More Top Gore than Top Gear
Antique Code Show
Has there ever been a driving game quite as gleefully bloodthirsty, so nihilistically violent and as downright daft as Stainless Games' Carmageddon?
The blood red hued baldy leering out from the front of the box set the tone: this isn't a game about simulating the driving experience, or even winning races, so much as revelling in sheer bloody carnage. Definitely more Top Gore than Top Gear.
"Members of the public, you now have one minute to reach Minimum Safe Distance," came the game's opening commentary.
Few did, and early Carmageddon games could quickly degenerate into berserker slaying sessions. Sod the race, I'm going to cream pedestrians.
Podgy middle-aged men, biker types, executive suits, bikini-clad blondes, even little old grannies shuffling along on Zimmer frames - all were fair game for your splat-stained fenders. Cows too, in the out-of-town levels, one of which was notoriously named 'Beef Curtains', allegedly after the number of cattle straying onto the path of oncoming vehicles.
Doom... with cars
Points were awarded for "cunning stunts". Puerile? You betcha.
But it was the atavistic enjoyment of the violence that bothered our nation's guardians of right and wrong. Moral outrage forced Stainless to release the game with those flying red pixels painted a lurid green. Faced with a sales ban, the developer re-cast the fleeing folk as roaming zombies.
Gory, gory, hallelujah
Courting controversy for publicity purposes - though I've heard folk from the game's publisher, SCi, deny that that was the case - Stainless and SCi submitted Carmageddon to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in the hope of gaining a for-sale-to-adults-only 18 rating.
The move backfired: the BBFC refused to certify the game at all, citing the horrific red mess made of the realistic looking NPCs. Yes, even in the mid-1990s, Carmageddon's visuals were considered too close to the bone.
So out went the human blood, to be replaced by zombie fluid and black robot oil. A year later, the BBFC relented, and the ketchup was back. Gamers overseas generally faced no such institutional scruples. Even the usually censorious Australian authorities passed Carmageddon in all its red-hued glory with a MA15+ rating.
Maybe the Aussies, unlike the Brits, had sense of humour enough to understood what the game was really about. Carmageddon was grand guignol. It was never intended to be taken seriously. It offered an over-the-top horror catharsis just too plain silly to cause offence.
That's gotta hurt
And amid the sauce-splattered carnage, there was some impressive tech on display. Carmageddon sported clever physics modelling to manage the effect of jars, jumps, stunts and skids. It was one of the first driving games to implement sandboxed 3D game zones, allowing you to go anywhere you want within Bleak City, Devil's Canyon, Dusty Trails National Park and the Frosty Pass Ski Resort rather than clamp your car to the racetrack. This was Doom with cars.
That gave you an amazing freedom of manoeuvre, allowing you to pick your route to the checkpoints, and to avoid collisions or bring 'em on as the mood takes you. Mis-time a leap? Just go back and try again, then take a shortcut and win the race. Not too easy, that - the AI was smart enough to maintain a tough challenge.
Start your engines
And the racing wasn't bad, either, with bouts taking you around city streets and making you leap from roof to roof amid the skyscrapers. Misjudge the jump and you're either plummeting to ground level, or gaining bonus points for the unexpected stuntwork.
Glance at your avatar's face - aka Max Damage or Die Anna - in the ever-present rearview mirror at the top-left of the screen for the literally eyes-out-of-your-head effect of high-speed head-on collisions.
You could view the action through your car's window, or flip to a third-person viewpoint - changes of perspective players of today's driving games take for granted.
But it was the Mad Max prangs and the pedestrian roadkill that made Carmageddon the game it was: "berserk, absurd, epic and comical at the same time", as one reviewer nailed it back then. ®
Antique Code Show is published every two weeks on Wednesdays
Developer Stainless Games
Publisher Sales Curve International (SCi)
Year of release 1997
Platforms PC, Mac
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