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Review: Wreckfest (PC)By The Strat Man At 08.07.2018 22:06

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One thing is for sure; Bugbear Entertainment endured a complicated and unorthodox development process. Wreckfest started out in life as Next Car Game, all the way back in 2012. However, the team struggled to find an interested publisher. This was likely due to the decline in quality of its later FlatOut entries, coupled with the lacklustre sales performance of Ridge Racer Unbounded, even though that was a stellar title. The first alternative solution was a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, which began in late 2013. Unfortunately, that failed to get near to its target and was cancelled. The developer then began to focus its attention on pre-order incentives, offering a 'technology sneak peak' demo on its website to those who invested. That's when the project suddenly gathered momentum, as the demo received an extremely positive reception, and generated a lot of exposure. It led to a follow up sneak-peak and, eventually, the title was made available on Steam in Early Access form.

Next Car Game became Wreckfest upon the release of the sixth build. By that point, the project had cultivated a significant following, especially due to its popularity amongst streamers and sim-racers. That alone represents quite a turnaround. Granted, remaining in Early Access for such a long time is far less than ideal. However, with all things considered, Bugbear Entertainment has shown a lot of faith in its project, and persevered, along with the fans, to get Wreckfest over the finish line. It's just a shame that those who have been playing in open-access form for so long may not find the same longevity in the final product. Then again, this racer excels in areas that very few racers do these days, which is probably why players have stuck with it all this time. In other words, it was absolutely worth the drawn-out development saga. To fresh eyes, Wreckfest is a pure destruction-centric joy, and a highly fluid racing experience.

One of the best things about Wreckfest is its damage model, which has been likened to the current gold standard in this regard, BeamNG.drive. Individual car parts scatter in realistic fashion, and crashes have impressively accurate repercussions. If the player gets t-boned whilst passing through a figure-eight, for example, it will put a unique dent in the side. If it struck in the right region, it will put the steering column out of whack, having a very authentic effect on the handling behaviour. If the player hits a post at full pace, the front realistically crumples and wraps around it. Collide head-on with a wall, and the impact force is spread across the front-end much more evenly, causing more parts to detach and shatter. The sheer attention to detail, in this regard, is extremely impressive, to the extent that there's always a lingering temptation to deliberately total your vehicle, just to see the damage unfold!

Having thoroughly examined it, it's probably not quite as detailed, nor unforgiving as BeamNG.drive, but it is a close call. They are in the same bracket, and very much head and shoulders above anything else. Moreover, it's of equal importance how these models are implemented and showcased, and in this respect Wreckfest trumps all. BeamNG.drive is little more than an open-sandbox experience, lacking a more substantial framework. Wreckfest features a comprehensive solo campaign, with an emphasis on short, quick-burst events and gradually upgrading cars, in the vein of titles such as GRID. While this structure is nothing out of the ordinary, it maintains a steady and consistent flow, and allows the damage model to shine in a variety of different racing conditions. Within the first hour, players will hop between traditional dirt sprints, to destruction derbies, and then to the wonderfully ridiculous lawnmower races. This contrast of race scenarios ramps up significantly as the player progresses.

Although this traditional gameplay structure is a means to an end, certain aspects of it seem a little muddled and out-of-sync with Wreckfest's destructive spirit. The additional race objectives, such as being asked to spin a certain number of cars or cause a certain amount of damage, can be counterintuitive to the overall goal, such as simply winning the race. Perhaps it could have featured scenarios more comparable to something like Onrush, where position is irrelevant, and credits and rewards are pretty much exclusively doled out based on the chaos accrued. Instead, Wreckfest is somewhat caught between pillar and post in this regard. At least initially, it's not always possible to fulfil the secondary objectives and achieve a race victory, unless playing on forgiving AI difficulty. This conundrum eases once the player advances beyond the first few waves of content, by which point vehicles both pack more of a punch and can sustain more damage.

