Everyone who had a soul in the late 90s loved Robot Wars. There was something satisfying about watching people destroy something that had taken months to design and build, and the idea of pitching machine against machine in a battle to the death brought out the primal streak in a lot of people. So imagine my delight when I caught sight of Smash ‘n’ Survive, a relatively unknown title from relatively unknown developer Version2Games, which from the initial trailers look like it was a souped-up Robot Wars smash-em-up with sporty cars, huge monster trucks and a variety of weapons to tear up your opponents.
Yeah. It didn’t turn out to be quite as great as I’d hoped.
From the moment Smash ‘n’ Survive loads up you can tell this won’t have the same level of polish as most other PSN downloadable titles. Straight away you’ll find strange grammar mistakes, visual glitches (impressive to find that on a menu) and an interface that look like it was plucked out of a hastily designed PS2 game. But hey, forget the interface and menu visuals, let’s get into the game and see what’s here. A good driving and destruction experience will cure all the initial forthcomings, so with mild trepidation I fired up the campaign mode to see what was what.
The first event is a simple race round a small town, hitting checkpoints in the right order before the time runs out. Medals are awarded, as in every event, depending on meeting three objectives and there’s a short intro paragraph to let you know what you’re meant to be doing. So once the game loads which, to be honest, is marginally quicker than making a bacon sandwich you’re into the action. Being a driving game you want good physics, consistent handling and a good feeling of speed, but sadly you’ll only be treated to the last of these three. Yes it feels pretty speedy as you’re trying to hit your checkpoints, but it’s hard to control and just feels wrong – on more than one occasion I suddenly lost control into a wall, even though I was going in a perfectly straight line down the middle of a perfectly straight road and hadn’t touched the steering at all. This leads to frustration as a perfectly sensible cornering speed that worked 12 seconds ago this time doesn’t do anything useful and you miss the checkpoint entirely.
And the strangeness continues. The second event is all about survival, driving round a big circular track trying not to get smashed up by the AI drivers, who are a mix of reasonable smart and utterly moronic. As you drive round you’ll see the same cars reversing into a wall, driving forwards into a wall, and repeating the whole process until the end of the level. You’re more likely to lose as a result of getting bored and seeing how many times you can hit a wall without blowing up. And why am I avoiding stuff? I want to smash other cars up…
You will eventually get to the more fun stuff, and there’s a (very) lose story to justify the ever-changing requirements of each level. Whether you’re protecting your base against a bomb planting, trying to collect certain pickups or just destroying the other team as quickly as possible the same problems occur. There’s a potentially brilliant Chase HQ style level, where you need to stop a getaway car and smash it to pieces before it gets too far. Naturally, I picked the fastest car I had available (you can buy new cars after each successful event) which turned out to handle like a pig. So much so, that trying to turn round even at walking pace resulted in a powerslide that made you trundle along like a crab and not actually change your direction. Another promising aspect ruined by awkward handling. There’s only one event for each game type too, so don’t get too excited about enjoying a certain game mode – this also means the game is really short, and the campaign won’t take very long at all to rattle through.
So the AI is suspect, the handling is broken and there’s not much to keep you going. Luckily, some of the game modes are actually pretty good ideas, with bomb planting, team deathmatch style games and chases making any multiplayer efforts a possible goldmine.
Yeah, about that…
Select Multiplayer from the main menu and you’re asked to connect a second controller. There’s no logging in, no matchmaking, no lobbies… in fact no online modes at all. It’s split-screen or not at all. Surely, on the current generation of consoles, it’s not too much to expect a game that screams out for online multiplayer mayhem to actually feature it? The game modes on offer would have been quite a good laugh online, even with all of the broken elements. As it stands, you can play with someone you’re sat with on the sofa but that’s it. It’s such a shame, and a MASSIVE waste of an opportunity. It’s difficult to understand why it’s been missed out, but Version2Games have really missed a trick – charging head-long into an opponent at full speed, only to drive like a cock and hit a wall instead would’ve been a good bit of entertainment with mates, but it’s not to be.
So sadly, I see no reason to recommend Smash ‘n’ Survive. It looks like a PS2 game, has all the online functionality of a Mega Drive game, and handles like an utter dog. Add to that “fully destructible environments” that are only partly destructible and some visual glitching that makes it hard to see what’s going on when you’re next to another car and you’re left with something that doesn’t really work. You’ll also want to close your ears too, whether it’s the endlessly looping 4 bars of the same heavy metal riff in every menu or the tyre squeels, turbo sounds or general GBH of the ears provided by the in-game action you won’t want to turn it up too loud, that’s for sure.
Apparently there is some DLC planned for April to bring online multiplayer to the game. You should definitely wait until then at the very least, but here’s the thing… DiRT Showdown is out in a couple of months. If you want to smash up other cars, wait for that. Smash ‘n’ Survive isn’t a glorified throwback to Robot Wars, it’s just a disappointment.
Reviewed on PS3