My Favorite Games Of All Time, The Story Of Carmageddon Final Part

Carmageddon Max Damage is a worthy sequel to the franchise, and also one of the best vehicle combat games ever made. That should go without saying. For some reason the critics did not come to the same conclusion when it debuted in 2015. I have an idea what their issues were with the game, and I will explain them below. As for myself I’ve been playing driving games, racing games, and vehicle combat games for all my life. From the arcade pioneers at Atari with Gran Trak 10, and Sprint 2 in the ‘70s. All of the Sega, Atari, Midway, and Namco racing games from the ‘80s through the ‘90s like Monaco GP, Spy Hunter, Pole Position, Hot Rod, Virtua Racing, Ridge Racer, Sega Rally, Hydro Thunder, Daytona USA, San Francisco Rush, Cruisin’ USA, and Race Drivin.’ Not to mention the dozens of console games on Nintendo, Sony, Sega, and Microsoft. RC Pro Am, Gran Turismo, Forza, DIRT, MotorStorm, Burnout, F-Zero, Blood Wake, Twisted Metal, Full Auto, etc. Plus tons of games on the Mac, and PC like Intersate ’76, AutoDuel, Need for Speed, TrackMania, Deathtrak, and Hi-Octane. I’d like to think I am qualified to talk about whether a vehicle game is good or not.

Let’s talk about the complaints that people have. The first was that the vehicles were hard to control, that the physics were floaty. I don't agree at all. I’ve played, and mastered games with very hard control, poor physics, and handling. Max Damage was nothing like that. The cars in Max Damage responded accurately to their design, power, and weight. One of my favorite cars is the Annihilator, a top fuel funny car that has so much horsepower that it flips over if you mash the throttle. It is possibly the hardest car to use in the game, that is if you try to handle it like the rest. To get a 10,000 horsepower car to go where you want to you have to have the a feather-light touch on the throttle. In first gear it accelerates slowly, but by the time you get into second gear you’re already going over 100 mph, you can hit 300 mph an instant after that, and blast through any opponent. Not every car requires that much concentration to keep in a straight line. Additionally the game itself was fun on the very first race. It didn’t kill the enjoyment of just smashing cars into each other right from the get-go, unlike say Burnout Paradise, which has you go through tutorials for minutes before you can even get into the game itself. Stainless treats their audience like adults. They trust players can figure out the gas pedal, and brake as soon as the game begins. With that said there is a tutorial built in, if you need it. 

The majority of the vehicles in Max Damage are easy to handle. That is because Stainless Games was able to recreate the arcade feel of the original. It was designed to be easy to pick up, and play. It was not supposed to be a hyper detailed simulation. After a few minutes with each new car I could get them to do exactly what I wanted. I could do spinouts, sharp turns, drifts, and even save the car from flipping over while balancing on two wheels. Basic driving, and advanced techniques applied differently, as they should with the vehicle selection. With that said every car handled every bit as well as they had in the other games in the series. I’m not sure why there was so much push back from reviewers. I have a feeling however that the harshest critics were used to the controls, and physics from their favorite racing, or sandbox game. They wanted the throttle, and brakes to be just like FlatOut, Rocket League, or GTA. They couldn’t get the understeer, or oversteer to match what they were used to, and therefore it was broken in their eyes. Those that remember the control in the first two numbered Carmageddon games could say that Max Damage was fairly on point.

There were people complaining about the soundtrack. How the music didn’t fit the experience. The first few games had metal, electronic, and industrial soundtracks. Why would this game not keep that tradition going? Plus Maximum Sexy Pigeon, and Morgue really had some great songs in the game. I can't say enough good things about the sound design in the game. The sounds of cars, and tanks rolling on metal grates, grass, asphalt, sand, and concrete all sound unique. Engine sounds are unique whether you are driving a supercharged V8, an electric, or even diesel motor. Stages have ambient sounds from nature, machinery, vehicles, and anything else that happens to be out on a stage. Add on top people screaming, yelling, and begging for their lives, and the game really comes alive. Then there were people complaining that the levels were bare. I think that those people mistook what the genre was about. The best vehicle combat games took place on a closed course. The world that Stainless created was anything but bare. I mentioned previously the level of detail applied to the environments, pedestrians, and the levels themselves. I’m not sure what would make critics think the stages were lacking. I went back through the original Carmageddon, the Splat Pack, and Carmageddon II just to confirm there was much more happening in the stages of Max Damage than in all the previous games combined.

