Saturday, 23 August 2014

Whiskey Alpha Reviews: Bugbear's Next Plane? Train? Automobile! Game

Platform: PC
Release Date: 15 January 2014
Developer: Bugbear
Publisher: Bugbear
Where to get it: Steam
Price: Around £19.99

Welcome to the first edition of Whiskey Alpha Reviews where we take a look at an unfinished game and see if it's worth buying in its current state and whether we think it'll be worth picking up when it's finished. Lets dive right in and take a look at one of the early crowdfunding success stories; Bugbear's Next Car Game.

Currently the alpha state of Bugbear's Next Car Game (NCG) is split into two different parts. One is the Sneak Peek and one is the actual early access portion. Lets take a look at the Sneak Peak first;

The Sneak Peak executable consists of a tech demo showing off the physics engine and soft body physics. You have a couple of features that aren't present in the actual game such as shooting various projectiles and instantly repairing your car and resetting the map's physics objects. There is only one map, a kind of destruction and physics theme park where you and several optional AI cars drive around suicidally trying to cause as much carnage as possible with the various jumps, crushers, grinders and giant robot spiders placed around the map.
It is hugely satisfying to drive the provided muscle car into a grinder and watch it get spat out the other side in a mangled heap only to find that it's still got one wheel on the floor and you can make it to donuts at near the speed of sound.
Similarly satisfying is the physics engine performance, admittedly my machine is pretty beefy but I didn't notice any frame rate drops right up to the point where I exceeded the number of active physics objects and started driving through them without collision. No small feat considering that there was a dozen AI and hundreds of active physics objects at that point on top of all the soft-body models too.
Speaking of the car models, they're high quality and composed of the emerging trend of soft body physics. This means that the model isn't a solid block that deforms when struck as in past games but is composed of panels and parts like a real car and it crumples as such. If something lands on the roof, the roof will buckle, if you put your car in a huge cannon half way and get hit by the launching mechanism it'll shear in half and if it gets hit by a giant floating hammer it'll be flattened exactly like you'd imagine a car hit by a giant floating hammer would be.
Personally I've had more fun with this mode than the actual game but that's largely because there's no progression implemented into the actual game yet so I often choose to boot up the Sneak Peak instead just to watch things get smashed for amusement.

The other half of the release is the early access version of NCG. This version is comprised of four cars and two modes, demolition derby and race across a handful of tracks and arenas. The presentation is familiar to anyone who's played World Of Tanks/Warplanes or War Thunder, with the garage being laid out exactly the same way as the hangers are in other games. Many of the functions such as research and repair don't work yet but the options screen for configuring controls and volume, etc is intact and functional.
Getting into the game is as easy as choosing one of the four available cars and clicking play then choosing a course/mode and setting the various options like number of laps and opponents. The menu is well laid out and easy to understand and it wouldn't be surprising to see it still in its current form in the final release of the game.
Gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played any of the Flatout series (barring the one which shall not be named) with the cars being suitably high powered and easy to throw into a slide or turn without losing control unless you're too rough on the accelerator in a skid. It feels empowering and at the same time has that Ridge Racer/Flatout feeling of being right on the edge of maintaining control that makes those games so exciting.
Without the high powered crushing machines of the Sneak Peek it's evident just how much damage the cars can take from each other. Even in a hectic 24 car destruction derby you'll take huge amounts of damage before being out for the count but that goes for your opponents too; it's entirely possible to smash an opponent's car into a wall at 40 miles an hour and see them drive off as you back away.
While it occasionally feels like you should have gotten a takedown with a particularly brutal slam the game doesn't feel frustrating as the AI tends not to gang up on you as much as in other games with similar modes and the sturdy cars make the plume of smoke and flame erupting from a destroyed opponent's engine way more rewarding.
The races on the other hand feel far closer to say, Flatout Ultimate Carnage than anything else. They're fast and brutal and can be over very very quickly if the fates align and you get to stomp your opponents into shrapnel. This is not a racer for clean lines and shaving seconds off your lap times, it's rough and tumble. Overtaking is often accompanied by barging an opponent into the side of the track or spinning them out with a well timed swerve into their rear wheels.

So is it worth buying right now? It's in a better state than many early access games and seems more technically accomplished than the alpha status would suggest but the occasional crash does still linger and content is still very light on the ground. If you enjoy smashing up cars just for the fun of it there's easily a couple of hours of fun with the prospect of an excellent game somewhere down the line. If you're a fan of Flatout Ultimate Carnage, NCG is pretty much the perfect spiritual sequel and if they implement the silly driver flinging mini-games there'll be a lot of potential for pure fun with a group of friends.
As an alternative to the more technical and buggier BeamNG Drive, NCG is way more accessible to the casual user and won't make you learn two dozen keyboard shortcuts just to reset your car or set up something to smash into but the crashes aren't as flashy in terms of particle effects or the number of car components but it's looking like NCG may end up with the spectacle of destruction carrying over into all its modes instead of being relegated to the tech demo.

Score: 7 out of 10 wing mirrors were not harmed in the making of this review.

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