The spotlight’s on physics simulation and damage modelling above all else here, every race a spectacle of exploding tire walls, mangled bonnets and nasty screeching sounds. And while that means it exists in vaguely the same ballpark as slapstick sandbox Beam.NG, it’s structured and presented like a much more traditional sim-cade racer.In the early 2000s they gained a solid reputation for their work on the FlatOut series of demolition derby style racers. That got them a gig working on Ridge Racer Unbounded, but unfortunately the game bombed and they never returned to FlatOut, which quickly wasted away under the care of other developers.The detailing isn’t important here; all that really matters is that the car drives fast and can take (as well as deliver) a beating. Driving aggressively is what Wreckfest is all about, joyfully turning most races into highlight reels filled with flipping cars, pileups, and debris littering the track. Developer Bugbear Entertainment turns chaos into thrilling gameplay that makes almost every event in Wreckfest a heart-pounding delight to play.
After a four-year stint in Steam’s early access, Wreckfest has hit the track with surprising confidence. Showing off its impressive soft-body collision system that lets colliding cars twist and crush with brutal realism and some fierce AI, every event is brimming with satisfaction. Wreckfest succeeds where it matters, becoming one of the most surprising and gratifying racing games of the year.Each of the different classes has stadium races, longer endurance races and the star of the show, demolition derbies. Players can also create custom events or venture into the game’s multiplayer component for hectic races against other players.This car is fine as an entry point. It handles well and is brutish enough to jostle competitors (more on that later), but you’ll quickly want to spend coin on something more powerful. Our choice is the Rammer RS, a rear-wheel-drive, American full-size sedan based loosely on a 1986 Chevrolet Caprice.A twenty-strong garage of proudly unlicensed vehicles provides an excuse for some aesthetic and performance fiddling as you unlock better parts, but this all feels secondary to the point of optional. Wreckfest really just wants you to make a mess.Wreckfest lives up to its name in most of its racing events, and the computer-controlled opponents are thinking just as devilishly as you are. They try to spin you out, and if they happen to hit you hard enough, they become an official rival for the remainder of the race.
Race starts are a gorgeous, chaotic mess that can feel like running a gauntlet as cars jostle and barge for position. They’re also where the game’s marquee destruction engine shows off its capabilities as cars fly off the course through wooden fences and tire barriers, sending debris scattering into the air and across the road. It can be spectacular to watch from a distance when tailing a pack of cars or during a replay, but equally brutal when you’re the one involved in it.Vehicles crumple in amongst the mass of cars; bonnets, wing mirrors and bumpers are hurled across the track and cars roll erratically as a result of being flipped. The results are visually pleasing and tracks are strewn with the debris of cars by the end of each race, showing off just how impressive Wreckfest’s engine is.It takes skill to perfect flawless controlled drifts or find the ideal braking points as grip levels shift when moving from mud, to gravel, to tarmac. Most of the tracks are impressively accurate to real-world rallycross settings (apart from the loop-dee-loop and massive jumps on some), and dynamic obstacles, like cones and tires, make it all the more difficult. The AI is genuinely competitive, too.
Normal damage makes your car tougher; it can easily shrug off minor bumps and bangs in this setting. But normal damage means no body panel or tire is safe from potential destruction. And yes, tires do fall off – annoyingly often. Running into static objects, like concrete barriers and trees, does the most damage. But bashing into your competitors isn’t as damning. After all, that’s sort of the point of Wreckfest. Too much damage and you will wreck yourself out of the race. It happens frequently, sometimes ending in a dramatic barrel roll or flip.I was five laps into a six lap race, which meant I had to start the race all over again. I don’t typically use rewind features in driving games, but I believe the unpredictable and aggressive AI in Wreckfest does warrant the option of one. It would at least reduce some of the frustrations I had.But with realistic conditions, things get a lot tougher and a bit more spectacular too. Longer races become tests of survival, as all it takes is one bad collision to put a car out of contention (or at least change how it handles). A bad landing off a jump could destroy your suspension and send you into a wall of concrete that shatters spectacularly upon impact, and that’s your race done. There’s no rewinding time to fix your mistakes, either; you’ll need to restart the race if it all goes south.Even the side banks (which are there to protect the fans) end up doubling as dirt jumps that send your car sailing or spinning uncontrollably. These are the tame courses; others are more obvious in their intent to destroy you. These tracks may feature figure eights, loop-de-loops, and a lack of safety walls for oncoming traffic.
Money earned along the way can be used to purchase new rides, of which there are some fun and powerful beasts to sic against the competition. I didn’t dive into the marketplace often, however, as the event structure constantly shakes things up and often makes you drive in different vehicles.It’s rare when a racing game manages to modernize and reinvigorate an old formula with spectacular confidence, but Wreckfest does just that. Minor issues with menus and its soundtrack aside, it wows with a gorgeous look and wonderful driving feel, along with a damage system that satisfies in the most brutal of fashions.