I first wrote about Wreckfest back in 2014, before it even had a name. Four years of Early Access later it’s actually out, and I’m happy to say the wait has been worth it.
Having not played it for a few years, I’d left Wreckfest as a fun little oddity, a physics-based game where you drove an old jalopy around and basically just tried to wreck shit. What I found at release was a surprisingly polished, modern racing game.
Sure, the heart of the game is still destruction. Wreckfest isn’t having any of Burnout’s clean and fast annihilation; it’s more at home with Destruction Derby’s legacy of getting down into the mud and trashing your opponents shunt by shunt. There are races to race by doing driving game things, like braking ahead of corners and following racing lines, but smashing into rivals and crushing them against tyre walls is as much a strategy here as pure driving ability.
And that’s when it comes to the game’s races. In addition to tracks and courses to race across, there are also demolition derbies scattered though Wreckfest’s career and multiplayer that give you a car, drop you in an arena and ask you to drive around crushing into steel until you and/or everyone else around you is absolutely totalled. When you’re in cars it’s grisly. When you’re riding a lawnmower, and each rider is blessed with ragdoll physics, it’s murder.
All of which sounds fun as a concept. What makes Wreckfest such a blast to actually play is that driving (sorry) all of this is a handling model that feels perfect for the game’s tone, sitting somewhere between the rally sliding of DiRT and the speedy madness of Project Gotham Racing. Cars feel fast but never fast, controllable but never tamed. Every vehicle you drive in Wreckfest is a total piece of shit, and they’re a blast to drive in a “seat of your pants” kind of way.
What surprised me most about Wreckfest’s state in 2018 was that it has the veneer of a AAA racing game, something you’d expect from Forza or Gran Turismo. There’s a slick front menu guiding players through a multitude of career events, garages, modifications, custom paintjobs and tuning, and it all looks very deep and interesting and serious for a game that’s best served on the premise it lets you ride lawnmowers around and drive cars to death.
While this apparent depth is perhaps there as part of the fact this is now a full-priced $40 video game, it’s also the game’s biggest problem. For all the joy to be found once you’re actually on the track, career progression feels incredibly hollow and unfulfilling, not to mention confusing, with poor feedback provided on when and how you’re able to progress to the next event.
Wreckfest obviously has no official licenses; no car company in their right mind would sign on for a game that’s explicitly about causing damage and driving like a maniac. Stepping in to fill that void is comprehensive Steam Workshop support, which adds everything from skins to make the cars look like real ones to ragdoll drivers flying out of wrecked cars to new tracks.
As someone who usually plays racing games aggressively and hates being punished for shunting and nudging other cars, I really enjoyed Wreckfest. The mechanical chaos of every collision is core to the game’s appeal, but there’s enough variety in events and tinkering around the edges off the course to make sure it lasts well beyond that initial novelty wearing off.