessly as you’re encouraged to, and it’s addictingly frustrating when you get wrecked on the last lap of a hard fought race.
Once you’ve completed a race, there are some additional awards for performing certain tasks that should keep completionists happy and returning to get that perfect score.
So what of the actual crashing then? Well, I’m happy to report that it is sublime. There’s simply no other word for it. The soft-body dynamics of the cars makes them feel like actual, tangible lumps of metal being twisted torn apart at high speeds like we haven’t seen before in a racing game.
Damage is locational and can massively effect how you run a race. If, for example, you’ve totaled your front left axle, you’ll need to constantly be thinking about veering off to one side. Keeping an eye on just how messed up you and your opponents are to know if and when you can shunt them for a tactical advantage is key to survival in a race, let alone winning.
But the glory of Wreckfest isn’t just in its salacious destruction physics; the driving, too, is unexpectedly brilliant. Cars will slide and grip around tracks dependent on if you’re running on asphalt or loose mud, which makes you fully aware of your racing lines and braking patterns.
This brings me to my first small gripe about the game. The variety of tracks is only pretty good, which when stacked up against the game’s other gameplay triumphs, feels like an area for improvement.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to do with figure-8 tracks, loop-the-loops and Rocket League style arenas, but I felt this was an area that felt a little sparse, and the game could certainly benefit from seeing a few more circuits added further down the line.
Vehicles, however, come in all shapes and sizes and all behave differently out in the field. You’ve got powerful American muscle cars and nippy European hatchbacks all the way up to school buses, motor homes and combine harvesters. There’s also a lawnmower and couch car because why wouldn’t there be?
Unlike games like Forza and Gran Turismo, there’s not a licenced vehicle in sight either, I imagine largely due to the fact that car company’s don’t take too kindly to having their prized products beaten into a nondescript metallic cube on wheels. Naturally, this takes absolutely nothing from the game and opens up a nice number of visual customisation options for most of the vehicles, including things like paint jobs and wheels. It’s not flashy, but it’s enough to give some base-level visual flair.
Sadly, it’s not all plain sailing. The game’s UI is at best uninspired and at worst downright ugly. Navigating between races or upgrading your cars is fiddly, which wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the load times weren’t so achingly long.
The soundtrack is pretty painful too, with the same handful of songs on a constant loop during your lengthy menu stays. You can turn these off to save your own sanity, and you should absolutely make this a priority when booting the game up for the first time.
But these are small nitpicks in a game that offers so much once you get into the actual gameplay. There’s an online mode too which is pretty much as you’d expect, and doesn’t require much explanation outside of the fact that it’s there, and it’s functional.
The key to Wreckfest’s success, is that behind all the beautiful visuals and vicious gameplay, it knows what it is – a grassroots destruction derby game. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and because of this, carves out its own recognisable niche in what has become a largely predictable racing genre.
If you’re a fan of games like FlatOut, Destruction Derby or even the Burnout series, Wreckfest has got something to offer you. Thrilling, fast-paced and downright zany at times, its the lovingly crafted authenticity that makes this a notable title not only of the genre, but of this gaming generation.
Mark is the Gaming Editor for UNILAD. Having grown up a gaming addict, he’s been deeply entrenched in culture and spends time away from work playing as much as possible. Mark studied music at University and found a love for journalism through going to local gigs and writing about them for local and national publications.