Wreckfest Review – PC

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I was playing Wreckfest long before it released in 2018, back when Bugbear was using the working title, “Next Car Game”. I was already a big fan of their FlatOut series and eagerly followed every update and patch leading up to its official renaming and launch. While still rough around the edges, Bugbear has been diligent with its upgrades, patches, and fresh content, and the Steam Workshop community has been amazing with all sorts of new mods. Recently, Wreckfest released for the Xbox One and with it came a fairly substantial upgrade for the PC version; substantial enough to revisit my original review and make some updates.

For those that haven’t read my other reviews I enjoy getting to drive race cars in real-life; everything from Indy and F1 to NASCAR and rally cars. The one thing you never want to do is crash one of these million dollar machines, so playing a game where the main intent is to smash into other vehicles goes against every fiber of my being, even if you are driving a piece of crap held together with duct tape and chewing gum. Wreckfest fills in the niche of a true demolition derby game and does so brilliantly with all sorts of race modes, track designs, and a massive garage of vehicles ranging from cars and trucks to riding mowers and farm equipment. You can even drive a motorized couch!

Wreckfest offers a comprehensive solo career mode as well as some crazy multiplayer action. The career mode is divided into panel events that can be either a solo race or a short series. You’ll earn points for finishing in top positions and there are star challenges available that will really test your ability to smash and dash while still trying to win the event. You might be asked to spin out a car or crash them out of the race or merely inflict x-many damage points to the other racers. Some crashes might even trigger a rivalry with a specific racer.

Events take place on a variety of tracks with a mix of dirt, mud, and pavement. Most tracks are circuit designs but there are some figure-8 tracks tossed in to clench your butt cheeks when driving through an intersection with high-speed cross traffic twice per lap. And there are open arena designs like fields and parking lots or mud basins for those nerve-wracking last man standing events. The demolition derby battles are surprisingly strategic in that you need to stay alive until the end but also need to inflict enough damage to meet any star challenges and make contact with cars often enough that you don’t get disqualified.

In a world where casual racing games seldom depict damage I was blown away by the physics and damage model in Wreckfest.   Cars are constructed from individual parts which dent, crush and fly off, but they also impact car performance. If you bend a wheel expect your car to pull to the side. If you damage your engine expect your speed to decrease. Pop-up alerts indicate when damage occurs and a visual indicator shows damage on all parts of your car, so when that front bumper eventually falls off you might want to start driving in reverse.

The driving physics are really good, tipping in favor of arcade versus sim, but the vehicles definitely have a weight about them that makes each a new experience to drive. You can see cars tip on their suspension in tight turns and it’s easy to wipeout on a hairpin if you haven’t braked properly before getting there. There are some turns at the top of a rise where my compact will simply roll over if I’m going too fast. This same level of physics applies to collisions as well, which are some of the best and most realistic I’ve seen.

Driver AI ranges in quality with one or two cars always racing ahead giving you something to overpass while most of the pack falls quickly behind. Of course when you have goal that require crashing into other cars you can’t simply race to the lead and hold it. You have to let a few drivers get past you so you can smash, crash, or spin your way to those stars. Rubbin’ is racing so use those other cars as buffers or mobile guardrails on tight turns.

Wreckfest has a vibrant mod community and there are some wonderful add-ons for the game you can install, but these can only be used with a separate executable that will restrict your online rankings and leaderboards. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy if/when you ever finish the expansive career offerings or get tired of crushing the competition online. While I have no aspirations of becoming a game designer, the toolkit for Wreckfest looks to be feature-rich and easy enough to figure out.

From a technical perspective Wreckfest looks fantastic with scalable support for 4K resolutions and all sorts of visual tweaks to lock down that 60fps that all racing games want. There are moments of photorealism in the game, especially in those golden hour moments where the sun is shining just right and the lighting and shadows are popping.   Tires leave tread marks, dirt and dust kick up behind the cars, and I never get tired of smashing into a stack of tires and watching them go flying and bouncing onto the track. You can drive from multiple views, and while I typically prefer the cockpit cam when using my racing wheel, all too often car damage can obscure your view and make the game virtually unplayable. Speaking of wheels and pedals, my GT29 setup worked well enough on the faster circuit races but a standard Xbox 360 gamepad offered more enjoyment for the demolition derby events, and once I started using a gamepad for those I ended up just using it for the entire game.

The audio was a bit off for me on this one. The engine noises for most of the cars were okay and varied enough, but didn’t really change with any of the upgrades you install; especially manifolds and exhausts, etc. The riding mower engine sounds nothing like any riding mower I’ve ever heard; more like a blender on margarita night. The soundtrack is purely subjective and personally I didn’t enjoy it but I didn’t mind it either. I turned that section of the sound down to about half and tuned it out. It’s mostly this angry heavy metal and grunge rock, which I suppose is appropriate for this genre, but in the back of my mind I wanted to hear the Dukes of Hazzard theme song.

The big update in August brought several changes to the game; not all of them for the better.  The entire feel of the game has tipped even more toward the arcade side, although you can still restore the game to its former sim-status by tweaking options.  Car handling and physics also seemed off, but again, that can all be reverted back using the robust options and settings.  Load times have been reduced to 30-40 seconds per event and restarting a race is instant.  Those who have been playing Wreckfest for the past year might have to tweak some settings, but newcomers to the game will find a fun and challenging arcade experience that closer matches the Xbox One version.

The last true demolition derby game I can remember is Destruction Derby back on the PC and original PlayStation in 1996 (damn I feel old), and while many other racing games have included their own variations of the sport, Wreckfest is the first game in decades to embrace the sport of demolition derby and high-speed crash racing. If you’re tired of flashy supercars and pristine racing venues with towering grandstands then you might be ready for some true redneck racing where, depending on the event, your only goals are to finish first or finish last.

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