Anyone who has fond memories of wrestling with one of the three steering wheels on the arcade classic Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road will have a fair idea of what Scrap Metal is about, namely hurling loud cars around small isometric tracks while jostling for pole position. Anyone who’s played Twisted Metal on the Playstation will also be familiar with Scrap Metal’s penchant for strapping guns to its rogues gallery of buggies, hot rods and monster trucks. Between these two thematic goalposts, it’s fair to say then that Scrap Metal isn’t a subtle game and that anyone with a dislike of cars, guns or heavy rock music should move along right now; there’s nothing for you here.
Released as part of XBLA’s House Party event, Scrap Metal is built on a paper thin premise but hopes that the petrol, oil and smoke pumping through the engines of its vehicles matched with the heavy rock it pumps through your speakers is enough to beat you into submission. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a game striving to win you over with cheap arcade thrills and sheer volume, but while Scrap Metal is reasonably polished, it doesn’t exude enough charisma or attitude to really hammer home its message.
The biggest problem is that, in spite of all its bluster, from its generic title downwards it all feels a bit indistinct, struggling to find its own identity or indeed a unique selling point. Take the visuals as an example; while they are perfectly serviceable there’s little spark or imagination. The vehicles are rendered well enough, but could have been ripped from a multitude of other games and none really do much to fire you up, to get the blood pumping. The game does attempt to spice things up with a cast of opponents with crazy names, but even this feels token with the rag-tag casts’ attempts to abuse you mid-race (text scrolls, almost politely, across the top of the screen) largely going unnoticed.
The tracks you race on are also blandly rendered despite Slick Entertainment’s efforts to enliven them with themed trackside furniture (be it a circus tents, palm trees, corrugated shanty towns or neon cities) – none of it makes much impact and very little lingers when you switch the 360 off. As a 1200 point XBLA, we are a little more willing to forgive the uninspiring visuals, but we can’t be so forgiving on the gameplay, which is as indistinct as its presentation.
Throwing your car around the tracks should feel riotous, violent, visceral and meaty but instead feels slippery, light and lacking in impact. The physics model in use is certainly robust, it just isn’t very exciting and no amount of rumble or sounds of crumpling metal can disguise the fact that the handling fees more akin to that of a radio-controlled car rather than heavily armed, death dealing, grease covered, smoke belching hot rods. The weapons (which range from machine guns to shotguns and lightning rods) also lack impact, both visually and aurally.
Scrap Metal attempts to add variety and excitement to the gameplay by throwing in a range of play modes, from standard races and elimination rounds through to marked man and chase scenarios; Slick Entertainment have seemingly plundered a game mode from every racer ever made. And yet, despite this, it still lacks personality and clarity. Take the first boss race as an example – the chisel-jawed, sharp-suited Mr Awesome (really) accepts your challenge to a head to head. Your mission? ‘Get out there and gun him down’ – this ain’t gonna be pretty….right? Well, no it’s not. The race starts, Mr Awesome sets off, and you jam your foot on the pedal, skidding off in pursuit while blasting him with your twin mounted machine guns. After a few laps, you quickly realise that you can do just as much damage by waiting at the start, then pouncing when Mr Awesome drives past. Moments like this are Mr-not-so-Awesome, and similar vagueness creeps into the many of the modes available, often leaving you wondering if you should be racing, shooting, running, or all of the above.
The proceedings are further muddied by a poorly designed camera that is placed far too close to the action, meaning that you often have little idea where your opponents are, so you will frequently be shooting at and attempting to overtake/ram vehicles that you simply can’t see. The novelty of the option to play the game in 3D fails to disguise this problem.
While it may sound like Scrap Metal is one to avoid, there is entertainment to found here. The 4-player split screen multiplayer mode functions well enough as a post-pub blast and playing online can be quite fun (though limiting the games to four human players and filling the rest of the slots with bots is another odd decision). Unfortunately the lingering impression is how indistinct it all is. There’s certainly a market for pick up and play arcade thrills, but Scrap Metal simply isn’t delivered with enough gusto to make much of an impact, with the looseness of many elements resulting in a game that is ultimately quite forgettable.
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