Essentially a video-game adaptation of Death Race 2000, the Carmageddon series imagines a futuristic dystopia of cities-turned-race-tracks throughout which ludicrously weaponized cars make mincemeat of civilians during brutal vehicular combat. The original games in the series offer a comprehensive take on this lowbrow concept, boasting enemy car AI routines that are varied and demand skill to master, as well as sizeable and detailed areas that are so clearly and cleanly presented that exploration is consistently enjoyable. Above all else, the vehicular combat of these games is articulate in its presentation.
Sadly, with the series’s modern reboot, Carmageddon: Max Damage, developer Stainless Games shuns coherence out of the gate. The core of the gameplay, the vehicular combat, barely functions. The wonderful feeling of smashing one car into another that the original games revel in is all but absent, as crashing cars causes such minimal damage to opponents—even in high-speed head-on collisions—that finding the power-ups littering each map becomes the only way to destroy rivals. Yet the power-ups acquired are random and often useless, such as a ball and chain that drags behind your vehicle or a miniature tornado that appears in front of it and does little.
Max Damage also suffers from inept controls. So loose is the steering of a vehicle that just trying to accurately maneuver is akin to pushing a greased-up shopping trolley down a waterslide. As for the uncooperative camera, it swings wildly so that you can rarely see attackers until they slam into you. And this fundamentally broken gaming experience is made worse by the dreadful, mindless AI that has enemies suicidally drive into you and each other until they lose interest and, for example, drive off cliffs or into explosives.
Among the new features that Max Damage brings to the series is a levelling system for cars that’s strictly linear and has no real customization; what pitiful upgrades are available are purchased not with points earned in-game, but with tokens randomly staggered around levels. Where other games reward players by having you exchange in-game progress for upgrades and abilities that expand the gameplay, Max Damage offers up only meaningless collectables. Points earned in-game are here used to progress through a new career mode, where new chapters are unlocked after you beat a high score, yet the game inexplicably doesn’t tell you what your score even is.
The game’s litany of bad design choices are compounded by muddy, undetailed graphics and endless loading times and occasional bugs (at one point, entering a race from the menu started an entirely different event), making for a thoroughly miserable gaming experience. There’s a sense throughout that a simple remake with a graphical upgrade and modernized controls would have easily grabbed old fans and newcomers alike. Alas, Max Damage is a colossal misfire, failing to replicate the cleanness of the original games’ racing mechanics, and as such failing to build on them.