Last week, I was privileged enough to be invited along to The Playing Fields in London by SCi to view the latest build of their up'n'coming gibs-on-wheels game "Carmageddon : TDR 2000". Originally set to be called "The Death Race 2000", the name has had to be curtailed to just plain TDR 2000 because of a trademark dispute with a certain film studio over the use of the Death Race name.
But what's in a name, anyway? It's the gameplay man, the gameplay I tell ya!
Come Get Some!
The version we played was officially alpha code, but I was told that the single-player missions are complete, and all that's left to do is work on the multiplayer balance of the game, and fix those pesky bugs.
The evening started out, as it should, with some Deathmatch action. From the menu, you are given a choice of vehicles to drive, and what a choice - first off the list is the red spikey Eagle car from the original games, although it has undergone somewhat of a makeover, now sporting funky Batmobile-like curves that would not look out of place on Sophie Dahl.
Other options include your standard muscle-cars-with-spikes, police cars, a quarry dump truck, a tank, and even a futuristic concrete mixer-type beast akin to something from Judge Dredd. In total there are fifty vehicles to choose from, each with its own characteristics - top speed, acceleration, handling and armour levels - varying from the quick but vulnerable Dragster, to the slow but impenetrable Tank.
Thrown into one of the game's nine multiplayer arenas, your task is clear - pick up as many power-ups and bonuses as you can, and then go and smash up opponents. You have many different weapons at your disposal, from the standard machine gun, cannons and bombs to the delicately named "oil slicks from your arse" and "mine-shitting ability" powerups.
The balance of weapons and vehicles is still under review, which is a good thing since the Tank is currently much too resilient, and many of the weapons do so little damage that it's almost not worth the effort. Watch out for all your favourite traps as well, including the trippy Drugs mode and the frustratingly damaging Pinball mode, as well as Turbo, Afterburner and a few new ones.
Brand New CarmaVision
As you can see from the screenshots, the graphics have been suitably uprated for Y2K gaming. Featuring real time shadows and reflections, as well as more polys than you can wave a dismembered arm at, the game is lush with vibrant colours and detailed textures.
Using deformable mesh technology, cars disintegrate in a believable fashion with bits falling off left, right and centre, as well as featuring the now famous snap-in-half manoeuvre from Carmageddon 2, and much much more. The vehicles also benefit from dynamic texturing, so that wet paint leaves a permanent mark, flames blacken your wax job, and acid can even peel off layers of paint, revealing the naked metal underneath.
There is a new Volumetric Particle System for "realistic smoke, oil and much more" - in other words, 3D blood splatters and red mist aplenty. The incredible 3D engine is capable of resolutions from 320x200 all the way up to 2048 x 1768, assuming that your 3D card and monitor are suitably equipped, as well as supporting 16, 24 and 32-bit colour modes.
You Mean There's A Story??
There are 3 distinct modes of play in TDR 2000:
1) The aforementioned multiplayer, with six different game types including straight deathmatch, virus, and teamplay
2) Free Play, which has a total of thirty huge races across nine differently themed environments, and is basically the traditional check-point mode from the previous instalments of the Carmaggedon series.
3) Campaign mode, which is where TDR 2000 really excels. There are 25 unique missions on top of the 30 races from the Free Play mode to form about as coherent a story as is possible in the Carmageddon universe. You are given tasks such as collecting all the components of a bomb, locating a switch to release a shark, and setting loose a giant robotic King Kong on a rampage of mass destruction.
My personal favourite so far presents you with the challenge of blocking an open drain overflow channel (think Terminator 2) to prevent a group of gang drivers from reaching the other side. Using parked cars, fencing and the odd petrol tanker that is lying around, you construct a huge road block which the bad-guys promptly pile into. You then pummel them 'til they pop!
I played this single player mode for over two hours and just managed to complete the first (and arguably the easiest) of the nine different environments, Hollowood, "a theme park from your nightmares". The other environments consist of the usual futuristic cities and post-nuclear wastelands, as well as a few surprises.
One thing that did surprise me in the campaign mode was that there seemed to be less emphasis on mowing down huge crowds of pedestrians. Don't think that this third Carmageddon has gone soft though, because there are still huge laughs to be had with one-legged hobbling peds, not to mention the Pedestrian Flamethrower, but I'd like to think that Carmageddon has grown-up.
Although all the carnage of the last two games is still possible, it's not a requirement of the gameplay. The developers recognise that gameplay has moved on, and after two previous episodes of sidewalk dismemberment (and not too much else), discerning 21st century gamers need a little more substance. I am please to report that they have succeeded admirably.
AI is improved all round, and the Peds now exhibit much more "normal" behaviour than before, queueing outside cinemas and ATMs; and instead of scattering, they now "flock" together as they flee, adding to the potential carnage. There is also plenty of background traffic to watch out for, all of which has to obey the Highway Code by stopping at red lights and not driving on the pavement.
It's a little tricky to summarise "Carmageddon : TDR 2000" - it's just .. better. The graphics are suitably uprated while maintaining the familiar wacky Carmageddon appearance, and the Mercedes SL coupe on tank tracks is a riot! The gameplay is more purposeful - squish the Peds if you want, but only as a means to get more time to complete the missions. The sound is also that much better, with the addition of 3D audio - a key feature in multiplayer carnage.
With internet support built in from day one, and LAN support for at least 16 simultaneous players, coupled with a target minimum spec of just Pentium 200 MMX and 32Mb RAM, this could be the most playable Carmageddon yet. Look for it in shops on September 1st. If you can't wait that long, download the movie (24Mb) showing off loads of in-game footage to whet your appetite, or check EuroGamer's screenshot gallery for more eye candy.