CARMAGEDDON / Interplay / PC
Carmageddon is basically a gaming take on cult '70s film Death Race 2000, which was an over-the-top satire set in a dystopian America. In both the game and movie, street races are held through populated areas, with points being awarded for hitting anyone and everyone unfortunate enough to be along the track when the cars come through.
Unlike Death Race 2000, however, there's no social commentary to be found in Carmageddon. It is, instead, exactly what the movie was satirizing - mindless entertainment based on the vehicular slaughter of people, albeit virtual. Now, I'm not here to moralize about that, nor did I give the game the Ugh Face because of it. I just think it's worth noting, as no other review I've read has seemed to bother to.
No, the major problem with Carmageddon is not the complete intellectual and humanistic bankruptcy, but rather that's it's very sludgy, overly simplistic and just not much fun to play unless you've got some kind of fetish for splattering low-detail humanoids with a car. It appears that the designers just thought that the "Death Race" concept alone, combined with decent-ish processor-straining graphics (for the time), would carry it through to sales victory. Which apparently actually worked, but sales figures and meathead fanbases do not alone equate to a good game.
The game gives you a series of 36 courses that you race through repeatedly, with the only over-arching goal being to work your way up the rankings from #99 to an eventual #1. Placing high in races gets you cash prizes, which you use to repair damage and upgrade. Picture GTA 3 or Driver, but with no driving technique whatsoever except "accelerate", "brake", and "turn slowly left-right" - racing has literally been simplified to using only the joystick or arrow keys and nothing else.
The handling does get better as the game goes on and you upgrade, but it takes so long and requires you to grind through so many painful races with terrible play control that it really isn't worth it. Turning left-right is incredibly sludgy at any amount of speed, and there's a lot of little obstacles to avoid, not to mention the other cars which constantly try to ram you when they're nearby. If you hit something, you come to a dead stop, and it takes forever to reverse and re-accelerate. And if you get hung up on one of the many barriers that point you to the next turn, you might as well just reset the game, because you're never getting off of those things.
A couple of things I do like are the active portait of the driver that's always present in the upper-left (which responds to game events by doing things like looking over their shoulder at splattered peds and bucking forward when hit), and the wide range of designs of the car roster, which draw inspiration from everything from real-life hoopties to cars from Death Race 2000. The backgrounds also all tend to be quite decent, but this was at the cost of requiring an absolutely top-flight machine and graphics card when the game came out.
My final impression of Carmageddon is that it was more interested in being the winner of the "shock and nihilism" contest started by Mortal Kombat in the '90s than it was about actually being a solid, playable racing game with depth. Unless you jag off to the idea of splattering Grandma with a 100 mph roadster, there's really nothing on offer here but a racing game that struggles to have mediocre, simplistic gameplay.
* Gameplay video
* Death Race 2000