*Note- Next Car Game is still in the alpha phase of development and because of its current state, not all features are available. That also means some negatives mentioned throughout the article may be fixed when the game gets closer to beta and eventual release.*
Bugbear Entertainment knows car crashes. They also know a ton about cars and racing, but they have earned the title of ‘the car crash’ team after successful games like Flatout and Ridge Racer Unbounded showcased truly impressive destruction physics. Bugbear looks to one up themselves with Next Car Game and to show off what their internally created ‘ROMU’ engine can really do.
Right now the early access is pretty bare bones. There is currently a selection of 2 cars, 2 tracks, and 1 demolition derby arena. The tracks do have the option of 12 and 2 racers if the 24 car race feels too overwhelming and also a practice mode to work out some kinks with your driving.
After playing through all of the available options with each car, my first reaction was how impressed I was with how polished the game already looked. The cars, an American Muscle car and European rally car, sported some very nice detail on the car models themselves and also the beat up rusty paint jobs fit the game nicely. The revving of the engines, tires screeching on the road, and the loud crush of two hitting each other at top speed are already accounted for and sound great in both game modes. The tracks and demolition derby felt empty, but the details that were present I liked. The track/level design doesn’t stray too far from the standard race game formula of roads surrounded by grass and trees, but it does it very well. The crowd was also a nice touch and shows off a bit what the engine can do for the background objects to make a more immersive experience. Even though it’s not the most exciting feature to talk about, the menu/home screen continues the polished trend. The home screen is simple and easy to navigate. At the moment, 90% of the features are greyed out, but all of the options were easy to access and all the information I needed looks to be one click or hover away. I hope the home screen being used isn’t a placeholder for something else down the road because it is very user friendly already.
More importantly, how are the crashes?! Well, you can breath a sigh of relief because crashes are everywhere and better than ever. The potential destruction you can witness on any race is insane. No crash or race is the same as the one before and the next one after will be just as different. The environment even comes into play with highly destructible objects. Concrete explodes and fences will wrinkle if you hit a turn too hard. By lap 3 of a race, you are trying to pass cars for first and also dodging broken down cars, debris, or whatever else might have made its way onto the course. The uncertainty of what you’ll see when you turn a corner is more fun for me as a casual racer instead of the precision based “you have to hit this spot or you’ll lose every time” driving on most racing games right now. The damage to the cars did not fare as well. After each race, my car essentially looked exactly like it had at the finish of the race before. No matter how hard I hit into a barrier or sideswiped by another driver, all of the damages showed on my car in a similar way. With how unique each crash felt, I expected the cars to also follow suit.
While the polish and feel of the game so far feel on point, the gameplay still has to make progress to catch up. Both cars were extremely slippery and unpredictable. Going around each turn felt like an adventure and I couldn’t quite get into a groove with either car’s handling. I assume damage done to the car and tires changes how the cars handle, but when I was making sharper turns in critical condition on lap 3 compared to almost spinning out of turns in lap 1 with barely any damage, I couldn’t figure it out. Each car also gave me pretty much the same experience. Neither car stood out to take advantage of their unique characteristics and after playing both types of tracks with both cars I couldn’t see differences in their styles. Also, A.I. drivers at the moment are ridiculously good. If you spin out in the very beginning, which is sometimes very likely with the 24 man races, then lap 2 and 3 feel like a ghost town due to the unforgiving A.I. The good thing with those issues is that gameplay can be tweaked and there will be plenty of tweaks in the coming months to fix those problems.
Demolition derby was a blast as expected and I found myself leaning towards it more and more as I was playing. Most of my ‘WOW’ moments came from the derby and I can’t wait for when I can compete online against 23 other live players in that mode.
Right now there just isn’t enough content available yet to give a solid final opinion on Next Car Game, but the title is definitely heading in the right direction. Multiplayer and the balance of casual/hardcore racers will be integral to the games longevity and success and I’ll be keeping an eye on it in the next few months to give an update once Bugbear rolls out the other features. Just like a house, you need a solid foundation to build a great game and Next Car Game has the solid foundation in place.