The original Destruction Derby carved a niche for itself in the crowded racing genre by allowing you to wreak havoc on the cars of your fellow racers. In fact, completing the race became secondary to seeing how many of your competitors you could take out before biting the dust yourself. For the ultimate in wrecking thrills there were also a few enclosed arenas where your only goal was to be the last man standing when the smoke and debris cleared. An updated sequel added some new options and features, but after Gran Turismo took over the racing scene it’s been a bit quiet on the crash ’em up market.
The people over at Pitbull Syndicate seem to think that the world is ready for some more motor vehicular carnage and obviously paid close attention to what made the Destruction Derby series so popular. Demolition Racer offers ten tracks, eight cars, five leagues and several arcade modes to demolition racing aficionados. Of course, most of these must be unlocked by winning the leagues and if you were expecting to breeze through these like in Destruction Derby you’re in for a bit of a surprise. While you still earn points by damaging the other cars ( destroying them, starting fires, spinning them around, smashing them into walls and each other etc. ) the position you finish the race in is also crucial. This means lurking around a dodgy corner and nailing cars doesn’t work and you get zero points for the old favorite “drive around the track the wrong way and smashing into opponents head-on” tactic. While this diminishes the fun somewhat it does make the game a lot more challenging and gives it a longer lifespan. Besides there’s more than enough arcade mode challenges that allow you to indulge in such activities (especially “Chicken”).
While in the lower leagues you only have to finish second or third, points wise to progress. As soon as you hit the pros nothing less than numero uno will do. Endurance league lives up to its name since you have to finish first on every one of the ten tracks. The arenas made popular by Destruction Derby also make a welcome appearance. Power-ups can be toggled on or off and these range from health (no pit stops in this game I’m afraid) to temporary invincibility and extra points. To balance things out there’s also damage crates which will sap a lot of your health when driven over. The tracks are also a lot longer than those in Destruction Derby so you’ll need to strike a fine balance between racing and wrecking.
As far as graphics go Demolition Racer does the job, but doesn’t exactly shine. There’s quite a bit of pop-up and clipping, although thankfully the frame rate remains smooth throughout. The eight cars on offer are all unique and it’s good to see that they actually feel different to drive instead of just looking different. Some might be faster while others have better armor, acceleration or maneuverability. A nice touch is the paint shop where you can change the color of your car and even paste a decal on the roof. Whatever car you choose your competitors will drive the same which keeps the playing field level (and the frame rate consistent.) True to its name the cars show a lot of damage and it’s not long before windows shatter, hoods are lost and flames or smoke is pouring out of the engine. Your car also accumulates dirt from the track which is a nice visual touch.
The ten tracks are big and varied so one moment you’re speeding through a military base or chemical plant and the next racing on a go-cart track or multi-level car park. There are plenty of ramps, obstacles and tight corners to give even jaded racers a rush and with the extreme vibration from your gamepad you’ll be left with numb fingers after a few races. Inexplicable there’s no analogue control support which is a bit lame. The digital controls work fine but still. The way your score is tallied can also seem a bit odd and at times I found myself nailing a car spectacularly but getting no points.
Like most PSone games Demolition Racer has a pretty hectic soundtrack, but thankfully decided not to imitate the annoying announcer from Destruction Derby 2. Included in the playlist are tracks by the likes of Fear Factory, Cirrus, Emperion and Junkie XL. The sound effects seem to lack that bone crushing metal on metal feel that you’d expect from this type of game though.
Although there’s a nice two-player mode and plenty of gameplay modes ( The chase, Chicken, Last man standing, Suicide etc. ) there’s only so much you can do with cars smashing the hell out of each other while racing. It’s definitely fun while it lasts but don’t expect to be playing this as long as you did with Gran Turismo. While Demolition Racer might lack the polish it’s still a fun game and fills a gap in the market.
*Review originally published November 1999.