To clarify my point of the level designs, think of the Carma environments like arenas in a first person shooter. It wouldn’t make sense to have a world that was 100 square miles. You’d spent 20 minutes just looking for an opponent. Also, there are no snipers in Carma. The fights had to be up close. Look at the most memorable multiplayer stages in Team Fortress 2, Fortnight, Halo, Gears of War, or Call of Duty. They were detailed but compact. There were plenty of ways to get in, and out of the action. A portion of a city was more than enough for a handful of cars to fight through. Plus when your focus is on your opponents you don’t really check to see if pedestrians are evenly distributed on the map. They tend to be concentrated in the open areas where the cars are likely to collide. Again, it made sense from a design, and game play perspective.

The visuals on the PS4 were good, they weren’t poor quality PS3 graphics like some people say. Could they have been better? Could they have used more polish? Probably, but what game with a relatively short development cycle couldn't also benefit from that? I will admit that the Xbox One graphics were much better, and the PC best of all. The level load times seemed a bit long, however once loaded I’ve had marathon matches lasting an hour or more with no slowdown, or buffering. That’s a small price to pay for uninterrupted game play. The single player campaigns were good, but Carmageddon has always worked best with multiplayer. Online matches were a good start, as were the multitude of match types. Waiting for random players to show up was a waste of time. Many people wanted to see LAN support, or at the very least two-player split screen. This is usually where detractors find fault. They ignored the great elements in the game, and began tearing it down by what it lacked. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The thing that critics rarely bring up. PC games adapted for home consoles rarely held up to the original platform. Carmageddon has never sold well on home consoles because of terrible ports by third parties. This was the first time it was presented as closely to the PC as possible. Reviewers complained that it looked, played, sounded, and offended like the original Carmageddon. Doesn't that mean that the studio did the remake correctly? 

Many reviewers made the off-hand comment that games like this had evolved since the '90s. I had a feeling what these critics wanted was a slow-burn, dramatic adventure. One where you play as Max Damage, a shell of a man, and no longer a racer. He washes dishes in the back of a cafe in Bleak City. Burdened with guilt he raises money for the families of those killed in the Carmageddon tournament. He regains his humanity by making amends to the people he's wronged. He doesn't actually get behind the wheel of the Eagle until the last 10 minutes of an 18 hour game when his adopted daughter / puppy / robot wife is killed. If that's the kind of mature storytelling the game needed then count me out. Let's be honest here. Being upset that Stainless captured the spirit of the classic was like being mad at Capcom because Street Fighter V brought back the feel of Street Fighter III. I cannot think of another example of where a studio recreated a title while updating everything in the game, and then got dragged for it. It certainly didn't apply to Zelda, Doom, Mario, or Halo did it? Stainless pretty much created a new genre, then came back a generation later to show that it still held up. They updated all of their original selling points. They managed to draw an audience, and build a community that still wanted more of this type of experience. Their reward for this was being told their game was old, and dumb.

Stainless Games was not founded as a console developer. They would never claim to be the best at it. They cut their teeth making games for the Mac. They also adapted some games from PC, to the Mac. That was a lifetime ago, when they developed for SCi rather than themselves. Max Damage was a chance for them to take control of the IP. They believed that they could self-publish for the PC, and took a gamble on doing the adaptation for the consoles as well. This would be a monumental task for a major studio. Large publishers usually brought in a partner to help make a console version. Stainless Games managed to do all of this with a tiny staff, on a rarely short development cycle. If I remember correctly the company had about two dozen full-time staffers. They wore many hats, took on lots of roles, and somehow shaped a part of the industry. Other PC developers were three, or four times that size, and console developers had teams 10 times larger. The fact that this small company got all of this done without the backing of a major publisher should get some credit. But again, it was never brought up in the heavy-handed reviews.

If you really want to criticize Stainless for what was missing in Max Damage it would be everything they wanted to incorporate, but simply ran out of time, and money. The Carmageddon series was good, but it had the framework of something phenomenal as well. It was apparent in the original game. Such as the flying car proposed for Ed 101. No other game had mixed flying technology, with vehicle combat. Those elements would appear in the Twisted Metal series many years later. Tanka would have been the first trailer truck to be featured in a 3D vehicle combat game. Only to have the trailer half cut at the last minute before going gold. Again, the complete idea would appear later on in Twisted Metal. Stainless made sure to put an elevated train track in Bleak City. It helped break up the skyline, and gave the illusion that the world extended beyond the borders of the stage. They put a lot of forethought into world building, even if it lacked the animation that they wanted. The studio had planned for all sorts of animated set pieces. Carmageddon II got a lot of their wishlist items done, working trains, and planes in full 3D. This was back when GTA was still a top-down game. Fans, and community members would mod Carma to help fulfill the remaining plans. Stainless was finally able to put a working monorail, and many other details into the series 17 years later in Reincarnation. They were also able to get trailers working for every car in the game. Part of the reason they circled back was because they were finally working for themselves, on their own schedule, rather than for another publisher.

