Republished on Wednesday 28th April, 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of May 2021's PS Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Racing games have been seemingly few and far between this generation. DriveClub will cease to exist at the end of this month, Codemasters’ GRID is only just making its return in October, and the less said about Burnout and Need for Speed the better. In their wake comes Wreckfest – a title that has been a bit of a known quantity for roughly five years following an extended Early Access period on PC. It has finally made its way to PlayStation 4 via a full release, but can it fill the void left by the franchises of old?
Bugbear Entertainment’s latest is a game for those that failed to gain their racing etiquette certificate in Gran Turismo Sport. Wreckfest is all about crashing into your opponents, causing as much chaos as possible, and hoping you finish the race in first place at the end of it all. While the option to dabble in vehicle tuning and adjusting difficulty sliders is there, this is more about destruction on the track rather than optimising your lap times.
A meaty single player offering serves up five different championships to compete in, all of which contain their own style of events. It’s a structure similar to that of early Gran Turismo titles, whereby you earn points in order to unlock the next set of races. There are the typical lap-based speedways to compete on, but the game quickly deviates from the norm by introducing Destruction Derbies and quirky challenges that have you controlling all manner of comical vehicles.
Lining up against 23 other cars, with the simple task of wrecking one another until there’s a victor, is an exhilarating feeling. You soon learn how to tackle the carnage – balancing going in for the kill on damaged opponents and making sure you don’t get hit too much yourself. It’s a novel take on the driving genre that surprisingly seems to be the first of its kind this generation. As the title’s biggest draw, those moments of anarchy are everything you hope they would be.
Bringing about even more variety are special events that are just as humorous as they are entertaining. You’ll put pedal to the metal in a sofa car, hit the driver’s seat of a combine harvester, and avoid being struck by school buses. They’re hilarious moments of relief that make for a great break from the typical flow of a race.
Due to the chaotic nature of the tracks, the positions of competitors can swing violently in either direction. Rubber tires, obstacles, and concrete blocks litter the sides of each straight and corner - giving you the chance to eliminate another racer if you can line up your crash and interference correctly. There’s no greater feeling than sending someone to the back of the grid with a perfectly timed nudge, but the same can’t be said when it happens to you. The AI in Wreckfest is ludicrously aggressive, meaning that you can find yourself at the end of an ill-timed shove and miss out on a top 10 finish. We’ve managed to go from first place to the back of the pack following one unfortunate crash; exhilarating just as much as it is frustrating, you can never be assured of safety thanks to the unpredictable tactics of those around you.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as extensive of a suite. You can select from a variety of modes to participate in, each focusing on a different type of automobile or event, but that’s about as far as it goes. An online round of Destruction Derby with friends is surely going to be a ton of fun, but there’s not much to suck you back in past a couple of rounds.
Nearly 30 courses make up the competitive championships, and there’s a good amount of variety to differentiate each and every one of them. A vertical loop is the centrepiece of one track, while others switch between tarmac and gravel to test your tyres and driving skills to the limit. There’s not much in the way of weather effects, however.
This isn’t the best looking title to be found on PS4, either. Scenery beyond the race track is muddy and the crowd close to the action looks devoid of life most of the time, but that might be because all of the work went into some truly outstanding damage models. Crashing into an opponent leaves a real dent in their car, and vice versa if you’re on the receiving end. Taking multiple hits over time bends and contorts the framework of your car to the point where you have to question how it is even managing to run. It’s this that makes for an impressive sprint to the finish as your three-wheeler makes it to the end with half its bodywork missing.
Technically, however, it’s a completely different story. Exceptionally long load times keep you out of the action for far too long, made even worse by the fact that the game can crash completely on occasion leaving you on an endless screen. We had to restart our PS4 far, far too many times just to start a race, and while this flaw is supposed to be fixed in a patch on day one, we can’t ignore the frustrating effect it had on our experience. At least there's the selection of cheesy dubstep, dance, and rock songs to listen to while you wait.
If you’re looking to bring destruction and pandemonium to motorsports, Wreckfest will suit your needs to a tee. The experience is let down by technical grievances far too often, but what’s left after the fact is more than worth your time.