LAN sessions used to be a pretty popular tradition. You'd get a group of friends around, playing games until the early hours of the morning and it was a whole load of fun. For me, we always used to end up playing at least a few rounds of FlatOut 2. The amount of carnage and enjoyment that game had to offer was just unbelievable and smashing everything up was the best way to round out the session.
For that reason, it was rather pleasing to see that with Next Car Game, Bugbear Entertainment has brought back the same great formula, but made it ripe for a new generation of gamers.
If you have never heard of this game or indeed, the FlatOut franchise, think of Burnour Paradise, but with much more damage. Then, think about racing unbelievable cars, but in an old fashion race to the finished, but where the goal is to make sure your opponents don't make it to the finish line.
Taking advantage of Valve's Early Access model, Bugbear has released its Pre-Alpha version of Next Car Game to the public. As to be expected, being a Pre-Alpha release, there is a severe lack of content right now with only two vehicles, one derby map, one tarmac and gravel track to play around with. However, where the game excels is with its presentation thanks to their new proprietary physics engine which looks absolutely amazing.
The two cars featured are an American muscle car, which looks like it's come straight out of the 70's and a small European car, which looks like its seen better days. They both offer very different driving experiences in terms of handling and power output, with each having clear advantages and disadvantages. Although there isn't much yet, the game also offers small amounts of customisation, so you can change the engines and tyres, as well as driving assists which include transmission, ABS, traction control and anti-spin. Having tried out turning all assists on and off, the cars do behave exactly like they should and offer a challenge when you are dodging cars in a race.
The tracks include a high level of detail, creating an experience that's both enjoyable and challenging at the same time. Thanks to the physics engine, it offers quite a lot of flexibility in using your surroundings to your advantage, which is all destructible by the way, when trying to take out another car or smashing into objects so they drop onto the track and serve as obstacles for the other cars.
Derby mode relies on the basic principle of the last car standing. In this arena, there are only a few objects to interact with, which is fair enough considering it's all about creating mayhem due to the sheer volume of cars.
Then there's the racing. This is perhaps where the game falls a little short. It's far too easy to have race-ending collisions, which diminishes the fun a little bit. This most evident in the 24 car races on the first lap, when you have nearly all cars trying to take the same line around the corner. In this scenario, it's almost certain that you are going to have a crash if you join in and the result will not be pretty. This also goes for being aware of your surroundings and making sure that you don't get taken out on the last lap, which can get pretty annoying to say the least.
The game does encourage a more strategic approach with regards to planning when to go on the offense and defence. Once you find the sweet spot of when to throw the other car off balance and take it to your advantage and the rewards are quite satisfying.
As this is Pre-Alpha, the game does look very bare in terms of modes, but there's a strong hint at some pretty interesting features. On top of improving already included features, such as more cars and tracks, the game will include a career mode where you go through a series of races and earn money to unlock cars and tracks. There will also be a market where you will be able to upgrade parts with in-game money and a social feature which will include an online multiplayer mode.
Bugbear Entertainment must be given high praise for their physics engine, which makes car damage a core aspect of the game. Working around this is not only challenging, but also satisfying when you have the mechanics sorted out. All in all, the future looks bright for Bugbear Entertainment and Next Car Game.