That game from way back when…
And yet here we are, with an updated version of the 2001 vehicular combat title. I imagine I'm not alone in my unfamiliarity with the original game, a forgettable release in a sea of forgettable releases. It marks Cel Damage HD as perhaps the oddest HD re-release yet, but it doesn't result in a total disaster. In fact, Cel Damage HD's emphasis on vehicular mayhem appeals to my younger self and provides enjoyable competition with AI and/or friends. It also shows its age—make no mistake, this game still feels like it came out 13 years ago. Thus, Cel Damage HD hovers just above mediocrity.
Cel Damage HD consists of three game modes: Smack Attack, Gate Relay, and Flag Rally. Smack Attack is all about crushing the opponent, quite literally. Players drive around and pick up various weapons in order to wreak havoc on their opponents and be the first to accumulate 300 “smacks” (basically hits). Gate Relay clearly takes inspiration from Mario Kart, in which players race and pick up weapons along the way to edge out the competition. Flag Rally—easily my favorite of the bunch—requires players to pick up a certain number of flags and return them to an area on the map, all while avoiding the bloodthirsty ire of opponents as they try to collect flags for themselves.
Each of the three game modes has its own appeal, especially Flag Rally. It contains the destruction of Smack Attack and the frantic pace of Gate Relay, making it my go-to game mode. The fact that the flags have cute little feet and run away is simply icing on the cake. Unfortunately, the three modes soon wear thin and one of Cel Damage HD's biggest flaws surfaces: lack of content. In addition to the three game modes, there are four different environments with a few levels in each one. They range from the Wild West to an evil castle, but players will be repeating the same levels ad nauseam. It makes Cel Damage HD a game in which the desire to keep playing wanes quickly.
The core mechanics do hold up well, though, due in large part to the weapon selection. Naturally the game features machine guns and grenades, but the more absurd selections such as shrinkrays and TNT sheep provide a more novel experience. Once a weapon has been used in a level, players can toggle them on or off before matches. This layer of customization allows for even more ridiculous scenarios, such as chainsaw-only matches.
The solid controls strengthen the combat aspect of the game since turning and shooting at the same time is a cinch. Repeated play does reveal a level of simplicity that hints at the game's age, but I still enjoyed a lot of fun, close matches. As an added bonus, Cel Damage HD features local multiplayer for up to four people. Now it really feels like 2001 again!
Cel Damage HD's audiovisual presentation emphasizes both strengths and missed opportunities. I was astounded by how well the game looks—cel-shaded visuals still appeal to me, and the HD update only bolsters the vibrancy and detail of that art style. The visuals also compliment the cartoon/TV motif in the game, but Cel Damage HD fails to capitalize on it. The game's intro features an announcer who welcomes players to the fictional cartoon show of Cel Damage, but there's not much beyond that.
Short movies can be unlocked for each of the characters, which adds minimal backstory. For example, there's Sinder—his movie reveals the tale of a lowly devil who's been fired by his CEO for causing too much damage. Unfortunately, the movie ends after about 30 seconds. Although the small attempts at humor are hit-and-miss, I was left wanting more. The game has charm and personality, but not enough of it.
Although this game's existence still leaves me scratching my head, it does feature redeeming qualities. The days of Twisted Metal are long gone (even with the reboot), but vehicular combat still holds a special place in my heart. Even though Cel Damage HD doesn't excel in any particular area, it has its fair share of fun moments. The lack of content and limited attempts at personality hinder those moments, but at the end of the day Cel Damage HD is a solid update of a mostly forgotten 13-year-old game.