Nobody Wants Car Combat Games
Like many people my age, I experienced Carmageddon at a perhaps inappropriate age: my mid-teens. It came out in the mid-90s when violence in videogames was a hot topic, and so developer Stainless Games toned it down by changing the pedestrians into zombies with green blood upon initial release in Europe. The franchise has had a soft spot in my heart ever since, and I’ve kept it installed on my phones since it was released in 2013, despite having not touched it in several years. Having written that, I did go and check, and yes it still works fine on Android 12, having been released eight Android versions ago!
When online games started launching on the PlayStation 2, I was part of a team of unpaid beta testers who were sent games ahead of release to check how well they coped with the online element. This gave me my first try of the Twisted Metal series, with Twisted Metal: Black. While it was interesting to have guns on the vehicles instead of the crazy power-ups in Carmageddon, it definitely didn’t grab my attention the same way.
Twisted Metal had seven main titles and one spinoff, five of which reportedly sold over 1 million copies each in North America; a further three were cancelled. While that was more than Burnout 3: Takedown, it was half of what Gran Turismo 4 sold, and that was the lowest selling of the initial four Gran Turismo titles. Perhaps worth noting that the argument can be made that the Burnout games include car combat.
So, Carmageddon and Twisted Metal were both huge titles, the behemoths of the genre with multiple titles to their names. But have you ever heard of WWE Crush Hour? Vigilante 8? Renegade Ops? Published by THQ, Activision, and Sega respectively, three big publishers in their prime, and all focused on cars destroying cars. I actually played Vigilante 8 and even I keep forgetting about it!
There’s just something about the genre that never hits a spark with gamers, and I’m always so baffled whenever a developer announces a new one. Already you should be able to tell that there are very few exceptions, games that people actually buy and that don’t fall to poor reviews. The most recent one is Bugbear’s Wreckfest, formerly known as Next Car Game, and originally released in 2013 on Steam Early Access.
Wreckfest actually had a failed Kickstarter campaign shortly before release. Technically it didn’t fail to make the $350,000 it wanted, as Bugbear actually cancelled the campaign because it had only reached 23% of the goal after three weeks. Nonetheless, Wreckfest’s Early Access was so successful that the game launched fully in 2018, and console versions were released in 2019. The Steam version alone regularly gets around 1,000 concurrent players a day.
But that’s the exception that proves the rule. As I just said, Wreckfest’s Kickstarter failed because people weren’t pledging to it. The indie car combat game KEO released in December and currently has an all-time peak playerbase of 50, according to SteamDB. Stainless Games sold the rights to Carmageddon to THQ Nordic, and released a “car combat plus guns” game titled ShockRods in 2019, which has literally no players with an all-time peak of 23 players four years ago! Even taking into account the fact that non-public Steam profiles aren’t counted, you’re looking at games which nobody plays.
Actually, looking back at Carmageddon, I'm still not sure if I like the game, or just the memories of playing it back in the day. Giggling with my mates by transposing the letters every time we got a "Cunning Stunt" bonus, mimicking the old lady voice clip saying "I was in the war!"... It spawned three sequels and its own successful Kickstarter campaign for Carmageddon: Reincarnation, surely it was good, right? But then Stainless Games ignored it for months after release, focusing on developing the console version called Carmageddon: Max Damage. To add insult to injury, Stainless released it on PC to replace Reincarnation which inarguably looked better… Since I already mentioned SteamDB, it shows that the all-time peak number of players on Reincarnation was 863. The all-time peak for Max Damage is 586.
It should come as no surprise that I laughed when I heard that one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 5 was vehicular combat. Destruction AllStars was announced as releasing at the top-tier AAA price of £69.99, which made me laugh harder. Then Sony delayed it by five months, and I damn near lost my mind. Ostensibly to make it up to PS5 owners, Sony later announced that the game would be available on PlayStation Plus for free for a period of two months, and dropped the retail price to £17.99, plus microtransactions.
With Destruction AllStars being an exclusive, there are no easy player figures to find. However, the website PS-Timetracker, which tracks the gameplay times of 15,777 PlayStation accounts, shows that 23 hours were played in the past month. It ranks 787 out of the games tracked, and the PlayStation 5 has 469 games not including backwards compatible titles. Back in February 2021, the game only ranked as high as 14 in the Top 100. At the time of writing, there have been as many as 12 accounts streaming Destruction AllStars on Twitch per week. The original Animal Crossing has about 100. Contra has over 50! Hell, to really boggle your mind, Twisted Metal: Black had four people streaming it. Those aren’t figures I’m finding via some chart website, that’s me going and physically counting the Past Broadcasts on Twitch.
While it may seem like I’ve been ragging on Twisted Metal through most of this, the timing of the recent announcement is purely coincidental. I started writing this a week before it was revealed that Anthony Mackie would be starring in an adaptation on the Peacock streaming service. Heck, maybe it will make gamers actually want a vehicular combat game! Wouldn’t count on it, though.