Next Car Game preview: FlatOut's successor takes Derby destruction to a new level
From the early days of smashing my toy cars into each other I've always had an affinity with both car games and, more importantly, car games where I can repeatedly crash into things. Whether that's into other cars or the scenery - basically anything that looks like it'd be good to drive into at full speed. Luckily, I'm not alone in this as there are always exciting destruction derby games being produced, the one most recently flying the flag is Next Car Game from Bugbear Studios.
A working title and currently still in alpha, Bugbear have a long history with developing games in this explosive genre with the Flatout series, steadily released over the past decade. “Another destruction derby game? Why not just release it as the new Flatout?” I hear you cry! Well it's okay, stop crying, because one major feature that has distanced them from every other destruction derby game made. Soft body physics.
I know, I know. You need a second to take that in.
A soft body physics model pretty much means realistic impact damage and effect. So it intelligently calculates how fast you're moving, what direction, what you've hit and the angle and applies a realistic result upon every part of the object. And boy does it work.
Bugbear have taken the relatively new revelation in damage simulation and applied it expertly to a format where it is really given a podium to shine. Now, if you take a heavy impact to the corner of a car, it crumples and you have to carry that handicap for the rest of the race. Or until you try to replicate it on the opposite corner to balance the effect and try to straighten out your car.
Every race has a distinctive feel to it and because of that the game's lifespan has improved heaps upon what it previously could be. The ire often drawn from a racing game was its repetitiveness, going round the same tracks over and over and expecting different results. Madness, or whatever Vaas said.
In the alpha you can already get a good feel of how the final game will play, with three different modes currently implemented: Pit Destruction, the usual and expected circle of chaos associated with the sport; Race, which has thee tracks flaunting how the cars handle across jumps, dips dives and over a longer period of time; and the final is an early-backer only playground mode. Separate to the game it allows you to take a car and drive it across a variety of jumps and other fun objects such as a giant novelty hammer, plinko machine and cannon, channeling your inner Evel Knievel meets Wile E Coyote.
Each has their own feel to it and is given a breath of fresh air by the intuitive destruction physics. The graphics from the in-house engine work well and the cars handle similar to the first Flatout, not too heavy, and decent responsiveness which adds to the fun and flavour of the game. The menu system - though almost completely greyed out - shows the possibility for a lot of growth ranging from purchasing new cars in a garage to a money and points system. My fingers are firmly crossed for a career mode akin to Destruction Derby 1 and 2 from the early days of the PlayStation, adding a more long-term reason and reward for sinking hours into the game.
However, it isn't the only game currently exploring a new soft body physics engine. BeamNG is the current pioneer, developing within the powerful Cryengine. With several videos taking off online they've taken a specific focus on fine-tuning the engine, launching it as more of a tech demo then a game. Comparing it to Next on a purely physics level, it takes first place. The free tech demo on the website already gives this impression. Even the slightest nick can offset your axel and result in a completely different experience, a level of detail Next just doesn't have yet.
What Next Car Game does so well is it doesn't forget that it's a game. Sure, it has this fantastic soft body physics system at work but it's still a crazy fun experience. You get both the beauty and responsiveness of the engine as well as intense, fun races where you can grind other drivers into the walls and watch both them and the scenery crumble. It's as if BeamNG is going the route of Gran Turismo and the F1 series, whereas Next is more of the Burnout and Flatout ilk.
Either way, it's clear this is the future of car games and it looks dented, with missing wheels and car parts scattered across the road. Perfect.
Independent News Service