Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’ve something of a soft spot for silly, arcadey driving games and as Next Car Game is installed and my net connection is down thanks to scumbag copper thieves it will be this weeks review. The more serious and hardcore games/simulations tend to be a little dull and are designed to appeal to an audience that like to get all sweaty over cars and take the whole thing far too seriously. Me, I’m not particularly fond of cars in real life in much the same way I’m not particularly fond of murder in real life (the two are often related but passed off as “accidents”), but in digital form where consequences don’t matter such things can be quite fun. This is where the ever so creatively named Next Car Game enters the fray, with its destruction derby basis this is a game about racing and smashing up battered old cars in a variety of settings. The game is Early Access and is in active development with the developers taking into account community feedback after each update, which is nice to see as the game may well benefit from having such feedback. The studio is also responsible for the FlatOut series of games, so despite this being Early Access this isn’t exactly an inexperienced and untested indie.
The game currently consists of a functional racing engine with a few tracks, however the garage and progression elements are not in the game yet. This means that in its current state the game is very playable but not complete. The recent patch added a figure-of-eight derby track to the lineup and this is magnificent fun, reminding me very much of the old Destruction Derby games I played on the PS1. Other tracks include a gravel track, a tarmac track and a derby stadium with each playing slightly differently. The car selection at this stage includes a generic American muscle-car, a generic small European car, and a generic American sedan. These all have different handling and damage characteristics, for example the rear/center engine mounting on the European car makes it able to sustain significant damage in head on collisions without too much worry over critical engine damage as opposed to the muscle car which is best suited to reverse collisions. The damage modelling is impressive, with soft-body physics simulation providing detailed damage simulation, although the soft-body simulation isn’t quite as detailed as the BeamNG system they are two different games. Overall there’s a good balance in the physics that make damage an integral part of the game whilst also keeping it fun, there’s nothing quite like the Blues Brothers style pile-ups to be found in Next Car Game. The handling is very good, I play with a wired 360 pad and there’s a great deal of satisfaction in how the vehicles behave, especially in relation to opponent vehicles. The vehicle behaviour is still being actively tweaked by the developers according to community feedback and I’d say that in the last few patches it has only improved. It is the source of a great deal of satisfaction when a perfect bash on the car in front sends them veering wildly into a concrete barrier, which thanks to the damage and physics engine will then proceed to smash the car, the barrier and fill the air with a shower of chips of concrete, shards of glass and chunks of disembodied car.
Aesthetically the game is impressive, even at this stage. The physics simulation provides a visually rich and busy feel to collisions and the overall graphics engine is robust with attractive lighting and good textures. Really the attractiveness of the graphics is based around the physics simulation, with the warped and battered cars determined by the softbody physics and the busy and detailed tracks, strewn with debris powered by the physics engine. This is game where the appearance is pre-determined and guided by a series of factors and then allowed to play out and develop as the race does, which is really very cool. The sound design is effective, with the smashing, crashing, scraping and shattering working in perfect concert with the visual spray of metal, concrete, wood and glass.
Compatibility and performance wise this is an Early Access title so it’s difficult to judge accurately. I ramped everything up to max on my i7, 16GB, GTX660ti and would get the occasional frame rate drop in certain conditions which seemed to be linked to specific areas of the track rather than physics, texture or model issues.This is the kind of thing I fully expect will be ironed out by release but it’s worth keeping in mind for those considering purchasing in Early Access, you’ll want some reasonable hardware at least at this stage. Platform-wise, release seems to be focussed on “PC” with possible console ports which seems to translate to “Windows”. There doesn’t seem to be any indication of Mac or Linux ports and looking at other FAQ answers they use middleware for audio and networking which is always the killer when it comes to porting. So for the time being I would say it’ll be Windows only, don’t hold your breath for Mac or Linux ports.
In short Next Car Game is a pretty safe bet in terms of Early Access, being in a solid state of development even now and being from a well known and respected developer. The advantages offered by pre-purchasing are really in getting it cheap but there’s also a tech demo thrown in as an added bonus. If you’re not inclined towards Early Access then I would still recommend keeping an eye on where the game is going as it’s going to be a great deal of fun when it’s released, as it’s a great deal of fun even now. Pricing on the game website is tiered in the way it so often is nowadays and $25 (approx £14.98) will get you the base game including a Steam key for the Early Access build I looked at. This is compared to £19.99 (approx $33.29) direct from Steam for the same thing, so unless you have some aversion to using PayPal, go direct from the developers. (Sorry for the weird conversions, but that’s just the way of things).
Next Car Game Purchasing:
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