Gamepires is a new developer on the scene, which makes it difficult to know what to expect from their first title, Gas Guzzlers: Combat Carnage. There is no established track record or existing library of titles to help give you an idea of what you might be in for. The genre Gamepires chose for their debut, combat racing, doesn’t help much either. Everyone knows what to expect from a game with guns or a game with cars, but a game with both? It’s been a while since we’ve seen a title that pulls off a nice balance between racing and vehicular combat. Could this relatively small indie studio really pull it off?
The answer is a relatively solid yes, but only after you get past a rocky start. The game starts you off with a pretty awful car, and only one race to use it on. You have to place at the top in this race in order to get to the real fun. The problem is that the combination of your terrible car and your opponents’ uncanny ability to overtake you out of nowhere makes this far easier said than done. You will lose your first race. You will also lose your second, and your third, and probably a lot more after that. It literally took me over a dozen tries before I finally placed first. There are no new cars or upgrades you can buy along the way to make the task easier, you just have to cross your fingers and hope the tenth (or twentieth) time is the charm.
Once you get past that rather unpleasant appetizer, the meat of the game is far more satisfying. You will unlock your first weapon, and finally be introduced to the combat-based game modes. There are three types of races: Classic, Battle and Knockout. Classic is the mode you’re used to (read: tired of) by now, featuring straightforward race gameplay with power-ups like land mines and oil slicks, but no weapons. Battle introduces car-mounted weapons into the mix, and while it’s your final placement in the race that counts, killing off your opponents makes that first place finish much easier. In Knockout mode, there can only be one; the focus is heavily placed on taking out the other cars on the track. Second place counts for nothing, so you’re forced to be the last man standing or the first one across the finish line.
The latter two modes are definitely the most fun, but you won’t mind putting away the guns for a while for a Classic race on some of the later tracks. Whatever mode you prefer, you’ll be earning money, unlocks, and upgrades on the way to the top spot in the tournament. The AI will also buy upgrades at a comparable pace, keeping the races pretty fair throughout the game. There is a respectable number of cars in the game, and each one comes with an assortment of external (tires, paint jobs, and rims) and internal (engine and brakes) upgrades available to purchase as you unlock them. Your weapons and ammo can also be upgraded. There are shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers and more, providing plenty of variety to suit your gameplay style.
Another area where variety shines is in the race tracks themselves. You’ll leave a wake of destruction in many different locations, including sandy deserts, snowy mountains, dirt roads, and a few traditional paved courses. Unlike a lot of racing games out there, the time of day and weather conditions also vary. These details are made all the more enjoyable thanks to graphics that are surprisingly nice to be from such a small developer. The audio quality is nice as well, with a decent, if forgettable, instrumental soundtrack.
Holding everything together is the developers’ quirky sense of humor. You’ll race against drivers with names like “Jack Kass”, “Stu Pitt”, and “Luke Likesheet”. It doesn’t stop at (sometimes lame) puns though. Everything from the voice-overs to the car and upgrade descriptions is tinged with a little funny flair. I even started a race once, only to notice a blow up sex doll clearly visible through my back windshield. This quirky aspect of the game is part of why I think the developers really missed out on an opportunity by not explaining the rules and controls in-game. Not only does it add an unnecessary learning curve, but it also removed a chance for them to get a few more laughs in.
Overall, it’s a good game in a genre that doesn’t get much attention from the bigger developers these days. After a very frustrating period of playing the same track over and over again, the entertaining combat mechanics are nicely complemented by good graphics, a variety of locations and upgrades, and a fun sense of humor. Fans of the genre will find plenty to enjoy here, but the rough start and hefty (for an indie title) price tag might keep a lot of potential players from pulling the trigger.