iPhone/iPad App Review: Carmageddon

Remember Death Race 2000? For those who aren’t aware of this classic cinematic slice of Roger Corman exploitation from the 70s, it was a film that starred David Carradine (and a young Sylvester Stallone) that centered on a road race where extra points were awarded to competitors who ran over pedestrians. Tasteful it wasn’t, but it was a surprising amount of fun.

Such a plot made Death Race 2000 ideal for adaptation as a computer game, but all sorts of legal wrangling in the 70s made releasing an official game impossible, despite UK studio Stainless Games and SCi having partially completed it. Instead in 1997, we got Carmageddon, which was Death Race 2000 in all-but name.

It caused quite a stir, thanks in no small part to Stainless – in a homage to Carmageddon’s exploitation movie roots – attempting to get it an 18-rating with the BBFC, while talking up its banned status in various other countries. A notorious 90s gaming classic had been born.

Fast forward to 2012, and Carmageddon has been released for the iPhone and iPad, with an Android version expected to follow soon. Will it once again attract the attention of the censors, or parents keen to protect their children from the horrors of violent video games?

The plot and gameplay of Carmageddon is almost identical to its aged predecessor. You’re the driver of an armoured muscle car about to be let loose on the streets, where you’re pitted against five opponents and the winner is the first to either complete two laps of the massive circuit, destroy each opponent’s car, or kill every living thing you can find.

Unlike other racing games, Carmageddon takes place in an open world, and deviation from the set route is not only encouraged, it’s essential if you want to win. You’re given a time limit in which to complete the stages, which can be increased by knocking down pedestrians in the most violent way possible.

Driving at full speed into a hapless passer-by usually give you an 8-second bonus, but by performing a handbrake turn and splatting them against the wall, you could double this. Do several in a row and the bonuses get even bigger. The evil joy that’s felt when you discover the football stadium on the first level, just as the players are lining up, is something that every gamer should experience.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Death Race 2000, or played Carmageddon before, may now be picturing some pretty hideous scenes in their head. But don’t worry too much, as we’re talking about a game that was only barely shocking 15 years ago, before Grand Theft Auto or any bloody first-person shooter you’d care to name. The blocky graphics make it look more amusing than offensive, and Apple has decided to give it a 12-rating, a far more fitting decision than the quite astonishing bans handed out all those years ago.

To play the game, you can select either tilt or touch controls. Like Crazy Taxi, touch is the best way to go, and you’re given a left/right rocker for direction, an accelerator and brake, plus a handbrake button too.

The handling is interesting, and suits the game well. It’s not sim-quality (obviously) and it’s not pure arcade comedy handling either, it’s somewhere in-between. The clever part is, it feels like you’re driving an over-powered car on rubbish tires, that’s weighed down by armour and weaponry. It takes a minute to get used to, but from then on it’s great fun.

In fact, fun is exactly how Carmageddon should be described. It’s stupid, gratuitous plot, brilliant graphical touches – see your driver’s reactions in the top left of the screen – and very challenging gameplay will keep you playing for hours. Plus, with 36 levels on offer and 30 cars to unlock it’ll take even the best player a fair amount of time to complete. Not bad for £1.49.

The app is universal for the iPhone and iPad, and is compatible with the iPhone 5’s wider screen, plus the annoying early save game bug has been fixed in a very prompt update. Yes, there are some in-app purchases, but they’re never promoted very hard, so it’s easy to forget they exist if you don’t want to pay. A movie-editing feature to show-off your biggest kills, Game Center integration with a grand collection of achievements, and iCloud support are all welcome additions too.

It’s difficult to fault Carmageddon. It’s precisely what it should be – gloriously ridiculous, unapologetically violent and incredibly entertaining.

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