Demo Driver 8: Gas Guzzlers Extreme
The last time I talked about racing games, I made it very clear that there’s a specific sort of racing game that I enjoy. While nothing has ever come close to matching the sheer brilliance of Split/Second and likely never will, I think that’s a better point to aim for than a game than strict simulation. Reality already exists, but in a game you can actually have a race in which cars shoot one another and explode with a meaty feel and never worry about the real consequences something like that would entail.
Gas Guzzlers Extreme seems to agree with me. It is definitely into the camp of unreal racing, with cars happily mounting weapons as they drive around and open fire at one another. And it does that pretty well. But I find myself playing it and feeling as if perhaps it took that a bit too far, turning the game into less a matter of cars racing and shooting and more into a match of tanks without turrets.
See, part of the fun of Split/Second was in the sheer spectacle. There are no guns on the cars in that game, just straightforward high-speed driving. Your “attacks” are really a matter of making good use of track features and blowing the big power plays at the right time. What makes it work is that the tracks are themselves so over-the-top that you can’t help but fall in love, with courses that send you jumping across buildings and racing down a runway while a plane is crashing on it.
By contrast, the tracks in Gas Guzzlers Extreme are just… conservative. They’re a bit windy, but the game is generous enough that sliding off the track doesn’t penalize you too heavily. Driving stupidly and with lots of bad swerves, I wound up making third in my first race, and that’s with very little understanding of how the controls worked. The fact that said first race takes place on a desert track which seems intended to evoke The Road Warrior doesn’t help matters.
The game does a good job of not letting you go weapons free within the first seconds of the race, waiting until everyone has established their place before unloading. It strikes at least a reasonable balance between the usual nutso weapon action and the actual technical racing part. Like many games of its ilk, the handbrake is your only real tool for slowing down.
Unusually for more cart-styled games, blowing up an enemy car means actually blowing them up, not just briefly inconveniencing them before a respawn. This is balanced by plenty of repair powerups scattered along the tracks, along with ammo, tools like land mines or oil slicks, cash pickups, etc. It’s pleasingly balanced, and it honestly reminds me a lot of a similarly structured game, Blizzard’s ancient Rock’n’Roll Racing.
The demo, unfortunately, also shows off the deathmatch mode, which is where I started to sort of having misgivings. At this point, the game becomes a demolition derby with fiddly weapons and inaccurate steering, or as I said before, a match of tanks without turrets. (And better acceleration.) Which is fine on its own, but it feels far less ambitious than it should be, like putting all of the worst aspects of the game on full display rather than blending them together nicely.
Still, that’s just one game mode. Finishing races earns you money, money earns you upgrades – new cars, new weapons, new options, and so forth. It’s a very standard formula, and the full game apparently even has straight races if you want to completely eschew the battle aspect of the game and just test your technical skills.
What the game does suffer from is a series of fairly uninspired tracks, at least in the demo. They’re not bad courses, they have a few twists and turns, but in any game like this the big goal is for the track to be memorable as you drive along it. One of them is in a bog-standard racing track that could easily have shown up in a Gran Turismo game without much modification, and the other one is the aforementioned desert area. That at least has a fair bit of character to it, but it has a few switchbacks that are extremely difficult to see in advance and it feels just a little bit awkward.
Then again, perhaps that’s critiquing the game a bit too sharply for something it’s not trying to be. Certainly the game is no Split/Second, but then so few games are. (I’m pretty sure it’s just the one.) This is a game which is trying less for that title’s audacious battlefields and racing tracks and more for a simple derivation of a familiar formula. No, it doesn’t include some of the bells and whistles that I might ask of a game, and there are places where it stumbles, but the real test is whether or not the package holds together.
Despite some missteps, it really seems to. Obviously I can’t be certain if the entire game will hold together nicely when all is said and done, but the demo manages to hold my interest as well as anyone could ask. There are enough fiddly modifications and unlocks that it should satisfy people who want to fine-tune their vehicles without much trouble, there are customization options to the looks, and it all is priced at a quite reasonable $25 for a racing game you’ll probably dip into over and over.
As a game meant to be started and played start to finish, it’s a bit thin. As a game to pick up and play in bursts, a game to play rather than beat, it seems like a fine offering. It’s exactly the sort of racing game I like to play, and while it might not approach the heights it could, it’s comfortably high on the list.