Destruction AllStars targets the dumbest part of our human brains with one simple phrase: Would you like to drive around a car and smash things up? In fact, I do. The exclusive PlayStation 5 feels like a throwback to games like Destruction Derby, but it breaks away from its other cousins in car combat by letting players walk around after their car is destroyed. It’s a nice twist that emphasizes the availability of whatever happens – including the over-the-top drivers themselves. The whiplash-causing crashes and unique character abilities are satisfactory at first, but only the most dedicated rubberneckers will find a reason here to stay.
Lucid Games wanted to try something unconventional by making individual drivers the stars of the auto show. Each of the 16 characters has a bold presence that is largely conveyed through their wardrobe and cheeky pre-game animations. There are tons of pro-wrestling attitudes, and UFC announcer Bruce Buffer’s introductions fit the mood of the game perfectly.
Events begin with a mass battle as each character sprints to claim one of several available cars on the arena floor. Think of this as a high-stakes game of musical chairs. If two players drive the same car, it will come first, served first. The second player can jump on the roof and try to pull the other driver out with a micro game at the push of a button. A successful takeover gives the winner two options: sit in the driver’s seat or cause a wreck and find another car. It’s a small moment in the game, but I really like that way of getting into the action. It makes the first few moments an odd kind of mind game as players either try to snatch an unclaimed car or – troublemakers unite – switch to a car that is being claimed for the risky opportunity to score a quick knockout
Driving feels amazing with the precise handling you would find in a top notch kart racer. I found it just satisfying to just drive around, build enough speed to get onto the bank walls, enclose the arenas, or do power slides to drift dangerously close to columns, walls, and other obstacles. Of course, other players aren’t interested in indulging in that Sunday mentality. Fortunately, at least conceptually, they are easy to use. When you flip up the analog stick, a boost in speed is triggered that can help you escape the damage – or hit another car or an unfortunate foot character. Similarly, with a quick left or right push, you can either jump away from enemies or swipe them from the side, depending on what’s happening. Although my general excitement wore off a little over time, I never stopped tensing myself against an unsuspecting enemy vehicle in anticipation of a major accident. It feels crispy and satisfying.
Cars do a lot of damage as the games progress. that is the point after all. This is where Destruction AllStars is at its best. Instead of being stuck in a smoldering wreck in the corner somewhere, you can throw yourself out of your car at any time. Don’t ask how characters can blow up so easily. The most important thing is how good it feels and how much flexibility it offers once you get the hang of it. When my car was clearly on its last legs – a sensation that is magnificently amplified by the DualSense’s adaptive triggers that pull away gas and brakes – I sped towards one of the myriad driverless cars that were on platforms above the arena floor floated. There’s just the right amount of suction that makes it easy to jump from one car to another and continue your destructive path. You can also jump out at the last second to avoid a possible wreck or if you just feel like it.
On foot, you are a potential target for anyone, but you can be pretty quick and have access to some basic parkour techniques like wall running. Sometimes it makes sense to run to the nearest replacement car, and sometimes it’s more beneficial to pick up some of the collectable gems that are scattered across different platforms. These items will help improve your breaker displays, which are also built up through contact with enemy cars. You have two breaker skills, one for your character and one for your character’s unique car – which must be summoned by filling the vehicle’s breaker bar. Each is unique to the character, which adds to a dizzying chaos in games.
Take Lupita, for example. Her foot breaker allows her to leave a trail of fire behind her that will set enemies on fire. Her unique vehicle’s breaker has a similar function, leaving flaming back-to-the-future-style tire tracks behind her low-profile racing car, which can bathe a densely packed area in devastating flames. Or it can be used defensively to burn someone who follows closely behind. Blue Fang, on the other hand, offers a unique ride with a series of saw blades on the front. For a short time, they can be turned on and you can find out from there. His foot breaker makes him resistant to enemy attacks and knocks down rivals on foot who make the mistake of fighting him. I had a lot of fun testing each hero and seeing how their various moves work. There is a great training mode that makes it easier to figure out the timing and duration of the breakers as everyone is so different.
Characters are the source of much of the game’s diversity, for better or for worse. Destruction AllStars has four modes, two of which are free for everyone and two are team-based. Mayhem is the flagship mode in which 16 participants compete for points in timed games. Points are awarded by dealing damage and ruining opponents. It’s about as easy as it gets. Gridfall gives you a life to see how long you can hold out in an arena that frankly doesn’t seem safe. The ground is constantly collapsing, pushing players closer together and making navigation more and more precarious. Stockpile and Carnado let teams collect equipment from opponents and place it in safes or tornadoes. Offline you can play some story-based missions, like one that was inspired by Crazy Taxi. The modes are all pretty fun, but I kept coming back to Mayhem. It feels like what’s closest to the game’s core identity, and it’s a great way to blow off some steam.
Lucid and Sony envision this as a live service game, with new characters and modes added over time. Players can also purchase cosmetic adjustments for their favorite drivers. Right now I don’t see any point in spending the game’s earned or premium currencies. For a game with such a personality, the skins are a boring pallet swap. I appreciate the fact that character skins affect the cars too, but I didn’t feel stimulated to spend the coins I’d earned over several hours to get a blue version of the green thing. You can buy voice clips, emotes, or other doodads too, but I didn’t find any of these particularly convincing either.
Destruction AllStars is an exclusive PlayStation 5 version and shows what the console can do. It is hindered by the basic design of the game for no real fault on Lucid Games. Sure, SSD load times are fast when you get into offline single-player combat, but matchmaking can be a lengthy bottleneck. And the action moves so quickly that it can be difficult to fully appreciate the visual fidelity. Time slows down during your best single player crashes, giving you the chance to enjoy every piece of bent metal. Obviously, in multiplayer, you only get the slow-motion graphics when you are devastated. I was stunned by the detail of a giant saw blade that cut my car in half in the London arena. For a few seconds I was able to look into the cockpit of my car and marvel at the lovingly rendered roll cage – and even the emergency fire extinguisher. Moments like this are rare, however, as you’re mostly plowing ahead at such ridiculous speeds that you can’t bask in all the chaos – or even know that the guy who t-boned you was only using an emote for that he’s spent several dollars on.
I had a good time behind the wheel in Destruction AllStars, even though I don’t know it’s got enough to keep me going forever. That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do; There is a sufficiently good selection of modes and activities between online and offline, others are in preparation. And I appreciate the immediately satisfying action that is as easy to get in and out of as the cars themselves. Even if the novelty of the vehicle chaos is not enough to keep my interest in many more long-distance sessions, I am looking forward to from and to take a short jaunt.