Reviewed: April 26, 2004
Released: March 30, 2004
Anyone remember an old PS1 classic called Destruction Derby? It appeared right after the launch of Sonyís original console and pretty much took the gaming world by storm with its dynamic physics, realistic car damage, and addictive gameplay. Arguably, that game probably wouldnít hold up to modern day standards or the expectations of sophisticated gamers more than ten years later, so Studio 33 and Gathering are putting a facelift on Rainbow Studios classic.
Destruction Derby Arenas is a valiant yet slightly flawed attempt to recreate all the automotive mayhem and racing carnage of the original fender bender. Those of you that can still visualize that game will find plenty of similarities right down to the arena battles and the classic car damage icon with the six damage indicators.
Destruction Derby Arenas features:
Destruction Derby Arenas follows the core racing commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain inscribed in stone. You start off with a few racers, each with their own car that varies in three stats, speed, handling, and acceleration. Only a fraction of the total racing crew is available when you start a new game leaving you plenty to unlock during the core game mode, the Championship.
The Championship is broken down into four heats of four races each. The first three races in each heat are circuit races that take place on city streets, factories, airports, and other interesting locales. Each track has a reigning champion and if you beat their high score you unlock that racer for the other game modes or future trips through the Championship mode.
Perhaps the most interesting element in Destruction Derby Arenas is that you donít necessarily need to win the race to win the game. Instead, you are scored on several criteria including overall destruction, both to other racers and the environment, as well as stunt points and points for crossing the finish line ahead of the rest. All of these are combined to give you a final score, so if you cause enough damage you can place first, even if you are ninth across the line.
Related to stunt points are the bonus points you can earn by spinning or flipping the other cars. In fact, you only get damage points when you total a competitor, so your underlying goal when hitting another car should be to clip it just right to spin it around or flip it over. In the arena levels you can plan some strategies for knocking your opponents off the outer ledge for instant destruction bonuses.
The arena races are the fourth and final race to each heat, but they arenít races as much as timed events where you try to do as much destruction as possible in the allotted time. These arena will often have some interesting environmental hazards like swinging wrecking balls, rotating machinery, pop-up plungers, drop-away sections of the racing surface, and even giant fire breathing mechanical monsters.
Thereís a short list of power-ups you can collect while you are racing, none of which are entirely original, but still quite useful. The wrench will repair your car, there is a power-drain that will sap the energy from nearby cars, a rocket will give your car instant temporary boost and nitro will give you several seconds of turbo to be used at your discretion. There are others like the super-grip tires, a shield, resurrection angel wings, and even point bonuses of various denominations.
There are over a dozen tracks ranging from boring to fairly clever. None are very complicated and while there are a few shortcuts like driving through a cargo plane, smashing through a mini-mall, or cutting through a garage, these really are there only to hide power-ups rather than shave any time off your lap.
The other two offline game modes include Wrecking Racing and Destruction Bowl, which are basically just a quick way for one or two players to access the tracks and arenas you have unlocked during the Championship and play them outside of the tournament structure.
Destruction Derby Arenas offers a hearty online component for up to 20 racers provided you have a broadband connection. The game is still relatively new and I was only able to find races with 8-12 people during my review period. Iím hoping this number grows, as the time I did spend playing online was probably more rewarding than the single-player game. Itís just more ďpersonalĒ when you known a real human is driving that car you just totaled.
Online game modes include Speedway for pure racing fun, Capture the Trophy, a variation of CTF where you run over the trophy and try to keep it for the longest time while everyone else is ramming you and trying to do the same. Pass Da Bomb is extremely clever and perhaps my favorite of the modes. Here you run over a bomb and start earning points for as long as you hold it, but the timer is ticking so you must pass it to another car before it explodes. Last Man Standing removes the power-ups and the timer and just puts everyone in an arena to see who can survive. If you fail to hit at least one car a minute you are disqualified.
Gameplay is definitely arcade. The controls are loose, the physics are exaggerated, and the cars are a bit floaty. There is car damage but itís basically just the polygon model being slightly deformed. You can lose a hood or your door might start swinging but donít expect to see the parts-flying carnage found in the Burnout games.
My one and only complaint with the entire title (and this is really cheap) is that even though you create a profile you are still required to enter your initials each time you set a record. The game doesnít use your profile name and it fails to remember the initials you entered the last time you set a record. Combined with the cumbersome non-wrap-around keyboard entry screen, the entire record keeping system is just a dismal failure.
There is nothing next-gen about the graphics in Destruction Derby Arenas. This game smacks of the same generic visuals found in budget games like the Hot Wheels titles and the Rumble games from EA. The cars are all constructed with enough polygons and unique textures to give them a distinct look.
The tracks all look great by design but suffer from the inherent shimmering and jaggies weíve begrudgingly come to expect from Sony. Itís actually weird because the graphics are sharp when they arenít moving, but as soon as the camera pans or your car starts to move it gets a bit blurry, almost like MPEG artifacts.
You can race from behind or in the car, but given the nature of the gameplay you are practically required to play from the chase view. The camera also likes to go crazy with some scripted camera moves that are intended to enhance jumps, barrel rolls, or other stunts. These have the potential to get out of hand but surprisingly, they never interfered with my driving, always seeming to snap back just in time for me to resume racing.
The menus are easy to navigate and are decorated with some excellent cartoon-style artwork of the various racers, usually males with bulging muscles, or females with suitably exaggerated proportions. It all comes together in a comic book-style presentation with multi-panel views of the track that is loading.
There is the standard rock-racing soundtrack, nothing licensed and nothing memorable. It all slips into the background where you can quickly forget about it. At least this way it doesnít get repetitive.
There is a modest attempt to offer some color-commentary during the race, but these quips from the unseen announcer are pretty generic and quickly grow repetitive by the time you finish your first championship. Some driver taunts would have added a bit of a mix to the dialogue track. Online games support the USB headset so you can taunt your opponents all you like.
Sound effects are solid with great engine noises and all the devastating sounds of cars crunching, gas tanks exploding, boxes smashing, whooshing nitro boost, and plenty of environmental sounds like roaring trains, the warning klaxon before the floor drops out from under you, or the growl of a mechanical Godzilla.
You can whip through a championship series in 60-90 minutes. If you fail to earn a medal by the fourth race in any heat you will have to restart the entire heat. Of course the true staying power of this title is the online play and Destruction Derby Arenas doesnít disappoint. The game modes are great fun and the game doesnít suffer from lag or other typical online issues found in many racing games.
Destruction Derby Arenas is definitely a budget title. Unfortunately this isnít the way itís currently priced, so I have a hard time recommending this as anything more than a rental until it drops to $29, which shouldnít be long. There is plenty of great racing and wrecking action, but the loose controls and last-gen graphics will probably keep this game from achieving the stardom it could have if the designers had gone the extra mile.
Then again, the multiplayer component is very strong and if you are looking for a fun online diversion for your PS2 then Destruction Derby Arenas might just be the game you are looking for. If nothing else, we have another smash-up derby game to keep the genre alive until a true next-gen sequel arrives.