Finnish developer Bugbear failed their Kickstarter bid, but turned it into an Early Access success story, for a while at least, then it just kind of got stuck in Early Access and the years rolled on. Would the full game ever see the light of day? Thankfully Wreckfest got unstuck and we are able to drift through gravel beds and send our opponents flying. Bugbear wanted to create a game in the spirit of the original Flatout titles (developed by Bugbear), a series they left after the second game and which really never recovered after that. Having played the Early Access version a few years back, we weren't entirely convinced about the concept (at the time). Would it provide enough substance for an entire game? We were wrong to doubt. Wreckfest is wonderful even with the odd dent here and there, and perhaps an occasional oil leak, but most of all, it's wonderful.
It's all about racing. Dirty racing where you need to forget all about Ken Block's Hoonigan Ford, brake distances, or whether it's worth a slight knock to prevent yourself from going off track. Wreckfest tasks you with accelerating as fast as possible and then, through using the brakes and the cars driven by your opponents, slowing down and managing tight corners. The idea here is to encourage collisions and contact. It never feels as expensive or fancy as the big boys in the genre, but we're spared the pretences and fake attitude that's all too common in today's games (Gravel, we're looking at you).
The fun begins with the career mode. We started the first race and found ourselves laughing out loud as we realised that the first race would have us driving lawnmowers. Hysterical, yes, but it also had us a little worried. The Flatout series had gradually evolved from a physics-based racing into something that was simply trying to be funny. We wanted Wreckfest to go back to the core physics-based racing, and thankfully we didn't have to worry. The career mode itself is modelled after other modern racing games such as Dirt 4 and Forza Motorsport 7. Drive races, reach certain point tallies, and progress accordingly. Meanwhile, you earn money and experience that can be spent on new cars, classes, and upgrades.
The career mode is well structured and varied. One moment we're driving lawnmowers, while the next we're in a beast of a rear-wheel drive car where it feels like the backend is about to go flying as we use the handbrake through corners. Sure there are gimmicks here too, school buses and massive industrial machines are also part of Wreckfest, but at its core this game is about cars, gravel, and collisions (and the resulting twisted metal). The career mode offers a lot of different competitions and will last you a surprisingly long time. Pure races are mixed with destruction derbies and it's all taken to the next level thanks to how fun it is to drive and the spectacular damage modelling. There are around 40 cars and roughly 20 different tracks (variations of the same track are also available). That said, we would have liked to have seen a bit more variety, particularly as far as the tracks go - they look alike and it would have been nice to have seen some contrasting environments.
Naturally, Wreckfest isn't a simulation. It's labelled by the developers as a fun game with lots of physics calculations, which is an apt description. Thanks to the proprietary Romu engine Bugbear has been able to achieve physics-based damage models that are completely unrivalled. You can opt to use a realistic damage model (recommended), and then you just relax, lean back and watch the bits of metal, tires, and debris fly through the air as you tackle your way across a dirty gravel track. The cars (and the lawnmowers) come with some serious weight and it always feels as though the wheels are working hard to find some grip on the slippery tracks you race on for the majority of the game. It's nowhere near the type of experience offered by something like Project CARS 2, but the simulation here is still a wonderful spectacle to behold. There's also the option of tuning your cars, but this is an area that's sorely underdeveloped. It's just some extremely basic tweaks, and it doesn't allow you to alter the way the car handles to your liking. Hopefully, this is an area that Bugbear can continue to work on post-launch.
We would have liked to have seen the damage affecting the handling a bit more than it does. It's not unusual that we find that our cooler is leaking (indicated via blinking, red text on screen), while we're also suffering from a bent front axle, but the car handles pretty much as before. That said, it happens every now and then that we're forced to abandon a race as our vehicle simply isn't running any more.
In addition to the career mode, there's also the option to customise your own competition. It should be noted that it's best to play a few hours, earning money and building a decent garage, before jumping into this. There's also an online mode and, during our sessions at least, it worked really well. Sure, there's not a tremendous player base out there, but we didn't have any problems filling up the lobby and when the race started the network code appeared solid. Online you can race on any track with any vehicle. It may be an obvious statement, but a destruction derby against human opposition is tremendously entertaining.
Wreckfest is a joy to behold. The car models are of high quality and every dent, scratch, and lost part is rendered masterfully. The amount of cars on screen as the sun is setting on the track and the pieces of plastic, broken fences, gravel, and tires fly around, means there's never a dull moment. During some races, it's hard to fathom all of the physics calculations that carried out and how our rig is able to handle it.
Despite the spectacular damage modelling, there are some small graphical details that come across as strange. One such example is the fact that the drivers never move their arms as you turn a corner, although they're typically small details that don't really affect your overall enjoyment. The various tracks are full of details and the texture work is great throughout. The PC version (console arrives later this year) is very polished, and we've played it across a range of settings using both an Nvidia 1080Ti, and an older 980, with a great experience regardless.
Hearing the pained engine sound as cooler fluid starts leaking combined with the sound of metal whining, with debris crashing and being dragged across the tarmac, simply cements the pure weight that characterises the game. There are, however, parts of the soundscape that don't impress. The engine sounds, while raw and delightfully hoarse, soon sound monotonous in a way we don't usually find. They are placed peculiarly in the mix and somehow push other sounds away. This is something you can tinker with in the settings, but we never quite found the sweet spot. The music is also questionable, even if it doesn't get in the way of the experience.
We really enjoyed Wreckfest. It's a genuinely entertaining game where you can relax, push down the accelerator, and watch metal spray across the screen. The career mode is well-crafted, the online mode works well, and there are enough cars here (and lawnmowers) to find your favourite ride. A few more tracks wouldn't have hurt, but apart from that Wreckfest comes with a warm recommendation.