America - Front
America - Back
By Lee Mehr 02nd Mar 2021 | 1,299 views
With the Twisted Metal franchise stowed in Sony's truck for so long, it's nice to see a vehicular combat game headlining for PlayStation again. Sometimes it’s cozy to ease up on the realism of tire treads and 24-hour endurance races during the start of a new console generation. Lucid Games, developer behind various ports and mobile titles, heeded that call to make Destruction AllStars. Although this tin can's glitzy paint job and slick spoiler will grab any genre fan's attention, when you spot the rusty parts underneath its hood you realize there's some desperate fixing to be done.
In a near-future society, droves of fans line up to witness their favorite personalities jump into an arena, drive a car, and smash into anyone in their way. Sometimes the goal is more objective-oriented while other times it's about smashing opponents. These gladiatorial arenas seek only to entertain the masses with devastating T-bones and head-on collisions. There are a few offline campaign "missions" with a small story attached, but it's no great shakes. But there are still some great stories about personal rivalries and last-second victories to be recounted. To butcher one of The Bard’s greatest lines:
Every inch of asphalt a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one driver in their time wrecks many cars.
The baseline is relatively simple: you select from one of 16 drivers at the start. After dropping to the stadium, both sides race to acquire one of three car types: light, medium, or heavy. These have their respective stat disparities, such as health and acceleration. It's not over should your vehicle wreck. AllStars follows a Titanfall-esque structure by mixing on-foot platforming & combat which has its own utility, like mounting enemy vehicles in an attempt to hijack or destroy them. Whether running or driving around, useful actions contribute to unlocking your Hero's unique vehicle.
For as interesting as that set-up sounds, a game focused on car combat wouldn't succeed without quality car handling and physics. The result? Lucid Games did a solid job on most of the fundamentals. The way tires stick to the ground, the sense of speed while maneuvering, and more show this team checked most of the necessary boxes. The intricacies to a damaged vehicle is one of my favorite qualities. Blown-out tires, flopping trucks, and pancaked hoods are just a few tastes of destruction you can mete out. At its best, your screen can become a slow-mo kaleidoscope of crushed metal and violent explosions after successfully wrecking an opponent.
For all of its visual splendor, it's a shame there wasn't more depth in the wanton demolition. Light, medium, and heavy vehicles do have nuances like disparate health bars and steering models; and yet, you can see the opportunity for something extra that'd lure players towards a specific vehicle's spawn. This is partly offset by every hero's ride. Their cars are unique from the rest in terms of aesthetics and function. Each has a special ability on cooldown, dubbed "Breakers," whether they're on-foot or driving as well.
It's with the hero characters I believe Lucid spent the most time conjuring creative ideas and balancing them out. Given how a few heroes' vehicles offer nothing exciting, players have already gravitated towards the useful majority. Most have cool designs, such as luchador Ultimo Barricado's impenetrable forward shield, but others like Sgt. Rescue’s fog machine on wheels compels me to avoid him. I, like many others, am drawn to the tantalizing choices like mounted sawblades over a temporary damage boost against one specific enemy. A couple simply don't measure up.
The on-foot dynamics are the equivalent to a family hatchback: will functionally get you where you want, but less exciting than dad’s roadster. As previously noted, I do like how AllStars brings function to this aspect of the demolition derby. Should you be short a vehicle, or thrown through the sunroof of your now-demolished one, there are various floating platforms across the map to acquire shards and/or grab another vehicle in the distance. Where the execution comes up lacking are the occasional comparative melee bouts. I don't know if it was my connection or what, but I oftentimes felt like my dash move was delayed by a half-second. The fun platforming and wall-running are satisfying, but I feel like a few extra tactical incentives could be used here.
Lucid Games’ pared-down approach to visceral car combat will add octane into your bloodstream, but a part of me sees some gaps in this implementation. Where are the little risk/reward incentives, like power-ups, across these maps? Couldn't there have been more unique treats within the basic car classes? These qualms - among others - aren't meant to denigrate it outright; I’ve gotten fantastic dopamine hits without these bonuses. But when moving past lizard-brain satisfaction and examining this genre's past you see some unused concepts ripe for potential here.
Missed potential is further driven home by the inconsistent game modes. A quick summation of all current multiplayer modes:
Half of these modes are - currently - failures in my eyes. My first experience with Gridfall resulted in me waiting almost two minutes to find a match, overshooting an opponent at full speed, and plummeting to my death. This totaled twelve seconds of play. I've not had such a sour first impression for a multiplayer mode in a long time. Considering how the next time I searched for a Gridfall game resulted in me waiting over five minutes without joining a match? It's all but dead in the water. Lucid could excise this mode (a la Crucible) and nary a shred of value would be lost. The other misfire, Stockpile, feels too scatterbrained in its emphasis to get you out of a car. Instead of being this subtle dance of offense and defense for each bank, it feels like a 10-car pileup. There's rarely the kind of coordination necessary to keep it engaging - due in part to emphasizing the messy on-foot encounters.
