Spoiler: the game I’ve actually been playing most this month is The Last of Us Part II, but given it’s a) big and long, and b) at times utterly harrowing, I haven’t finished it. Maybe playing a game about a viral outbreak wiping out most of humanity wasn’t the best of ideas for the sanctity of one’s mental health, but there you go. Regardless, I wanted something dumb. Having craved a replacement for PS1 classic Destruction Derby 2 for many a year, my eyes pricked up when I saw Wreckfest had been added to Xbox’s Game Pass. It’s called Wreckfest, for one, and it has a picture of broken and busted cars on its artwork. Seemed like a goer to me.
And, well, it’s plugged that gap. Basically. Nothing can recreate the nostalgia, of course, and nothing will ever quite be as magical as the first time you saw a car do a proper barrel roll down a hill because of Excellent And Accurate Physics, but Wreckfest has been doing a job. It’s a mix of racing and destruction derbies; the former is a mix of the usual racing game fun where your brain switches off and you go with the flow, punctuated with the odd wrong turn into sheer, unmitigated frustration. It’s one of those games where the slightest mistake has you going from first place to 16th in a few seconds.
The latter is where most of the fun can be found – for me, at least – because it’s just wanton catharsis. Of course, I’d prefer it if I had this running through VR and had hooked up some kind of force feedback chair situation to simulate the entire effect (and impact) of it all, but this will do. This is making me sound like some kind of thrill-seeker, but really, I think it’s just lockdown boredom creeping through to the pages. Smashing cars, with the slightest hint of strategy about it, is just a lot of fun when it’s done competently, as it is in Wreckfest.
But best of all: this is a silly game. It comes at you with a straight face, the cars are analogues to real-life bangers and racing vehicles, and both races and destruction events are built on the foundations of strong real-world physics simulations. But then you find yourself racing around on sit-on lawn-mowers, with a couple of racers driving combine harvesters for some reason. Carcasses (they’re not dead) fly as crashes knock racers out of their seats, and the whole thing swiftly devolves into beautiful, chaotic nonsense. When you hit your first sofa race, it’s hard not to at least raise a smile. I mean, watching eight sofas smash into each other at high speed and most of their riders go rag-dolling through the air at equally high speed is objectively funny. It just is.
All of this means I’m delighted I chose to give Wreckfest a chance, because it’s exactly what I wanted. It taps into my happy memories of destruction-based racing games, it presents everything in a competent – nay, solid – package, and it’s able to have a bit of fun with things along the way. There is depth in the way you can modify your vehicles, but it’s limited. There’s a hint of tactics in setting your gear-box ratios et al. before a race, or opting for the ol’ switcheroo during a destruction derby and driving around in reverse to protect your vulnerable engine. But (and I don’t think anyone at developer Bugbear Entertainment will mind if I say this), it’s not like Wreckfest is a particularly taxing game on the grey matter. To be fair, that’s absolutely something we’ve all needed in our lives for a fair while now – games can be (and are) art, the depth of the experience is limited only by the human imagination, and we’re only in the very early days of what it is video games as a whole will end up producing as this grand experiment rolls on. But sometimes, you just want to crash cars and see the metal-warping carnage unfold.
The Last of Us Part II is still taking up more of the real estate in my head, because it’s just that type of experience – but Wreckfest has wedged itself firmly in there alongside Naughty Dog’s haughty dog (“game”). There’s absolutely no chance in all heck I’ll still be playing Wreckfest much by next issue, I can tell you that, but it would be foolish of me to say it’s not something I’m going to come back to periodically.
Where Forza Horizon 4 has the presentation and the ‘cool’ going for it, Wreckfest both encourages crashing and doesn’t try to be some kind of aspirational lifestyle simulator full of inhuman automatons masquerading as Gap models. And sofa racing is funny.