Any time when a software company is more than happy to provide you with preview versions of a game that looks like it still needs a fair bit of work, but then becomes mysteriously uncontactable when you're trying to get hold of finished review code, you instinctively become a bit suspicious. When you go into a shop and unexpectedly discover said game is already on sale before you've got hold of a review copy, alarm bells go off. Warning! Crap game alert! How many suckers will have parted with their money before the reviews come out?
If you've seen (or heard of) the movie Death Race 2000, you'll know what Carmageddon is all about. Or rather, what it's meant to be all about, ie driving around and killing pedestrians and other drivers for points. Nintendo, naturally, wasn't keen to have anything too controversial on its console, so the pedestrians that should be there have been replaced by zombies. Poorly-drawn zombies, at that. There's a thin zombie, a ludicrously fat zombie, and, er, that's it. They do at least have red blood, but it hardly splatters. It looks more like somebody's having a display of poppies for the British Legion.
Unlike other versions of the game, the zombies in Carmageddon 64 don't burst apart or lose limbs on impact. Instead, they slowly break up into their component polygons (from the look of it, each zombie is made up from about six polys, so detail-wise they're on a par with Mario's nose) which drift away like triangular butterflies. You won't be going "Wow, did you see that?" when you run over a zombie. Well, you might, but you'll be following it with the line "That was so crap!"
Yes, the sad truth is that Carmageddon 64 is one of the lamest games since Clayfighter. What's the worst thing about it? Could it be the unimaginative, fuzzy and jerky graphics? The slit-your-wrists-annoying techno music? No, because these, while admittedly poor, are just cosmetic. What plunges Carmageddon to new depths of awfulness is the simple fact that it is impossible to play!
Applying the word 'control' to your vehicle's handling is so far from the truth that it almost seems worthshopping the writer of the manual to the Trades Descriptions Act people. Maybe Carmageddon is set on Mars or Pluto, because the cars don't behave like anything that's ever rolled across the Earth. Hit a bump and you spin lazily through the air in a way that makes San Francisco Rush feel no more exaggerated than a drive around the Asda car park in your auntie's Metro. Bumping into barriers at 2mph can hurl you into a slow-motion multiple backflip, and even when you think you're stationary you'll often find your car wafting sideways for no reason whatsoever. Every surface in the game must have been secretly coated with a layer of bottle ice, motor oil and eel slime. One time, even just tapping the bumper of a stationary opponent blasted our car halfway across the map like a cannonball!
The appalling physics make the game unplayable. All the vehicles in the game behave more like hovercraft than cars - even the simplest turn produces a massive sideways drift, and you can forget about attempting any kind of precise driving to wipe out zombies or nip between closely-spaced obstacles. It takes ages to build up any speed, but the slightest tap on the brake not only brings you to a stop in three feet flat, but actually sends you into reserve, taking you even longer to get going again. Five minutes of play will wind you up with frustration and five more will see you striking out at nearby family members.
Just to rub in how bad the game is, it can only scrape up a two-player mode. Compare that to Vigilante 8, which can support four players in hi-res! On the plus side, it means that you'll only lose one friend at once if you force someone to play it with you.
Carmageddon is the worst game to date on the N64, and considering the disturbing number of pieces of cartridge-based crap that have splattered onto our desks over the years, that's quite something. It's slurping around at the very bottom of the barrel with Clayfighter and Superman - the depressing thing is that such a turd of a game could possibly have been produced three years into the machine's life. This really is one of the most pathetic, badly-bungled and unplayable ports of all time.
Unfortunately, because the game was onto the shelves the game unplayable... without any review copies having been sent out, it's highly likely that a lot of people will have bought Carmageddon based solely on its name and the reputation of the PC original. By now, these people will already have realised to their horror that N64 Carmageddon is only related to the PC game in an inbred mutant kind of way. On the plus side, a lot of game shops these days are willing to trade in unwanted games. Should you be masochistic enough to want to give it a try, there will be no shortage of second-hand copies of Carmageddon 64 knocking around.
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Well, well, well. After months of delays and then a decidedly dodgy preview copy, Carmageddon 64 arrives in the N64 office - a whole day before its release - and, wouldn't you know, it's absolutely, astonishingly awful.
The very concept of Carmageddon is a boat-sized duffer anyway - mow down innocent pedestrians for points - but, if there was ever a plus point to the PC original and its sequel (which is where this shambles is supposed to have been converted from), it was its bone-crunching needlessness, where pedestrians met with a thumping end on the front of your bumper, body parts scattered, and blood sploshed about; not a thinking man's driving game, but entertaining enough.
'Entertaining', however, is not a word you could apply to Carmageddon 64. 'Inept', 'repulsive' and 'crap', definitely, but never 'entertaining'. In fact, the nearest C64 comes to entertainment is when you switch off your N64, douse the cart in petrol and set it alight.
Forgoing pedestrians for hilariously animated zombies who appear to have wooden legs, and who inexplicably dissolve when you drive into them, C64 is an unbelievable concoction: the handling is shocking, with huge turning circles preventing you from ever taking sharp bends, and a 'sharp turn' on Z which doesn't so much turn you as send you spinning in full circles. When you hit a wall or the tiniest piece of scenery, you're sent flying into the air San Francisco Rush and this is where C64 unthinkably gets worse: when you land, because there's no track map and the courses are so large, you have absolutely no idea where you are or which way you need to go to get back into the race. Subsequently, you spend at least a third of your time completely lost.
Graphically C64 is woeful, looking like the sort of game rubbish third-parties were wheeling out three years ago, while the Al is stupefying. Watch in horror as you drive up a hill and CPU cars just roll backwards past you; or your opponents hit a wall and then accelerate into it for the rest of the game-, or the handling sends you skidding into a barrier where a CPU car then crashes into your side and stays there, preventing you from moving until the time clock finally runs out.
We thought this might be moderately good fun. We were very, very wrong.