Lacking game modes brings us to the core of the problem: value. Even if you take more kindly to those options, there's not much variety with respect to stadiums; in fact, I'm quite confident there's no more than four (as of writing this). What makes it tough for me to remember the final tally stems from their collective aesthetics feeling so similar. One arena may have a pit in the middle, while another has large spinning blades. Outside of one, I don't think their layouts capture the vehicular/on-foot dynamic to its fullest. It says something about your overall design when I more readily realize I'm in Barcelona or Tokyo by the exterior landscape shot in the pre-game cut scene than during gameplay.
Another major value contention stems from AllStars' microtransactions. Outside of the tutorial, single player content is limited to challenges. Think of them as storied mini-campaigns focused on one racer. The first one is about Ultimo Barricado's rivalry with a newer racer. Naturally, his response is completing different objectives to show who's boss. It's a fun little distraction. Problem is the other two of these mini-campaigns are locked behind currency that can only be acquired with real-world money; on top of that, the current pricing structure demands you acquire the $10 option (1000 Destruction Points) to unlock both - plus have DPs left over. When considering this along with DPs tempting players to get a character's best cosmetic, you can clearly see the psychological tricks going on.
Look, my past shows I'm not the biggest stickler on subjective dollar-to-time valuations. That doesn't mean I can't tell what slim content looks like; just that I don't have predetermined thresholds about roster & map numbers. That said, I tend to get annoyed when I'm feeling schemed. For instance: I personally believe whenever Ubisoft cordons off a quest/quests for pre-order or special edition buyers that then warrants a minimum half-point removal, in my personal opinion. Now put that consideration here: a car combat game initially retailing for $70 (potentially the next standard) and using avaricious schemes on top of that. As much as I strive to fully explore what each game has to offer, I can't financially reward this behavior - even if I got this through PlayStation Plus (PS+).
Not-So-Breaking News: A few days ago, Sony & Lucid Games announced that AllStars will be retailing at a new price of $20 upon leaving PS+ in early April. I was completely unaware of this until after I'd initially written out my review. Since there's no option to digitally purchase on the PS Store and retail chains appear to have temporarily taken it off their shelves, some waves are clearly being made over this move. This puts me into a bind I've never dealt with before. Do you color everything about it as though it's another indie game or yell even louder since it's clear Sony had preliminary misgivings but went through with the inflated price anyways? I think my updated sentiments and score hit a fair middle ground.
As noted, AllStars technically started as Sony's next AAA exclusive for PS5. Although not taking the graphics crown from Demon's Souls (2020), it's a pretty game on net. The smoothness of on-foot animations, the effusive character of each Hero's special car, and the detailed destruction while maintaining a solid 60fps is noteworthy. I'm also a big fan of most hero designs, even though 3 or 4 felt like they were designed-by-committee. How are you going to conjure up five cool masked/helmeted characters and then think Hot Topic Bane (called “Xander”) is another home run? Despite borrowing the Fortnite character texture, there's just enough nuance to give it its own identity.
Even with some noted positives, the audiovisual experience can sometimes feel absurdly lacking. There are select background elements either missing or incredibly hard to spot. For a game about vehicular blood sports within a stadium it's weird to see such a small attendance watching in the bleachers - perched high above your camera. The lack of in-game music is another odd choice. Sure, the detailed sounds of crashing metal with an announcer cheering on the mayhem is nice, but you can implicitly feel that an extra element is missing. Even the minimized pre-made audio barks by heroes highlight an... intangible-yet-quantifiable amount of atmosphere missing from each competition. The last thing you’d want a game about vehicular mayhem to be is subdued.
Whether by mismanagement or opportunism, Destruction AllStars feels like Sony and/or Lucid Games deliberately crashing a Porsche head-on into a concrete median. It's a 'free' PS+ title with an official retail price dropped from $70 to $20, but there are some missing qualities which suggest free-to-play would've been a fairer route altogether; at the same time, there's still a respectable core around smashing cars. The gameplay loop may be simplistic, yet there's still something cathartic about successful demolitions. There's a mostly-charming roster that's stifled by some less-charming modes and locales. Stack this on top of an insulting microtransaction toll for offline content and you have a promising vehicle that needed more work before hitting the tracks.