Lock up your children and ready your moral outrage as Camageddon is back, bringing with it a not so healthy dose of 90s vehicular mayhem. With original developer Stainless Games once again behind the wheel of the franchise that helped make its name, the biggest question that comes to mind is that now we're close to 20 years down the road from the release of the first game, is there more to Carmageddon's racing and wrecks than just the shock value of turning pedestrians into red mist?
The answer unfortunately appears to be an emphatic no, as Carmageddon: Max Damage can only muster the occasional bouts of excitement across its repetitious races. With six different types of event, the one that'll be most familiar to anyone who has a history with the series are those labelled 'Classic Carma'. In these you're dropped into large open levels where you can win by either completing a number of laps of a laid out course wrecking all of your opponents, or by mowing down every last one of the pedestrians wandering the stage.
While this sounds like a good way to cater to different types of player, in reality it turns out to be horrendously dull. This is mainly due to there being very little challenge at all. The only way to fail is to let the timer run out completely, but since you gain additional time for completing virtually any type of action – whether it's colliding with and opponent, or running things over – it's not uncommon to be trucking around with more than ten minutes to spare.
Even the AI seems to be confused by its role in the whole affair, barely giving you a race should you choose that as your path to victory. Instead, your dopey opponents spend most of their time milling around, or homing in on your car in an attempt to ram you any time you come near. Oh, and whatever you do don't think about trying to run down all those pedestrians, as hunting down every last one of them – there are over six hundred to find – is about as fun as it sounds, especially when you're aimlessly driving around trying to find the lone survivor that's evading you.
Unless you're playing the multiplayer mode, you'll be spending a lot of time with the AI, so it's fortunate that it fares better in the more focused events with single objectives, such as getting to a single checkpoint first or wrecking as many of your opponents as possible. Even then, though, its frequent propensity to ram you into a wall – rather than try and rack up points on a scoreboard to stop you winning – gets to be pretty annoying, and means that most events can be beaten just by staying out of your opponents' way.
A by-product of successfully evading the opposition is that you also rack up credits quicker, which are needed to unlock subsequent tiers of events. Credits are accumulated based mainly on the mayhem that you perpetrate, but you'll also be forced to sacrifice a decent chunk every time you need to repair or recover your car, so the less banged up you get tussling with the opposition the better – unless it's an event that tasks you specifically with wrecking your opponents, of course.
When you do get banged up, there's some nice damage modelling on the cars, as panels get torn away or impact zones get crumpled, and it's great that you can repair your car while on the move, by holding down triangle on the controller. This causes all the parts of your car littering the level to fly back to you and reattach themselves, as well as any damaged bodywork reforming back into pristine condition, which turns out to be a pretty cool effect to see.
It's a shame, then, that the rest of the game's presentation doesn't hold up very well at all, with significant pop-in and bland textures making its visuals totally underwhelming. In fact, the longer you play, the more you'll feel like it's a higher resolution version of a PlayStation 2 game that falls well short of taking advantage of Sony's most powerful hardware.
Weaving your way through the challenges presented by the game is also made less enjoyable by its frustrating car handling. With the early cars prone to fishtailing at the drop of a hat, you'll find yourself driving much more conservatively just to avoid spinning out. While you do unlock more cars by wrecking certain opponents, some of these turn out to be virtually unusable – especially if they have fast acceleration – which means that you'll more than likely settle on one of the heavier vehicles as they're much less prone to losing control should you be shunted by a rival.
As a result, the driving is a real let down, and while there are the occasional exciting moments, when you thread your way through a tight gap at top speed or get some big air off a helpfully placed ramp, for the most part it just won't rev your engine anywhere near as much as you might have hoped.
It's not all bad, though, as there are at least a couple of neat ideas to be found in Carmageddon: Max Damage. Outside of the aforementioned damage modelling, the best by far is the selection of power-ups that you can collect by crashing into barrels littering the courses. With a surprisingly broad arsenal, you're able to freeze your opponents in place, make pedestrians explode with even the slightest contact, or bunny hop over obstacles – to name a few – and since you have no idea what you'll get each time, it's fun to work out the best way to handle each one to maximise the mayhem.
Unsurprisingly, Carmageddon: Max Damage feels nowhere near as risqué as its predecessors did, especially considering the more realistic collisions on display in many open world games these days. There does seem to be an attempt to ramp up the gore with spikes on cars impaling pedestrians, as well as more gibs than a Bee Gee's concert, but despite these attempts to up the ante, the only thing you might find a little distasteful is its all too frequent use of euphemisms for female genitalia.
Boring is not an adjective you expect to use when talking about an arcade racer, but somehow Carmageddon: Max Damage manages to be so tedious that you'll struggle to keep yourself interested enough to see out all of its events. The disappointing car handling, aimless AI, and basic visuals all come together to make a real clunker, which even with its few interesting aspects, doesn't come close to being classed as roadworthy.