100 points for the old lady?! Eat my tires, grandma!!!
Game developers have this weird need to one-up each other. If one company makes a game that incorporates "true 3D environments," another company will certainly make a game that incorporates "even truer 3D environments." This is a good thing because it keeps the designers working hard to up the ante. We've seen this kind of thing consistently in the course of gaming history - just take a look at the evolution of the first person shooter (from the now-archaic Wolfenstein 3D to the gorgeous GoldenEye 007).
The hottest topic over the past few years in video gaming is the sensitive issue of violence. Certain games depend on violence to succeed - not to say that the Mortal Kombat series isn't terrific, but ask yourself how successful it would have been without the gross abundance of mega-violence.
If you put these two thoughts together (which I am attempting to do in the most un-literary way), you come across the obvious question: What's the next evolutionary step to the violent video game genre? The answer, for the time being at least, is Carmageddon. A mix between Twisted Metal II and Interstate '76, Carmageddonis the realization of what many gamers have been waiting for for many years: a computerized version of the classic B-movie Death Race 2000. In the flick, David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone (among others) play contestants in an annual game of 'kill the pedestrians - win the race.' They are awarded points for running over innocent bystanders, often leading to gruesome racing tactics and hilariously overblown mutilations.
The movie is great. So is the game.
While some games cut the corners with this type of theme, the developers (newcomers SCI - Sales Curve Interactive) chose only to cut pedestrians, cows, ice skaters, policemen, and even entire football teams in half. Let me stress that this game is SICK. With a capital barf.
The first thing you need to know about Carmageddon is that it requires certain hardware to run well. The game is DOS based, so be prepared to harken back to the prehistoric days of PK Unzip, C prompts, and 'Bad file name or command.' Also, the minimum system requirements should be ignored, because without a 3D accelerator card, the game runs at a bad framerate and is overly pixelated. With 3D acceleration, however, be prepared for a beautiful excursion into the land of bleeding geriatrics and dismembered sorority girls.
There's no real plot and the rules are simple: win each race by either bashing the other racers out of commission or being the first one to complete the required number of laps. In the process, you are awarded varying sums of money for killing anything and everything that moves. You also get dough for doing cool stunts, killing things in interesting ways, or grabbing powerups.
Unlike TM2, you have NO Weapons. That's correct - it's just you, the car, and a maniacal thirst for carnage. You literally have to run things over to score, and in the process your car gets pretty banged up. One unique feature is the ability to spend your money for repairs. You can even go into debt, though you must finish each race with a profit to continue.
There are over 35 tracks on which to race, each of which are significantly different and only attainable by progressing through earlier levels. The courses are well-designed and feature true freedom of movement. You can drive absolutely anywhere on the course, which is necessary if you want to discover all the hidden powerups and secrets (speaking of secrets, click here...). I love this type of design - it gives the game a sense of realism.
The car physics help with the realism as well. In fact, this may be the most realistic feel I've ever seen in a computer racing game. If you're going too fast and try to pull a tight turn, you'll flip over and skid out. If you pull a handbrake U-turn and over rotate, you'll lose control and fly off the road. You can even modify the view (first person, behind car, etc.) or replay your kills with a ruthless grin. With a well-balanced physics engine that stays true to life without being too nit-picky, this game scores big in the option department.
There are (of course) some problems with the game that keep it from being a landmark title. While the races are well-planned and the theme is well, disgusting, there isn't much depth going on here. The same elements that held back I' 76 are at work with Carmageddon.It would have been great to see some sort of twisted storyline to match the twisted gameplay. Furthermore, the game looks terrible on lower end machines. I ran the game on a P 120 with 16 MB RAM and was shocked by how badly it looked. I then ran it with 32 MB, which looked a bit better but still a pixel infested mess. Only with 3D acceleration did the game become digestible, and even this took a patch (still in the beta phase at press time).
I have to be honest - Carmageddon isn't revolutionary. It isn't pleasant, it isn't nice, and it isn't something to show mom. It's a game that breaks the rules by shamelessly allowing full-fledged violence to take center stage, all the while maintaining strong gameplay and good design. C'mon, you've always wondered what it was like to run over a cop...or a cow...or a...