Friday, July 11, 2008


Aged four years old, I was endlessly amused by taking two toy cars and ramming them together at high speeds. Today, any computer game that can recreate that sense of fun gets two firm thumbs up from me, regardless of how many glaring problems it might otherwise be riddled with.

That's where Novadrome comes in. It is, in almost every respect, a terminally ill-made abomination of a game, which I happen to love dearly because it involves smashing cars into other cars.

You can get this thing via XBox Live Arcade, and nowhere else, which provides a comforting kind of quarantine for Novadrome's trashiness. You can enjoy the guilty thrill of wasting money on a download without worrying that you'll be a bad role model for those impressionable young PS3 gamers.

Novadrome ostensibly has some kind of plot about enslaved humans being forced to compete by killer robots, but you shouldn't let that stop you from getting right down to the core gameplay, which is all about smashing cars into other cars.

The cars in question are improbable futuristic whatsits that bounce all over the place as though they're made from rubber, and handle as if your driver is a small and somewhat slow-witted child. They're capable of shooting ineffectuallyusing an array of pathetic weapons, but if you want to do any real damage you're going to have to slam into things at ridiculously high speeds, which satisfyingly easy to achieve.

Gameplay is broken up into matches, each of which takes place in an appropriately sized arena full of flames, boost-pads, jumps and loop-the-loops. You're squared off against a dozen or so opponents and challenged to come out on top. The main game mode is called "wrecking ball", which is all about turning chumps into wreckage, and is a heap of fun. Unfortunately the game also expects you to play other game modes, which are uniformly awful and tend to emphasise racing over smashing.

The game's scoring system is laughably bad; if it were a person its chief hobbies would include punching nuns squarely in the ovaries. Eliminating any other player, in any game mode, results in you stealing half their points. This means that winning is never harder than killing the leading player just before the round ends with your point total being higher than zero. The computer players realise this, and on all but the easiest settings being in the lead will make you the simultaneous quarry of every other opponent.

Novadrome would probably be best enjoyed in big multiplayer matches. Unfortunately, nobody's playing. Lobbies may as well have tumbleweeds blowing through them while wolves howl in the distance. If you want to play the game as it was meant to be experienced you'll need to talk five to ten friends into buying copies and going game-hunting together. There's no local option, which bites, and as far as I can tell if you do manage to find an opponent there's no option to populate the rest of the match with bots.

So all in all Novadrome is thoroughly unrecommendable. Except, of course, that you get to smash cars into other cars. And really, that's all I'm looking for.

No comments: