Nostalgia is a fickle mistress. Or master, whichever your preference. Especially when it comes to gaming. There’s plenty out there who hanker for a simpler time, and occasionally I do too. The trouble with the desire to throw yourself back to that nebulous grander age universally known as ‘the good old days’ is that it shifts as time marches inexorably on, and so the experience you hanker for is also eternally shifting. The other problem with gaming nostalgia is that sometimes you get exactly what you wished for.
Carmageddon Reincarnation, originally a Kickstarter which funded in June 2012 and aimed for a Feb 2013 release (which was hilariously optimistic in hindsight), has been kicking around in alpha form for a while. It didn’t have a structure as such, but after 3 years in development the recent release into public beta is the full game, ready for us all to hurl ourselves back to 1997 and get knee deep in knob gags, Carry On levels of innuendo and terrible puns. And, y’know, turning pedestrians into a red paste with outlandish vehicles.
Carmageddon Reincarnation is a conflicting beast. For those of you who never played Carmageddon 1 or 2 (we don’t talk about TDR), imagine Destruction Derby with weapons, developed by someone who watched too much Bottom, but completely misunderstood why the knob gags were funny (because Rik Mayall, obviously). The game was a bit one note and the AI incredibly stupid, but there was something fun about it all.
In its fundamentals, much of Carmageddon Reincarnation is almost exactly the same game as Carmageddon 2. The cars handle the same, the humour is the same, the mechanics and power ups are the same and, thanks to some horrific optimisation at this point, it almost looks the same. I had to run the game on the lowest settings to get a vaguely steady frame rate despite my PC being within recommended spec, and even then there were frequent frame lock-ups.
The gameplay has been tweaked so instead of just having to kill peds, destroy all the other players or somehow manage to complete X laps, there are different game types to mix it up, like Stampede where you have to be first to get through 10 randomly spawned checkpoints on a map, Ped Chase where you have to be the first to, er, kill 10 randomly designated pedestrians… OK, so far there’s not much variety. And the humour, while highly amusing in 1997, now seems incredibly crass.
Or maybe I just got old. A little from column A, a little from column B.
There’s also the issue that the AI is fantastically stupid, to the point of providing zero challenge in any way, shape or form. Turning the difficulty up (to ‘Harder Than Rimming a Rhino’, sigh) makes the AI more aggressive but not much more intelligent.
And yet… and yet there’s something about Carmageddon Reincarnation. Something that makes it fun, in the same way that 80s Schwarzenegger cheese-fest Commando is fun. It’s wonky as hell with a hideous frame rate and draw distance, but smashing up opponents is just as satisfying as it was 18 years ago. Running over pedestrians is more fun than any well-functioning member of the human race should enjoy. Having your car bounce around the level after you hit a bump when the Pinball power-up is activated is cackle-worthy even when it’s the 10th occurrence.
So in its current beta state it needs a lot of work. I doubt the gameplay and structure is going to change very much, but as it stands it’s looking to be what all Carmageddon fans were hoping for. Whether Carmageddon Reincarnation will find an audience that isn’t wearing rose tinted spectacles, however, remains to be seen.