Retro Corner: Destruction Derby
Game: Destruction Derby (1995)
Originally Released on: PlayStation, SEGA Saturn, DOS
Currently Available on: PlayStation Network
Gamers like to smash things up and destroy things, that has long been a common theme in video games, from the early arcade-based smash-em-up RAMPAGE, up to more modern titles like Godzilla Unleashed. We like to smash, crash and destroy our way through game worlds, especially now that damage can be reproduced so realistically.
Destruction in racing games has been a rich theme for a while now too, with game such as Burnout Crash! and the Need for Speed series, with the ultra-detailed damage engines and spectacular crash replays almost glorifying your pile-ups. In fact, Codemasters will be releasing their latest entry in the Colin McRae series this month, entitled Dirt: Showdown, the game focuses less on rally driving, and instead on destructive driving. The idea of actually scoring points by brutalising your competition and creating the biggest crashes possible was popularised by one game; Destruction Derby.
Destruction Derby was unlike conventional racing games in the sense that finishing a race in first place wasn’t the be-all and end-all of the competition, but pushed you to also accumulate as many points as possible as you went along. How do you score points I hear you ask? By crashing into, spinning around and wrecking the vehicles of your competitors. This would happen across three main modes, with the obligatory time trial added in on top. In Stock Car Racing, players drive old bangers around a track, trying to actually drive properly, to finish in a respectable position and not sustain too much damage. We then transition to Wreckin’ Racing, where you are scored for your podium finish, but also for the amount of damage you cause to your enemies. Finally, and probably the most famous mode in the game, is the titular Destruction Derby. Taking place in a circular arena called The Bowl, there is only one goal: crash as many times as possible, as spectacularly as possible.
The player can race through all of the game styles in Championship mode, where points gained in each race will be totted up and your position in the overall standings will be shown between each race. You will race against a cast of odd-ball characters, each with their own cartoon avatar, such as The Bouncer, The Beast and The Taxman (ooh, scary), as you attempt to claim the trophy at the end of the season. Their skills would differ from one another, with some better at the racing modes, and others more adept at causing damage. Their cars would also be spray-painted with a design to match their name, and this carried over to the player-controlled cars also. You could choose from three cars of differing handling and power. The Rookie choice, Psygnosis, offered easier handling, but lacked power. The Amateur, The Grim Reaper, was a good all-rounder and the Pro model, The Smoothie, required more delicate driving skills to handle effectively, had a much quicker turning speed and could really pack a punch in crashes.
The damage engine was perhaps the most important feature of the game, given the crashing objectives. A small diagram of a car appears in one corner of the screen, indicating the health of different points on the car. These points would turn from green to yellow, to orange, to red, and if they turned to black your car would be a write-off, and out of the race. On top of the point-specific damage, whereby gamers could target specific points on a vehicle again and again in order to most effectively destroy them, the game would hinder the driver of a damaged car in several ways. If one side is severely damaged for instance, the car will pull to that side constantly throughout racing, so the driver will have to compensate. Damage to the rear of the car can affect the ability to accelarate and move, so players will slow to a crawl and become an easy target. This kind of targeted damage, and the side effects, were quite advanced for its time, and really reproduced the feeling of being in a heavily damaged car, making you urge it onwards, even when it was struggling to move. Luckily the commentator would chime in to let you know when an area was really badly damaged; just in case you weren’t paying attention. There was a certain tactical aspect too, in not allowing cars to get a clean hit on the already damaged parts of your car.
Following on from the damage system, the way that you scored points in crashes was fairly easy to comprehend. Firstly, destroying another car entirely, to the point where it cannot continue, would earn you ten points. If you were the last car standing in Destruction Derby mode, after all other cars were destroyed, you also gained a bonus ten points. The majority of your points however would come from crashing and causing a car to spin. For instance, a small crash where the car turns 90 degrees would net you two points. A medium collision, with a 180 degree turn rewards four points, but a full rotation of 360 degrees would give you the maximum – ten points. This meant that you not only had to crash into other cars, but to make sure you collided with them in the optimum position as to send them spinning out of control. It would be irritating when other cars interrupted one of your spins, or stole the points by getting to your target first, but this only heightened the excitement of trying to crash as much as you could, as quickly as you could. There was no health regeneration or pit stops, so you had to be clever and manage how much damage your car could take whilst also inflicting pain on others.
Stock Car Racing was fairly forgettable, what with the game not exactly offering a perfect driving experience in terms of handling, and with the tracks that you got to race around on being fairly simplistic, the mode got old quite quickly, but in a game called Destruction Derby, the main attraction was obviously the destruction. Wreckin’ Racing was a unique twist on usual racing games, but more often than not, the race would finish because most of the cars were already destroyed, it was difficult to finish a race intact! The Destruction Derby was the most successful, and iconic, mode in the game. The Bowl was a fantastic setting, in that by arranging all of the twenty competing cars around the edge of the circle, facing in, there was a huge air of excitement as the event starts and all of the cars hurtle toward the centre. Sometimes you would come away with a huge haul of points, sometimes it really wouldn’t be pretty and your car might be as good as wrecked after only the one, massive collision. However, it was that sort of random element and the unknown of quite how all of the cars coming together would react, that made the game so compelling.
We all like to let off a little steam and relieve some of the stresses of the daily grind by playing video games, and there are few better games than those where we can let out our rage and smash things up. Destruction Derby supplied this in spades, but it is the innovative damage engine that really made it stand out, where cars would slowly get less efficient and more useless the more they were involved in collisions. There really hasn’t been another racing game since where simply destroying one another was the main objective, but perhaps with Dirt: Showdown we will see something akin to Destruction Derby? It is surprising that more games haven’t jumped on the idea, but it is better to have a few really good examples of a genre than to be overrun with awful clones. Destruction Derby was an innovator and The Bowl will always have a place in my heart.
Destruction Derby can now be found for download on the PlayStation Network and is playable on both PSP and PlayStation 3. Dirt:Showdown will be released on May 25th and seems to be the spiritual successor to the Destruction Derby crown. Our review of that game will hit GodisaGeek.com in the next few weeks. The God is a Geek Retro Corner is part of “Feature Friday” and will return on the first Friday of next month. You can see previous entries into the GodisaGeek Retro Corner by clicking here.