I’ve had a really weird week—all of the games I expected to love ended up being horrible, and all of the games I expected to hate turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Carnage Racing is a game I only installed to take my mind off of how angry the last game I reviewed made me. It worked, too; I was enjoying making mean notes (in the off-chance I decided to review it) about this cheap little racing game to such a degree that I completely tuned everything else out. One of the notes I made mentioned that this was a cheap mixture of Mario Kart-type games and something like Beetle Adventure Racing that adds in its own gimmick. What I failed to remember at the time was that I love both early Mario Kart titles and Beetle Adventure Racing. Carnage Racing may be buggy, repetitive, and short, but you know what? It was fun, and that was just what I needed when I played it.
First things first
Before you play Carnage Racing, figure out your preferred method of downsampling from a higher resolution. I have a 1080p monitor and found it most comfortable to downsample from 4K (3840×2160), personally. There are a few different ways you can accomplish this—Google is your friend—but failing to bother with downsampling isn’t a very good idea. Why, you ask? Because simply using antialiasing (which the game doesn’t seem to have built in) still leaves a ton of aliasing, and downsampling is a much more effective way of making the game look good. Another important reason to downsample is to make the icons, irritatingly big reminders of the game’s mobile roots, smaller and more in line with the icons found in “real” PC games. For comparison, the screenshots at the end of this review are downsampled, whereas the embedded Youtube video isn’t.
This is a mobile game at heart
There’s nothing inherently wrong with mobile games. Yes, they often have to work around the comparatively weaker specs of phones and tablets, but if you can tune out all of the developers using microtransactions for the purposes of slowly milking a fortune out of unsuspecting players, there are some surprisingly entertaining gems to be found. That said, Carnage Racing was originally one of those horrible games that was filled with microtransactions. These have been stripped out of the PC release, but the game’s reliance on stars and coins as currency nevertheless serves as a reminder of its shameful past.
Actual controls! Kind of!
My biggest problem with mobile games in general is almost always the controls, so I looked forward to being able to use my keyboard and/or controller to drive rather than the mobile tapping/tablet-leaning setup the game probably had to begin with. While racing and performing tricks and all that jazz worked perfectly for me using an Xbox 360 controller (it’s worth mentioning that others have had troubles getting their controllers to work), you’re not able to use a controller to navigate menus. Seriously. You can race with the controllers, but you’ll have to drop the controller and grab the mouse the second you’re dealing with menus. I’ll never understand partial controller support, but I suppose it’s ever-so-slightly better than having no controller support whatsoever.
Winning isn’t everything
Another thing that may surprise people is that winning the race is rarely the actual goal. Locked tracks have a “star” requirement and are unlocked by earning stars by fulfilling certain race criteria (like getting X amount of points off of a certain trick or damaging the requisite number of rival cars). Each track offers 5 possible stars with varying requirements for unlocking them, and there are icons on the top-right of your screen that indicate whether or not you’ve earned a particular star yet. This can make races more interesting as you try to win while gaining trick points and performing difficult maneuvers, but the need to do a bunch of miscellaneous stuff to earn stars is a constant annoyance for anyone who feels that winning a race in first place should be enough to advance to the next. On the bright side, you don’t have to earn all of the stars at once, so you can focus on one star at a time.
New tracks are pretty much old tracks
There are many tracks to choose from, but at heart, there are only something like six or seven tracks with significant differences. Instead, many of the “new” tracks you unlock are reversed versions of tracks you’ve already raced through, sometimes with minor added elements (like a bridge or ramp). This means that the feeling of progression is largely undermined by the overwhelming sense of familiarity these repeat tracks carry with them. It’s better than each race being identical, mind you, but there are a few points where the differences between one race and another are so minor that you already know exactly how to approach races that you haven’t played through yet.
I accidentally clicked through some dialogue when I first tried to play the game, and as a result, I had no idea what the deal with these phase portals were. I played through the first track a few times, failing to understand that racing filled up a little blue meter in the bottom-right of the screen that could be activated with X (or whatever it is on the keyboard) in order to move through the portals that are scattered around the race track. These don’t teleport you very far ahead of where you are, which keeps them from being an unfair advantage, but they do grant you a bit of a speed boost when you travel through them. This makes them a great way of accelerating should you get blown up or slowed down by another car.