The studio could have added many more things to Carmageddon Max Damage. Again if only they had more time, and money. The framework was already there. For example you get to purchase Armor, Power (engine), and Offense upgrades for your car. They have an associated picture, and name for each upgrade, but the cars themselves never changed. Visually a level one car looks identical to a level five. This was not always the plan. As you purchased new items to make your car faster, or stronger, it was supposed to change the ride. At the start of the game you were supposed to get either the basic Eagle R, or Hawk R, and watch it evolve along the way. More blades were added to the frame. Wings, and air splitters became wider. Bumpers became sturdier. Fenders changed the shape, and body kits smoothed out the aerodynamics. Each item helped change the performance in different categories. Making it look faster, or tougher, or more lethal. Even a fully balanced version was possible.

This type of visual change was supposed to apply to every car in the game. It was actually seen in the mobile game Carmageddon Crashers in 2017. Stainless used the assets they had created in Max Damage, and continued shaping where they wanted to go with the series. It took the studio an additional two years of development to get to that point. They showed audiences what the base-model Eagle, Hawk, or any other car looked like in Crashers. The majority actually looked like street cars, or construction vehicles, and not the killing machines we know them as. The versions we were used to in the main series were considered mid-level in Crashers. The fully upgraded rides looked even more fantastic than we ever could have imagined. Stainless showed us what the top tier Eagle R, and Hawk R looked like. Much sportier, and more aggressive than the standard models. We certainly would have loved to see those in Max Damage. Even better the studio gave us the fully upgraded Iron (Tez) Eagle, and Iron Hawk to drool over. Of course audiences would not have waited three years after the debut of Reincarnation to get a more complete version of Max Damage. These things, and much more had always been in the plans.

The studio did not lack new ideas, they just lacked the resources to publish what they wanted. Bad press, and controversy made it so that the game would never get all the funding, and support it deserved. PC audiences had a sense of this, but console players had no idea. As such their perception of the franchise was skewed. Especially by reviewers who mostly focused on console games. Many assumed the game was all shock, and no substance. They never bothered doing their research, seeing how the previous entries stacked up to their contemporaries, if there even were any. The critics never bothered looking into the developers, and being amazed at everything they had contributed to the industry. As a fan knowing that Carmageddon could have been even greater was the hardest pill to swallow. Even today publisher THQ Nordic sits on the Carmageddon license, as they have been for years. In that time they have not announced another sequel. If you visit their company site, as of June 2021, there is no mention of Carmageddon in their games section. The only news you will find is the press release from 2018 when they announced their acquisition. Chances are THQ will not actually fund another sequel. It is simply too violent, and too controversial for the current climate. 

I contend that Max Damage was to the Carmageddon franchise, as Fury Road was to the Mad Max film series. George Miller broke new ground with his low budget Mad Max film in 1979. He had ideas that would elevate the character, and universe with each sequel. Even if Hollywood didn’t always understand it. Miller never stopped being a great director. He took on all sorts of projects for the past 30 years to pay the bills. All the time he kept refining what he wanted to do with his original idea. When the opportunity came he seized it. Practical, and special effects got to the point where his storyboards became reality. He let all his crazy ideas fly, and audiences took notice. The times may had changed, but there were still fans of this type of action. More important, new fans were drawn to this type of visual storytelling. Stainless actually gave audiences a more complete vision of what the original Carmageddon was about with Max Damage. They made no concessions. They did not tone it down, or make it more palatable for mainstream audiences. 

The studio did however have to wait 18 years, and develop a lot of smaller games before they could return to the series. In that time other companies came, and went. Many franchises grew. Stainless kept on rolling in obscurity. When the opportunity arose they got the crew back together, and gave it another go. Technology had finally caught up with their vision, they were able to push the limits on everything they had always wanted. I was not a fan of how the Kickstarter campaign was handled. I will not forgive the studio for their lack of transparency during that period. Yet at the same time I was satisfied with the final result. To this day fans, and community members keep modding, fixing, and tweaking the title. They hope that there might be another game on the horizon. They do this because no other game gives you the Carmageddon experience. Not GTA, not Burnout, not BeamNG Drive, and not Rocket League. I’d suggest that critics go back, and take a closer look. Max Damage deserves respect. It certainly deserves a new sequel. Credit is owed to Stainless Games for their contribution to the vehicle combat genre. They held true to their vision, and got lambasted by the critics for doing so. In a world where any remake is met with a suspicious eye Stainless Games never blinked.

I wish that reviewers would do more than blurt out a critical first impression. I wish that other game studios were as brave with their IP. Most important, I wish nothing but success to the people at Stainless Games. Here's to your continued success! Thank you for visiting this series. I greatly appreciate it. Do you have a favorite vehicle combat game? If so I'd like to hear about it in the comments. If you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!follow the Street Writer on Patreon!