Wreckfest finally arrives on consoles to deliver demolition derby destruction and vehicle-smashing races, and it was worth the long wait.
It’s hard to not have fun while playing Wreckfest. Developed by Bugbear Entertainment and produced by THQ Nordic, Wreckfest has been available on PC since the summer of 2018 but only just recently released on consoles. Originally announced under the title Next Car Game all the way back in 2013, Wreckfest has gone through multiple hurdles and failed attempts to launch, but just like the vehicles it features sometimes things simply need to get a little smashed up before they cross the finish line.
After a failed Kickstarter attempt in 2013 that saw the company abandoning hope of reaching their seemingly manageable goal of $350,000 before the campaign even ended, Wreckfest was then released as an early pre-order title on Bugbear’s own website, which also included a free tech demo of the game’s physics and crash mechanics. While not a complete version by any means, this demo was enjoyable enough to bring in new eyes on Bugbear’s product, and during Christmas of that year a playable early access version of the game was released that featured two vehicles and three tracks, one of which was a demolition derby arena. This preview was so well-received that within a week Bugbear had surpassed their previous goal of $350,000 in early access sales, and in January of 2014 the game was introduced to Steam Early Access, where it proved to be even more popular, earning over $1 million in a single week.
Playing the full version, released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One earlier this week, it’s easy to see why. While most racing games these days feature a strict adherence to rules and regulations, Wreckfest is more about enjoying the experience of racing itself. Rather than punishing players for damaging their vehicle, here it is encouraged, even offering experience boosts to players who perform actions like spinning out or shunting their opponents. Very few missions force the player to come in first place, opting instead for objectives like “Wreck three opponents” or “Cause at least 5000 points in damage.” Certain events, such as Heat Races, only ask that racers finish in the top half of the bracket, and others will let players progress even if they come in last place.
Of course, coming in last place won’t net a player much in the way of credits, which are used to buy new vehicles and upgrades in the game’s garage. All races and derbies, even the one-off custom ones, add to the player’s experience points and credit score once completed, and since certain Career Mode events are only available to specific types of automobiles it’s important to keep a nicely stuffed wallet at all times. Almost every vehicle in the game features a multitude of upgrade-able parts, including engines, camshafts, valves, and pistons. Some special vehicles, like lawnmowers, buses, and combine harvesters, do not feature such upgrades, but can still be modified and personalized via paint schemes and livery decals.
The Career Mode, which features the bulk of the game’s challenges, is broken down into five different championships that see the player beginning a racing career in the Regional Juniors and working their way through the National Amateur, Challenger, and Pro International leagues in order to emerge victorious in the World Masters. Each of these tournaments are filled with separate races and demolition derbies of varying lengths and difficulties, all of which provide the player with a number of tournament points upon completion. Accumulating the required number of points is the only way to win a championship, but thankfully many of the events can be done in whatever order the player desires and there is enough variety in the challenges so that if a player feels overwhelmed by, say, a three heat race that culminates in twelve laps, they can choose to earn their points in a demolition derby instead.
Longer races such as these really show off the game’s physics engine, as each additional lap sees more debris and car parts littering the racetrack. Opponents that have been demolished over the course of the race do not disappear, instead becoming yet another obstacle that needs to be avoided lest the player become a flaming hunk of twisted metal themselves. Rubber tires, barrels, and destructible scaffolding line the edges of most tracks, and smashing other cars into them is as satisfying as it is beautiful.
The massive amount of physics objects featured in Wreckfest could have something to do with the game’s loading times, which even on a PS4 Pro seem a little excessive. While not nearly as bad as the minute-and-a-half loading screens found in early releases of Bloodborne, a player can expect to wait an average of 30-38 seconds for a race to load, which breaks up the pacing a bit and becomes rather irritating when trying to squeeze in a quick smash-up before work. However, issues like screen tearing, frame rate drops, and other graphical hiccups appear to be almost entirely absent during races, which is both impressive and almost worth the longer waiting time.
An interesting addition to Wreckfest’s gameplay is the Reset feature, which can be activated at any point during a race or derby when the player’s vehicle is under a certain speed. Normally used to return the player to the racetrack after getting knocked off course or flipping upside-down, the Reset function also makes the vehicle in question invulnerable for a brief few moments after reappearing by turning the clipping off. This allows other racers to pass straight through the vehicle as if it was a ghost, and while the effect is intended to only last for a few seconds the car will not become solid again until it is entirely untouched by other racers.
This means that, by staying in contact with another driver after resetting, a player can keep their clipping turned off almost indefinitely, which allows for sneaky tricks like driving straight through a massive pile-up on the raceway. The Reset function is also incredibly helpful in the game’s demolition derbies, where a player can press it to return their car to the edge of the arena mere seconds before getting smashed by another driver. In solo mode this almost feels unfair, since the computer’s AI seems to lack any such feature and instead can only flounder helplessly if knocked upside-down or off-track.
As far as the tracks themselves go, Wreckfest offers a large variety of both off-road and professional raceways for the vehicular carnage to take place upon. While some automobiles are better suited for dirt than asphalt, options are given to the player at the start of each race to tune suspension, gear ratio, differentials, and brake balance in order to get the best result from the required vehicle.
The appearance of these racetracks can vary depending on the time of day, and although the game unfortunately does not feature any serious weather effects like wind, rain, or snow, a race that takes place during a cloudy sunset can look strikingly different from the same race on a foggy morning.
Lacking any sort of story, Wreckfest often feels like a game that would have done well at an arcade in the early '90s, especially during the more ridiculous events like super-powered sofa demolition derbies. The ability to add novelty decorations to the tops of vehicles, like coffins on limousines or giant, stuffed sharks on derby cars, only serves to enhance this feeling. Even though the game does not feature arcade-like elements such as the boosts and power-ups which made franchises like Burnout so much fun, the ridiculously detailed destructible vehicles and environments are more than enough to make this a worthy successor to games like Demolition Derby and developer Bugbear Entertainment’s own FlatOut series, and is surely a worthy time-waster for racing fans before Need for Speed Heat comes out. Just be sure to buckle up.
Wreckfest is out now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. A PS4 code was provided to ScreenRant for the purposes of this review.