On the other hand, Wreckfest's somewhat surprising focus on traditional race scenarios contributes towards its conservative brand of chaos. This is not a criticism, although it could be perceived as half-cocked to some. Certainly, this title would flourish in a different way with a boundless structure, such as an open-world setup, as in Burnout Paradise. However, the advantages of keeping things housed within a more uniform format are multifaceted. Firstly, it means there's seldom an idle moment. The player is always occupied and never needs to go searching for the fun. It also highlights other areas where the title excels, such its authentic sense of competition. The AI drivers are brilliant, a far cry from the cannon-fodder behaviour of AI in other racers that emphasise destruction. They defend their position, will make aggressive moves to pry them back, and seem hell-bent on vying for the win, using the same dirty tactics the player will employ.

On top of this, the traditional structure is arguably a better platform to showcase the wonderfully detailed physics and handling models, which verge on sim-racing standards. It ensures the chaotic centre stays intertwined with proper elements of race-craft, something few racers of this emphasis achieve. Hence, after wrestling your way through a challenging course and tough pack of competitors, finding yourself in second place with one corner to go, it's a real pleasure to be actively encouraged to throw it up the opponent's inside to scrape your way to a win. Rubbing is racing, after all. Hence, the traditional race setup serves to strike up the right balance between authentic real-world physics and intrinsically arcade-derived destruction. This unique brand of gameplay, chaos within an organised wrapper, is a core reason why Wreckfest works so well. Perhaps this is also why it's so popular amongst sim-racing streamers, as an outlet after frustrating results in iRacing or racing online with Assetto Corsa!

Speaking of online play, that's where Wreckfest delivers the single biggest helping of anarchy. It allows up to 24 cars, and as if that wasn't already a recipe for pandemonium, there are no vehicle restrictions. Rocking up to the grid in a snappy machine, like the imitation Audi A5, only to have a guy on a lawnmower to your left and someone in an old-school school bus to your right, is a comical affair. It only goes downhill from there, in the best way possible. It's not uncommon for those in the biggest and bossiest vehicles to veer off-track immediately, and focus their attention of wrecking the whole field, rather than finishing. You would think this could get annoying, but it just adds another layer of challenge, and ups the entertainment factor. Single-player races suffice if wanting to prioritise racing, but seriously, this is ultimately the wrong game for those with that sole agenda. One other positive is that players can farm credits from online multiplayer for single-player.

It's also worth noting that Wreckfest looks brilliant. The fictional track are gorgeous, with highly detailed terrains, whether dirt or asphalt, great lighting, fantastic scenery, as well as very aesthetically pleasing motors - even when banged-up and covered in dirt. It would have been nice to see real-world cars within the game, but it's obvious why that wasn't going to happen. On a related note, the developer has done a fine job with the imitations. It's very clear what each model is based upon. Each vehicle also performs as would be expected, with well-defined characteristics and nicely representative handling. Plug in a force-feedback wheel and you get an even better impression of their nuances and variable weight balances, requiring the driver to be even more calculated. Just don't up the force feedback when participating in a destruction derby! It will be loud and intense. The sound, as well, is quite excellent. Engine noises seem to be nice and accurate, but the audio for crashes and contact is quite impeccable, plus the music is also a nice mix.

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Final Score
[i]Wreckfest[/i]'s traditional structure helps its destruction-centric emphasis feel uniquely mischievous, whilst also highlighting its impressive simulative physics and challenging AI drivers. This choice of framework also draws more direct connections with [i]Destruction Derby[/i], the classic title it successfully channels. With that said, given how explosive Bugbear Entertainment's creative spark was within its series FlatOut, it could be argued that it is a tad too pre-occupied with being a spiritual successor. It might have benefited from a more expansive, outlandish DNA and structure. However, despite these minor reservations, plus the title's drawn-out development, [i]Wreckfest[/i] is undeniably brilliant and refreshing. It features addictive, quick-burst gameplay, particularly gorgeous visuals and sound, not to mention surprisingly detailed car physics and handling models, especially when using a wheel. Moreover, its damage model is truly something to behold. [i]Wreckfest[/i] establishes an intriguing niche, combing sim-based physics with arcade-spirited destruction and chaos. It's a real gem.

8

/10

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