In June 1997 driving games changed forever when a small team of British developers known as Stainless Software unleashed their revolutionary tabloid-baiting driving game, Carmageddon. Months before the arrival of the 2D crime ‘em up Grand Theft Auto, Carmageddon broke new ground with advances in gameplay, freedom and over-the-top violence.
The shockwave left by the game that ran on DOS and Macintosh systems was felt around the world as countries rushed to ban it. In the UK, the BBFC initially refused to classify it, while Germany and Brazil banned the game outright. It wasn’t just about shock value and blood ‘n’ guts though, Carmageddon was a revolution in fun driving games and went on to sell over two million copies.
Last week it was released on iOS, for the paltry sum of $1.99, so join me in using it as an excuse to reminisce about one of the best video games ever.
Hang On To Yer Helmet
Stainless Software based their iPhone racing game on the 1975 dystopian cult classic, Death Race 2000 (not to be confused with the recent remake). The cast included a top-billed David Carradine alongside Sylvester Stallone in a future world that has disintegrated into a fascist police state that hosts the Annual Transcontinental Death Race. Suffice to say it’s grainy budget 70’s petrolhead dystopia at its cheesiest, as you can see from the trailer below.
And thus the premise for a video game was adapted, executed and placed elegantly on the shelves next to the likes of the original Age of Empires, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Dungeon Keeper and the rest of 1997’s spoils. Initial bids to capitalize on the negative attention the game was getting from the press somewhat backfired when the British censors refused classification, later coming to their senses and giving the uncut version a tasty 18 certificate.
While Carmageddon played up to its over-the-top violence like any small development house looking for publicity would, the pedestrian-popping aspect of the game makes up only a small portion of it. Before Carmageddon were a slew of racing games in which strict rules and damage-less crashes were the order of the day. The game broke new ground and was radically different to any racing game that had come before it, ramping up the fun factor and giving players the freedom to play it their own way.
There are three ways to complete each race – either by following the circuit and completing the required number of laps, by destroying your opponents with destruction derby-like vehicular battles or by eradicating every last pedestrian. Each course is really an open world map, littered with power-ups, mines, underwater areas and the occasional armored police van. Compared to the staple driving games of the time – Need for Speed, Ridge Racer and Sega Rally to name but a few – Carmageddon was a big bloody leap forward for the action-racer genre.
It only took Stainless Software until November the following year to release the long-awaited follow up, Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now. The switch to a fully 3D world devoid of 2D sprites and chock full of red-blooded dismemberment sent the censors in a spin and the game was crippled on a mass-scale with zombies and aliens replacing normal pedestrians in many versions. Luckily, patches propagated via a fast moving modern trend called the Internet restored the original gameplay for many. New to Carmageddon II were missions which would appear after a set number of normal races, fleshing out the experience somewhat. Packing a metal soundtrack with music from none other than Iron Maiden, Carpocalypse Now was a perfect sequel – and the last good Carmageddon game made (so far).
In September 2000 another game in the series titled Carmageddon: The Death Race 2000 was released, but we won’t talk about that because it was rubbish and even Stainless agree.
The iPhone Review Bit
The handheld version is a universal app that works on both iPhones and iPads rocking iOS 5.1 and above. I’ve played it relentlessly in my spare time over the last day or so (as I write this it’s been available less than 24 hours) and I’m pleased to announce it’s probably the best port of any old game on the iPhone yet, even besting the Grand Theft Auto 3 iOS and Android ports released by Rockstar in 2011.
For action games, I usually can’t stand touch controls but I’m delighted to announce that the controls for Carmageddon on iOS are pretty much as good as touch controls get. If you prefer analogue controls then you can use them, but the handling is pretty much identical to the DOS classic so I wouldn’t recommend it. Utilising gestures like a left-to-right swipe to bring up the map and two-finger tap for vehicle recovery feels natural and takes seconds to get used to.
There’s no lack of content either, with 36 levels to plough your way through as you ascend the ranks to unlock more arenas, 30 playable cars and 27 achievements. The iOS version even includes the original game’s instant replay mode, which lets you edit and save footage locally as well as sharing it on YouTube, as I’ve done below. It’s the full-fat, uncensored, touch-friendly racing game you remember playing all those years ago, except now it costs $1.99 and you can play it on the bus.
If I had to make a criticism I’d say it’s a shame that the old in-car view has gone, replaced instead with bumper cam which doesn’t include the car’s interior – but that’s pretty much all I can fault it for. If you’re lazy or just plain terrible you can opt to pay an extra $0.99 to unlock everything, or alternatively spend hours of battery life reliving your past or discovering a racing game you might have missed. Performance on my ageing iPhone 4 is good, with only Game Centre and achievement notifications causing any real slowdown – iPhone 5 and 4S users will be laughing. Oh, and if you’re reading this with an Android device then don’t fret, it’s coming to Android “soon” apparently.
The Future’s Stainless
Stainless Software’s still-unfolding journey has involved reclaiming the rights to the Carmageddon franchise and then raising over half a million dollars on Kickstarter has put them back where they deserve to be – in a shed, somewhere on Britain’s south coast developing a brand new game in the series.
Carmageddon: Reincarnation is expected to land in February 2013 on Steam, and according to the developers it’s going to be a proper Carmageddon game with no compromises. Planned initially for Windows PCs with Mac and Linux versions following, you can still get involved and purchase an early copy by donating via PayPal over at the official website. Chuck $20 into the pot and you’ll get both Steam and non-Steam versions, an exclusive wallpaper and your name in the credits.
In other news the Carmageddon Max Pack was recently released on Good Old Games (GOG) and comprises of the original game and Splat Pack expansion for modern Windows PCs. Those of you who still own your original copies of the game can use DOSBox to get it running on Windows, Mac and Linux without shelling out again. If you don’t own Carmageddon, can’t find your copy or never played the expansion then the GOG edition is $9.99 well-spent in a fuss-free package.
For $1.99 the mobile version of Carmageddon is worth it just to be able to play on-the-go, and it isn’t a half-baked port that lacks features either. It’s the real deal, with instant replays, baked-in YouTube sharing and refined customisable controls. If it’s been a while since you last stepped into Max Damage’s shoes, this should keep you entertained before the brand new Carmageddon game drops early next year. Buy it!
Do you have fond memories of outraged tabloids, concerned mothers and one of the most important iPhone racing games ever? Good, because I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.