A good measure of a Carmageddon games' success is how quickly it makes you honk with inappropriate laughter. With Carmageddon 2 I think this took about five seconds, although I was a teenager at the time. I'm still waiting for TDR 2000 to give me a giggle. Carmageddon: Reincarnation was possibly even faster than 2 at forcing me to curl protectively around my own jiggling diaphragm, although I'm not entirely sure it was intentional.
Within seconds of the initial race commencing, three of the five cars in front of me collided and exploded in a big carbon-fibre fireball. While this was certainly one way to make an impression, I have absolutely no idea whether it was supposed to happen. Was it a hint that the AI needs its wheel-nuts tightening? Or was is merely a consequence of Carmageddon's gleefully anarchic systems?
I suspect the answer is a little of both, as I would describe Reincarnation's current state as ready but rough. Everything you'd expect in a Carmageddon game is there, plus a few welcome extras, but the whole experience needs a dose of fine-tuning before it could be considered roadworthy.
For those of you who in 1998 weren't mature enough to play a game about ploughing through pedestrians in a big red car, Carmageddon is basically what would happen if Bernie Ecclestone recruited the Joker to make Formula 1 more interesting. The core game revolves a series of vehicular playgrounds which Reincarnation refers to as "Classic Carma". These are open world races that can be completed in three ways.
If you're a wimp, you can race through checkpoints to complete a set number of laps. If you're insane, you can attempt to mow down every pedestrian in the level. If you're a sensible, reasonable human being, you can destroy your rivals' vehicles by smashing them into walls, or using the many and bizarre weaponry which Carmageddon makes available.
Even at this stage it's clear that Reincarnation remains safely in sequel territory, doing little to radically alter the established formula. The race stages are similar in size and theme to those seen in Carmageddon 2, and many of the weapons, vehicles and power-ups make a return from that game. Opponent Repulsificators, Kangaroo on Command, Gravity from Jupiter are all present and politically incorrect, as are familiar faces such as Vlad's fiery drag-racer, and Screwie Lewie's drillbit-sporting monster truck.
Alongside the specifics, the general tone is typically Stainless, which is to say equal parts daft and debauched. Its liberal lashings of ultraviolence are once again mingled with crude, absurdist humour. Destroying a rival will cause the race announcer to proudly shout "Wrecked 'em!" and just in case you didn't get the joke, if you destroy every rival he shouts "All the Wrecked 'ems!". Running over pedestrians is accompanied by messages such as "Bacon Slicer!" "Splatter Bonus!" or simply "Shut up!". Even the car upgrade screen gets in on the action, with plentiful references to bigger rods or filling her up.
It's a game that refuses, kicking and screaming, to be dragged from the nineties, and while that's fine for the most part, I do wonder about how a few of its references might be taken 17 years down the line. The power-up "Spastic pedestrians" in particular caused eyebrows to meet hairline. For all its crassness, I don't think of Carmageddon as vindictive, and at times Reincarnation feels too much like punching down for my liking.
Despite all of its schoolboyish guffawing at body parts and bodily fluids, Carmageddon's funniest moments are usually either incidental or accidental, largely a consequence of those useable items and power-ups. This is one area where Stainless have made a fair few additions. Easily my favourite is the new "Anvil launcher", which catapults 500 pounds of blacksmith's steel from the front of your car, with predictable results. Meanwhile, the opponent ejaculator causes a rival racer to be ejected from their vehicle and splatter across whatever object they collide with first. Curiously, this seems to have no effect on the vehicle itself, but the sheer force with which the driver is, ah, ejaculated from his overcompensation did elicit a guilty giggle.
Perhaps Reincarnation's most significant addition are its new race modes. Alongside Classic Carma, Reincarnation introduces "checkpoint stampede" and "pedestrian hunt". In these modes, the game spawns either a checkpoint or a pedestrian at a random location on the map, and demands that you hunt them down by whatever means necessary. Whoever reaches the predesignated number of points first wins. In typical Carmageddon fashion, however, there's a shortcut on the road to victory, destroying one of your opponents enables you to steal some of their points. This even works in the standard race mode which Carmageddon also offers, enabling you to "steal" laps from other cars. This is a wonderfully wicked touch, and I suspect it will caused many-a-fallout in Reincarnation's recently added multiplayer.
In all of these regards Carmageddon does what it does well, although without wishing to sound like a total headcase, running over pedestrians doesn't quite have the same splattery satisfaction as it did back in 1998. Also, it isn't the most visually spectacular game in the world. It looks pretty enough when the sunlight is bouncing off your bonnet, but in the shade the world feels flat and boxy.
This isn't a massive problem. Carmageddon is and always has been a cartoon, so for it to attempt any kind of realism would likely result in a trial at the Hague. But I do think it could be a better animated cartoon. It's somewhat worrying that the menus have more style to them than the actual game. Regardless, what is undoubtedly a problem right now is that Reincarnation runs like a Reliant Robin with one if its wheels missing. Granted, I was playing it on the highest settings, but Reincarnation has nothing like the graphical razzmatazz to justify its atrocious framerate. I should note that when I dabbled with the Alpha six months ago it was even worse, so Stainless have made improvements in this regard. This leaves me hopeful that what rolls out of the factory on release will be a finely tuned machine.
A couple of other points that I want to mention. I miss the AI status updates of your rivals that were present in Carmageddon 2, where the game would tell you whether the driver you just railroaded was "Spitting Nails" or "Sulking". It just added a little perceptible personality to the game's AI behaviours. The other very important issue which needs to be addressed right now is the inexcusable lack of Iron Maiden on the soundtrack. Come on Stainless, get your act together! If I can't run over people to the tune of "Aces High" you might as well not bother.
On a (marginally) more serious note, I suspect that, in a cruelly ironic twist, Carmageddon Reincarnation will prove too conservative to set any tyres alight. It sticks with almost religious fervour to Carmageddon 2's chassis, opting instead to put a little wax here, a bumper sticker there. I'm tempted to make a Top Gear reference, to say that it's a bunch of old men piddling about with cars when they should probably have packed it in ages ago. But that would be unfair, because Reincarnation isn't complete s**t either. Provided Stainless can sort out the problems beneath the bonnet, Carmageddon Reincarnation should satisfy your inner sociopath just fine.