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Why Am I Even Playing This? - On Carmageddon in 2013

This post tries to tackle the problem of '97 game design in '13, in context of recent Carmageddon's release on mobile devices, and tries to answer the question - how come people still play that?

HD revisions, ports for mobile platforms and remakes of old-school classics became much more often in recent years. On one hand, it is a great way to introduce new generation of players to classic titles and to remind older ones of their roots. On the other hand, it always makes me think that the industry starts to eat its own tail. However, I always play remakes fondly, often just to check how the game was improved, or if my memories of it are correct.

Recently a port of Carmageddon was released for Android and iOS devices, and I rushed to check it out. I remembered Carmageddon probably for the same reason as the most people do - because of its rampant violence, weird humour and fine graphics, compared to the other available titles. I downloaded it from the Google Play and begun, prepared for gore and speed induced adrenaline rush.

And then there was nothing.

I played for about an hour, giggling a few times when reading drivers' descriptions and remembering the layout of a few levels. But after that, I could not get interested in it at all. The game offers a few choices of completing a stage - going through all the laps, wasting all of the opponents or killing all of the pedestrians. These are mutually exclusive, as the race ends after completing one of the objectives. The player has to complete them in the provided time, which can be expanded both by destroying all the other cars or by slaughtering the people walking around.

The problem is that the game itself provides no meaningful challenge at all. Going through the race course is sometimes hard, but only because the levels are designed in a confusing and unintuitive way. Wasting others is also dull - AI is almost non-existent, and the challenge emerges only when you have to find the last car, lost somewhere on the labyrinth-like track. I did not even try to kill all of the pedestrians, as their numbers are in hundreds, and I do not feel like going around for a half an hour, trying to drive through a 500 moving sprites, with a car that is barely controllable due to lackluster physics.

Is it something wrong with me, or with the game?

I thought - "Maybe this is just a bad port? Maybe something went wrong in the process?". I installed original version of Carmageddon on a PC for comparison, but it seems that it has all the same flaws.

And now I am here, wondering if I just got old, and I am not amused by the games of the old era? This is probably not true, as I still enjoy many games from the PSOne time, old shooters and other retro classics, regardless of their archaic design. If this is not the case, what went wrong with Carmageddon?

In my opinion, the main fault is the level design.  From what  I understand, levels were made to provide a lot of freedom, but they are just too big for the amount of content that is located in them. Lots of pedestrians do not make up for that, as the sole concept of grinding a few hundred kills to end the level is repulsive (not because of the comic-book gore, but of the repetitive nature of the task itself). Bonuses scattered around the map are either useless or annoying. Opponents often get lost, as they are hard to spot when they are stuck between obstacles and blended in with the greyish backround.

So what do the others think?

I resorted to different reviews, both old and modern, to read what good sides people do see in Carmageddon. And the reviews are usually laudacious, even nowadays people praise the driving model and freedom that the game offers. I can see nothing of that. I believe that nostalgia is among the most powerful forces in the gaming industry, and I do not mean that in a bad way. But is it good if we are still pumped up by old controversial PR? Carmageddon may have been a decent title in its own times, but is it meaningful in any way today?

I ask if I am already reformatted by modern gaming, or Carmageddon popularity as a whole is a hoax build up on controversy and cheap violence, spiced up with some humour? I'll leave the answer to you.

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