It’s been years and years since the last time I really played a racing game, and more since I played any kind of demolition derby, though the genre always seemed interesting and fun. When the call went out for someone to take a look at Bugbear’s early-access title Next Car Game, I couldn’t pass it up – the teaser and tech-demo videos looked insanely entertaining (and entertainingly insane). While there’s quite a lot left to get built into this one to round it out, I’m going to dive in to what’s there now and what I think about the experience as it stands today.
First, I’ll take a moment to talk about what’s not there as of my testing, since thats a lot at this juncture. For instance, there doesn’t appear to be gamepad support just yet. The game recognizes when I have one attached, but still limits me to keyboard controls. This isn’t really ideal for a racing game, but it gets the job done. There’s no upgrading, buying, or modifying cars yet, and the loadout comes down to two vehicles with three available tracks (one for derby, two for races). There’re a lot of greyed-out options scattered around the menu, begging to become realized options and showing tons of promise for when they do. From simple repair and test-drive options to the intriguing research and car info panels, I’m curious what kinds of customization will become available. For now, though, the two stock models (one American, one European) are the bread and butter of the pre-alpha experience.
So, the derby mode was my obvious choice for my first go-to, and I’m thrilled to report that it’s as good as it looks in the videos Bugbear is promoting the game with. Twenty-four cars smashing into each other in an arena, complete with half-pipe style ramped sides along two walls? Yes. Yes, please. I’m not sure what the requirements are for running this, but my computer handles it easily, and the game runs smooth as silk. Steering with the keyboard is, again, not ideal, but you get a good enough look at how things work, and the physics here are grand. It gets more and more difficult to control your vehicle as the damage piles up, and it wasn’t often long before I’d find myself a mashed-up heap, spinning wildly and trying to wheel around towards one of my fellow combatants. The derby track here is a ‘Last Man Standing’, so the goal is survival, but I’m willing to wager that there’ll be additional modes added in to focus on your ability to take out the competition.
So, the derby mode is great. What about racing? Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell right now. Keyboard controls aren’t particularly suited to this kind of thing, and not being able to modify or upgrade the vehicles yet limits the usefulness some. Still, there’s promise there. The same physics and body-damage apply in the races as they do in the derby, so it’s fun enough to just smash through what you can and have at it that way. I think this mode has the most room for improvement as development continues, but as it stands it’s the obvious weak point in the game for me, at least until my gamepad is supported.
To the brass tacks, then: is the pre-alpha worth buying in to? The $29.99 price tag ($24.99 sale as of this writing) is a bit intimidating for anything in the early access pool, but there’s plenty of content here. Early access also gets you the tech demo, a free-range playground of machine-crunching madness, and vehicular volatility in addition to the ever-expanding core content. There’s a $44.99 ($34.99 sale) Deluxe edition that also throws in an exclusive car that won’t be available later, some desktop wallpapers, and the game soundtrack if you’re into that kind of thing. Personally, I’d go for the basic option here and say it’s worth the price, especially with the tech demo that looks like an awfully good time. The promise of greater things to come in this game is definitely strong and I really look forward to seeing what it has to offer down the road. I’ll thoroughly enjoy round after round of crushing derby action in the meantime.