Wreckfest has everything.
Modded vans that you’ll commandeer to take on a gang of school buses on a NASCAR-style racetrack. Couches equipped with wheels and exhaust pipes that you’ll use to race other couches equipped with wheels and exhaust pipes. Demolition derbies where you use a reinforced lawnmower as a battering ram, skittering around a giant half-pipe made of asphalt and chainlink.
It all sounds awfully wacky. But, in execution, Wreckfest just doesn’t fully live up to the colorful weirdness of its premise. It promises high-octane action. And, at times, it delivers (with excellent destruction and physics along the way)! But, all too often, the game Bugbear Entertainment has produced feels sluggish, fiddly, and unrewarding.
Wreckfest contains two very different modes: a racing mode (that essentially feels like the NASCAR Heat series but with tracks that demand turns in directions other than left), and a demolition mode that allows players to smash vehicles into other vehicles.
These demolition derbies are the star of the show. Whatever vehicle you pilot, using it to destroy each and every competitor is a good time. To wreck a lawnmower, you just need to flip it and knocking an opponent over is always satisfying; but you need to watch your flanks because you’re just as vulnerable. In a car or other larger vehicle, you’re significantly safer. No single hit can bring you down. But, these battles become a war of attrition. By the time a match ends, you’ll be swerving around the steaming wreckage of dozens of your vanquished opponents.
Impressively rendered destruction makes the process of taking down another car (or lawnmower, or couch) a little like playing Monster Hunter World. Health bars float above each vehicle, but you’ll also be able to tell how much life a car has in it by studying the state of its body. Flames flickering out of the engine are an obvious bad sign, but Wreckfest provides subtler indicators before it comes to that.
Bumpers and side-view mirrors are ripped off. Doors hang from their hinges. Trunks, that were initially clamped down, begin to bob as you drive. You can determine the state of your vehicle at a glance. And, in case you missed it, an icon on your HUD shows an outline of a car, highlighting the damaged portions in shades of red. Warnings will also pop up to let you know when the damage occurs. It’s excellent UI; a communicative design that ensures you’ll always know exactly what’s going on under the hood.
Wreckfest is less successful as a racing game. And, unfortunately, it asks players to spend the majority of their time in Career mode engaging with it in this way.
Many of the rules of the demolition derby still apply. Each car has a visible health bar and can be taken out with repeated ramming. The destruction is still impressive here. Fenders and bumpers are stripped off. Boundaries—whether constructed of stacks of tires or wooden slats—fly apart when cars drive through them. Wrecked cars become damage-causing obstacles on subsequent laps.
The problem is that, as cool as “Demolition Racing” sounds, actually driving rarely feels good. The cars never really feel like they’re going very fast, even at top speed. The turning feels sluggish. Compared to the fast, dangerous driving in a game like Grand Theft Auto V—where you constantly feel like you’re on the edge of disaster—Wreckfest feels like it’s underwater.
Maybe that’s a personal preference? But, other aspects of Wreckfest’s controls make it difficult to navigate its courses, even if you do like the way it feels to accelerate and brake. Here, the camera is the chief offender. While you’ll control your perspective with the right thumbstick, as usual, moving it switches the view entirely, to the front or to the side. You can’t nudge your view up as you careen down a steep hill or slightly to the left as you take a hairpin turn. More than one crash was caused by an obstinate camera that refused to allow me to see what was coming next.
Problems for the Pit Crew
Additionally, on PS4 at least, Wreckfest is slowed down by technical issues. Not the racing itself, but the portions in between races. I routinely sat through minute-long loads as I waited for a race to start. And, on a handful of occasions, these load screens went from long to infinite, forcing me to close the game and start it up again. Between the driving and the loads, playing Wreckfest feels substantially more sluggish than a racing game should.
Of course, you can always just play the demolition derby sections over and over again, setting up custom matches on custom courses. This is fun, but not nearly enough to keep me returning to the game. There are a variety of multiplayer options for fans of racing and demolition, however, as I was playing during the pre-release period, I couldn’t find a match in any of them. If this component is solid at launch, though, it could give Wreckfest legs (or, ahem, wheels?) in the months after release.
But, for now, Wreckfest just doesn’t live up to the promise of its name. The destruction is technically impressive, but oddly distancing. It awes with flying debris, but rarely exhilarates.
Wreckfest review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.