Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage [Preview] – Autocide

19 Mar 2012  by   Paul Younger
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There’s something about arcade vehicular combat games which always feels quite ‘old school’. John picked up on it in his review of the latest Twisted Metal title, and I got a similar feeling from this beta version of Gamepire’s Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage.

Maybe it’s because the heyday of this genre could be said to have peaked with 1997‘s pedestrian-grinding Carmageddon; which rose to notoriety with the crash-n-carnage aesthetics of other deadly driving titles like Road Rash and Roadkill, plus a high-profile moral panic over its ‘controversial’ contents. As a result, single-map courses, collectible power-ups and destructible opponents all seem to take me back to the mid-to-late 90s, no matter how fancy the graphics.

Gas Guzzlers is no exception to this, looking all set to briefly swerve us back into the era when developers of driving titles looked to films like Mad Max, Death Race 2000 (not the crappy remake) and The Running Man for inspiration.

This beta preview code was somewhat limited in scope, offering a foursome of cars to drive and just two tracks to tear up. One course was based around the towering red canyon rocks of a New Mexico-ish landscape, while the other offered an odd juxtaposition of dry, desert tracks, short caverns to race through and loose wildfowl to pick out of your grille. Each could be played as a stand-alone race with any of the vehicles (two small, with shotgun and chainguns respectively, and two larger with machine guns and rockets).

As a result, it was hard to get a sense of how these races will fit into the wider structure of earning money and points for top place finishes and kills, nor what kind of car customisation is possible. It will be possible to customise and tweak your vehicle between races, presumably with the cash earned on the tracks, but none of this was available to play around with in this beta.

That’s a bit unfortunate, because the extent to which it’s possible to upgrade a car, and the effects this might have on race performance, are important factors in relation to my other beta observations.

In the two tracks offered, you pretty much have to drive a perfect race throughout to stand a chance of getting in the top three. This means that if you happen to get riddled with bullets by someone behind you, or stuck in a pile-up, your race is effectively over from a podium point of view. Given the nature of the title, this happens fairly regularly.

Now, if the structure of the game is such that you’ll have earned enough money to soup up your car’s top speed within a few races, the above probably won’t be a major issue. The AI cars seem to spread themselves out through the course after a lap or two, which suggests that the design intent is for the player to work his way steadily through the pack before he runs out of road. In the beta though, it doesn’t really work like that. You get a bit of fun shooting and crashing during the first lap or so, before the pack spreads out, then find yourself in a kind of racing no man’s land with little chance of being caught by the slower cars and no hope of reaching the ones at the head of the pack (even with help of the sporadic nitro speed-boost pick-ups).

As I’ve said, it’s difficult to judge if this will carry over to the full release, or will be mitigated by the ability to improve your car (maybe in conjunction with improved general balancing of the opposing AI). Happily, promotional materials indicate the latter, stating that “each car upgrade significantly affects the final performance of vehicle.”

If Gamepires can nail that balance (and perhaps tighten up vehicle handling a bit), Gas Guzzlers could well offer some decent wheelspinning carnage.

When you do get a chance to unleash hell on a couple of computer-controlled cars, it’s pretty satisfying to see your bullets/rockets/mines (delete as appropriate) ripping chunks off the bodywork. Even more so to drive past a smoking chassis that you created on a previous lap. A rear-firing mechanic means you can also blow smoke all over rival’s windshields or unleash some oil slicks for them to deal with (if you’ve nabbed the appropriate power-up); and thanks to some rather lovely visuals, all of this looks as splendid as it feels.

Sadly, a lot of the action is accompanied by a bone-headed voice-over akin to Duke Nukem (the new one where Duke is a meatheaded sex-pest, rather than the old one where he was an affectionate action hero parody). Your first port of call should be to the options menu, where, thankfully, you can turn this rubbish off.

As well as single player races, Gas Guzzlers is promising some form of multiplayer. This didn’t feature in the beta either, so other than to speculate that multiplayer matches should be pretty interesting (in a chaotic kinda way) I’m not really able to elaborate on that. Human drivers always add an extra dimension to games like this, so I’m pleased that Gamepires appear to be including the option.

Much of Gas Guzzlers still remains a mystery to me. In this beta release, the satisfying car-to-car combat is a bit too sporadic and the races rather too punishing for a game where a crash or five seems commonplace, if not inevitable. However, all of that may be mitigated by the full version’s approach to upgrades and the way in which it structures its single player mode.
The stand-alone limbo in which the beta races exist really don’t provide any clues to the above, so right now it’s a case of waiting to see how Gas Guzzlers ends up handling things. There’s definite promise here, but not enough mechanical guts to judge whether this car combat title will end up being a dream machine or a bit of an old banger.

If you fancy revving and gunning your way around the Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage beta, you can grab it here.

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