You may not have heard of Cel Damage HD, or maybe the name rings a bell somewhere in the far corners of your mind. That far corner of your mind would likely be in the year 2001, as that is when Cel Damage first released for the original Xbox. This game is an HD makeover of that original title, which received mixed reception both critically and commercially. Should we be rolling out the red carpet or should this game be left back in time 13 years ago?
Cel Damage HD is a cel-shaded, cartoony car combat game. Think a very tame version of Twisted Metal and you’d be in the right ballpark. There are six playable characters (10 total if you include the unlockable ‘Boss’ characters), 13 different stages, and a surprisingly huge variety of weapons. There are three different modes including a standard combat mode, capture the flag, and traditional combat racing. This is all concurrent with the original game and it doesn’t seem to me that any new or different content was added for this go around, though I haven’t played the original so that conjecture is based on my research of that original game.
Speaking of ‘this go around’, Cel Damage doesn’t seem to be a classic or beloved game in the same vein as Final Fantasy X, Jak and Daxter, and many other series that have recently received the HD treatment, so your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out why it was decided that this game should be made available on Sony’s latest system (with cross buy making it available on PS3 and Vita too).
There is a certain charm to the HD cel shaded visuals, crazy characters, and over the top weapons that hooked me when I first started playing. Certainly I wasn’t floored or amazed by anything, but there was something about a black and white gangster duck with a tommy gun that put half a smile on my face. The cast of characters is quite varied in personality and hearing the voice of your character throwing insults through the DualShock 4 speaker was a nice touch. While each of the characters is also supposed to differ in attributes such as top speed and cornering, I only noted minute differences between them and never felt that driving style held a big enough difference to select one character over another, as opposed to many other car combat style games.
The three modes consist of smack attack, capture the flag, and gate rally. Smack attack requires you to get a certain number of smacks on your opponents in order to win, with some weapons offering more ‘smacks’ than others, and kills resulting in 10 smacks. It’s about as close to a traditional death match as you are going to get in this game, and in my opinion, the most fun mode to play. Capture the flag is a basic game of grabbing flags and bringing them back to central base location, all while avoiding getting hit by other players and trying to attack any other player that has a flag themselves. This mode can be fun, but also quite frustrating as it is mere hits that make you drop flags as opposed to death. I suppose that with the small arenas, requiring death would be unrealistic, but it can still feel like a chore.
The final mode is a racing mode, which pits the players in a race through strategically placed gates in each arena. Gate rally had its hit and miss moments, with some matches being extremely easy and boring, and others actually offering fun through use of weapons and environmental hazards to slow down your opponents. Each mode is available in each of the 13 arenas, which are fortunately not just simple re-skins of each other, but actually provide quite varied terrain and require differing strategies on each one of them. This variety helped to stave off getting tired of playing for a little bit longer, however there was one factor that did wear me thin. This game just feels dated.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was, but between the controls, the visuals, and the overall concept, I couldn’t help but feel like this game didn’t belong in 2014. Without adding any new features to the re-release, it felt odd that I was basically playing an original Xbox launch title as a PS4 game. There could have been more done to make Cel Damage HD stand its ground in the modern age, but without added support, it buckled under the weight of 13 years of great games and advancements that have come since.
As I said, I didn’t play that original title, but the fantastic time machine that is the internet has taken me back to 2001, and to the very mixed reviews that it received at that time. No new characters, arenas, or even online functionality were added. My wife and I tried the co-op, but it just didn’t have anything to keep us competing for more than a couple of matches. Note for reference that my wife loves Twisted Metal and we continue to come back to that for couch co-op and competitive fun. I finished all of the trophies that the game had to offer in about three hours and at this point, don’t feel that I have much reason to go back to the game. It might be fun with a bunch of drunk friends over, but I have little reason to want to play Cel Damage HD again, even for the separate trophy list on my Vita.
There’s a small shimmer of something fun and interesting under the 13 years of rust that coats Cel Damage HD. While certain areas show potential, others show the age of the game. If you’re itching for local multiplayer car combat, Cel Damage HD may whet your appetite. This isn’t a game that I absolutely don’t want to play at all, but it’s not going to be anywhere close to the top of the list of things I decide to pull out and play, especially given the massive selection out there. Cel Damage HD is like re releasing a mediocre car from a decade ago and only giving it a fresh coat of paint. Without any significantly new content added to this year’s model, consider this a 13 year late mixed review of the original.
Review copy provided by publisher. Review done on PS4 version. Cross buy available for PS3 and Vita as well. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.