"Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage is a really, really good game, and you're missing out on it. "
Some games are just fun. They're not thought-provoking, they're not controversial, and they don't boast a deep and diverse cast of engaging and well-realized supporting characters; they're just dumb, mindless fun. Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage is that kind of game. It's about driving really fast and blowing things up. Where I come from, that's fun!
Gas Guzzlers comes from Gamepires, an independent development studio based in Croatia, the country that gave us the Serious Sam franchise, and I'm starting to think that there's something a little weird in the water over there. Like that better-known shooter, Gas Guzzlers is firmly rooted in an earlier (some would say better) era, with a simple, no-nonsense approach to gaming: pick your car, pick your gun, pick your track, and then stand on it.
Quick races are on tap for those who just want to hop in and rip it up for a few minutes, but the heart of the game is the career mode, which as you'd expect puts you behind the wheel of an underpowered, under-gunned piece of tin and turns you loose amidst more than a dozen other computer-controlled drivers in a no-holds barred battle for the cup. Players can try their luck in three types of races: the Classic, an actual race-type race in which only "defensive weaponry," like smoke, oil and land mines, can be used; the Battle Race, a more overtly violent affair which should be fairly self-explanatory; and the Knockout, a lap-by-lap elimination contest that ultimately leaves just one car mobile.
The variety of both cars and tracks is impressive, but you'll have to earn the right to drive, and drive on, each of them. Everything, even the stickers and rims you'll use to customize your ride, must be unlocked by winning, or at least performing well, in races. Not that it's a particularly onerous challenge, at least at the "easy" skill level (where I tend to dwell), where your fellow drivers exhibit rather limited abilities and victory rarely requires more than a couple of practice races to figure out when to move the foot from the gas to the brake. At the higher levels, however, you can expect to have your head handed to you repeatedly.
It's fairly standard stuff as far as these things go, and while it's all very well done, the little things are what really put it over the top. The pit stop radio plays everything from opera to old-time bluegrass between races, while people yell in foreign languages and your avatar dicks around in the corner, futilely trying to lift weights and occasionally appearing flat-out drunk. "Drive Carefully" billboards featuring a legless sad sack in a wheelchair turn up now and then, warning one and all of the dangers of excess speed, and you'll occasionally see blow-up dolls rattling around in the back seats or blown-apart trunks of competitors' cars. My favorite feature is the brilliant "Arnold" voice-over option, a laugh-out-loud funny impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger giggling, quoting movie lines and yelling incoherently whenever something happens.
It's the sort of wildly bizarre, juvenile tomfoolery you'd expect from an Eastern European indie studio, but Gas Guzzlers pulls it off better than most because it also happens to be a hell of a good game. We're obviously not dealing with a Forza-beater here, but it looks great and does a fantastic job of capturing the feeling of dangerously high speeds as you blast through dust, smoke, explosions and the occasional chicken or prairie dog. (Bonus points for road kill. No fooling.) And that's fine; this is a game about chaos, not the latest and greatest cutting-edge visual technology, and chaos - to the point that after having spent a few weeks playing it, I still yell at the screen when the situation gets out of hand - is something it does very well. There's even a pseudo-cockpit view among its four camera angles: you don't get to see the wheel or dashboard cluster but you do at least get to look out over the hood, and in this chase-camera-blighted world, that's good enough.
Overall advancement through the game comes by way of victories in three-race tournaments, one race from each category, but before you can enter the tournaments you'll have to climb to the top of the driver rankings. If you get tired of being smacked around by the AI, you can also try your luck against other humans in online races - if you can find anyone out there to race against.
And that's really the tragedy of Gas Guzzlers. It's a hilarious, intense, wickedly fun game, and nobody knows about it. And worse, because it's a PC exclusive, because it's from some studio in Europe that nobody's ever heard of, and because it's not on Steam, review outlets have zero interest in giving it the time of day, which means that a lot of gamers who might have taken an interest in it, and who might have been blown away, as I was, by how good it is, will never have that opportunity. The videogame industry is a hit-driven business, in more ways than one, and for the most part that doesn't bother me; but when something like this comes along and is greeted with a sheer wall of active, almost antagonistic, indifference, it's absolutely infuriating.
Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage is a really, really good game. And you're missing out on it.
Freelance review by Andy Chalk (June 23, 2012)
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