Upgrades and blowing stuff up
I did mention that this had a little Mario Kart in it, and true to form, you can pick up upgrades (which show up as little blue bubbles) on the track and that give you a random item. Most of these are offensive in nature, such as mines/missiles that can be shot at enemy cars, but there’s also a nitro speed boost, as well as a teleport. As far as I could tell, the teleport creates a phase portal that takes you to the nearest car (which is then slowed), but there were a few times where I teleported into 3rd place or something equally ridiculous.
Both your cars and items can be upgraded by spending “moolah,” the game’s annoyingly cutesy, mobile-friendly way of denoting money. This can be a bit of a grind because you don’t make very much per race and there are a lot of upgrades (I recommend cheating in a ton of money to save yourself the time), but you’re able to upgrade so that your car moves faster, looks better, and can store more energy for phase portals. More interesting than that are the item upgrades because an item upgraded to its highest item lets you use it in three different ways. Take missiles, for example. After hitting a single blue orb, you’re only able to blindly fire said missile. Once you’ve upgraded, however, you can improve its capabilities by hitting a second blue orb (so long as you haven’t used the missile yet). At that point, the missile becomes a homing missile that seeks out the nearest target. Upgraded to its highest level, you’re able to hit yet another blue orb and then launch a barrage of homing missiles that are guaranteed to seek out many opponents and cause them a great deal of trouble.
Different cars, different strengths
There are a few different kinds of vehicles in the game, and each type has its own strength. There are the cars designed for destruction (you start the game with these), the cars designed to perform tricks (tricks are faster with these cars than the others, allowing you to do more of them and thus rack up a higher score), and the cars designed to drive fast (these receive an automatic speed boost whenever you hit a blue orb). You never really need to upgrade your vehicle from the early ones except for in one or two races where you need a fast car to beat a certain time if you want the extra star doing so earns, but the new cars are entertaining to play around with. There are only 8 or so available vehicles in the game, though, so don’t go in expecting a ton of customization. Honestly, I found it best to just cheat in a ton of money so that I could play around with different cars without having to worry about grinding races for money.
Bugs and stuff
I evidently got insanely lucky with this game, because the screenshots people have uploaded to Steam show all kinds of weird bugs that I never had to deal with. Granted, the physics are a bit wonky in places and you can hit water like it’s a solid, metallic object, but it was smooth sailing for me outside of little things like that. Meanwhile, other people have had to contend with problems like falling through the earth (and being unable to return to land), the racetrack suddenly disappearing, portals that lead to nothingness, and the game randomly resetting so that people lose all of their progress. I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is a really buggy game, but it’s entertaining so long as it works.
Tricks and tips
I hated the stars mechanic until I got it into my head that you don’t actually have to win races to unlock stars. That means that you don’t have to even participate in the race to unlock stars. Here’s a fun fact: the game doesn’t let you turn around and drive around the track the wrong way, but it does let you drive in reverse without any penalty whatsoever. What that means is that stars that require you to earn X amount of points doing aerial tricks can be easily earned by finding a good ramp (or even a cliff), performing the trick, then reversing back to do it again and again. Yes, you’ll likely finish in last place, but who cares when winning the race doesn’t unlock new tracks? Another tip: stars that require that you shoot X number of other cars can be earned simply by unlocking a homing weapon, camping out near the blue item spheres (they respawn after a few seconds), and shooting homing missiles down the track until you’ve damaged enough enemies.
Graphics are good and bad
This game has its moments of prettiness if you downsample. Yes, it’s not drop-dead gorgeous like many titles originally developed with the PC in mind end up being, but the reflections on the cars are pretty impressive, and the scenery is decent. It won’t win any awards, mind you, and the aliasing is bad beyond words if you’re not downsampling, but it definitely has a few occasions where it’s visually interesting. However, the motion blur effect used in the game looks really cheap and reminiscent of what you’d see in early PS3/Xbox 360 console games.
The music is okay enough
The background music during races is fine enough as background music, and the menu music is kind of funky and interesting, but this really isn’t a game that has any real emphasis put on the music. In fact, its only real role is to exist and prevent moments of awkward, amateurish silence, and in that sense the soundtrack serves its purpose well enough.
Here’s what you should do: