Destruction AllStars Review — Smashing Good Times
Destruction AllStars made me feel like a kid playing with Hot Wheels, it's just a shame how often it falls off the tracks.
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Review copy provided by the publisher
To be entirely honest, car games have never really done it for me. Now, that may come from my lack of interest in real-life cars but driving in games always feels like the kind of thing that I don’t want to do if I don’t have to. Obviously, I drive in large, open-world games but it only ever serves as a way of getting from point A to point B. So, it was surprising to me when I got into my first online match of Destruction AllStars and I discovered that the driving was actually quite enjoyable.
Destruction AllStars is a simple game about driving cars into each other for the maximum amount of mayhem and points. That’s not me being reductive or saying that it’s easy, but just that the concept of the game is simple to understand. It’s straight to the point, works relatively well, and is explored thoroughly through the game’s four main multiplayer modes. If you’ve ever seen a destruction derby and thought, “I would love to get in on that,” then this is the game for you.
British developer Lucid Games has worked on a small handful of driving games in the past most notably Need for Speed Payback. So, I had confidence when booting it up for the first time that the driving in Destruction AllStars would work pretty well. On that front, it delivers. Each individual car type feels a little different. Smaller, more aerodynamic cars move fast and make tight turns while bigger, bulkier cars hit hard and have more health, but take more time to accelerate. These differences are basically what you would expect when looking at the game from a surface level, but the balance for all the regular cars works well.
“If you’ve ever seen a destruction derby and thought, ‘I would love to get in on that,’ then this is the game for you.”
That said, we don’t play a game called Destruction AllStars to politely drive cars around an arena. No, we smash them into each other in hopes of blowing them up. Or we ram into our opponents, so they go flying into walls. It’s the destruction that you’re here for, so let’s talk mayhem. The loop of slamming into another car as it speeds by you is extremely satisfying when done correctly. Lucid Games understands this, so they included a boost mechanic to help get the maximum amount of smash out of each collision.
There are two types of boosts for regular cars: forward boosts which, as you may have guessed, propel you forward, and side boosts which help you slam into cars to your left and right or allow you to narrowly avoid being slammed yourself. Lining things up perfectly to have a major crash feels great, but nine times out of ten, you’re going to miss entirely, or simply give a little love tap to the car you were planning on wrecking.
That’s not entirely a fault of the game as skill and practice definitely play a part in it. However, the boosts are mapped to the right thumbstick which means that when driving, there is absolutely no camera control. I’m all for changing up the controls to match the need of the game, but it made things hard to see. Because you can’t look around, you also can’t see if anyone is following you hoping to get the jump. So, the only way to look is to use the handbrake and pull a 180 to change direction. This is an odd oversight in design for a game about being conscious of your position relative to everything else on the map and the game is worse for it.
Destruction AllStars is about the mastery of momentum and angles, so if you’re struggling to get those things right, you might have some trouble with the game. The entire thing clicked for me about two hours into my playtime after a particularly satisfying collision. Setting up the angles and getting the momentum right weren’t things I was thinking about until then, but once it clicked, I was hooked. Each game was about chasing the high given from those big car wrecks, so each time things didn’t hit as hard as I wanted, I was motivated to look for another unsuspecting driver.
What’s unfortunate for the game is that, outside of the driving and crashes, it’s not as enjoyable as I had hoped. At the beginning of each match, you chose a character to play as from a diverse cast of drivers. They each have their own movement abilities and special cars. After getting in a crash that totals your car, you’re ejected from your vehicle and have to run around the map in search of a new one while avoiding the incoming traffic. At that point, Destruction AllStars turns into a much more intense game of Frogger that’s not particularly very good.
“What’s unfortunate for the game is that, outside of the driving and crashes, it’s not as enjoyable as I had hoped.”
I found any time I was on foot to be frustrating as getting hit by a car throws you in a random direction and staggers your movement momentarily. There is a dodge button that’s prompted before you’re hit, but I never felt like I had enough time to press it before a car came and hit me. On instances when I did feel confident about my dodging, I got hit anyway. To keep out of reach of the cars, there are platforms to jump on and walls to parkour across, however, it all feels a little too flighty and imprecise. I found myself having to jump a few feet before I thought I should because I was falling off platforms before they ended.
Each character has a movement ability that can be activated to make them faster and enable a double jump. That was a relief to me because I wouldn’t have to engage in the sketchy platforming which is not a ringing endorsement of the on-foot gameplay. Once their meter is full, they can also call down their unique car. I had mixed luck with the characters. Some I really liked, such as Hana and Genesis, but others like Boxtop and Ultimo Barricado didn’t have special cars that I liked or were far too slow. There’s enough variety with the 16 playable characters, however, that you’re bound to click with one of them.
Destruction AllStars is another game to add to the ever-growing live service pile. Cosmetics are locked behind in-game currency which can be bought with microtransactions, there are rotating weekly challenges that are promised to be coming soon–stop me if you’ve heard all this before. There’s nothing wrong with being a live service game, but Destruction AllStars doesn’t innovate on formula. If you were looking for something new from live service games, all it has to offer are cool car wrecks.
For a game only available on the PlayStation 5, the online aspects of Destruction AllStars feel stuck in last gen. Matchmaking took a surprising amount of time, sometimes upwards of 90 seconds. And the server issues I had at high traffic times at night sucked a lot of fun out of the game. Nothing kills the pace of a high-octane driving game quite like sitting in the lobby waiting for the next match to load.
“There’s enough variety with the 16 playable characters, however, that you’re bound to click with one of them.”
Speaking of sitting in the lobby, Destruction AllStars makes use of the DualSense controller’s microphone feature to allow players to talk to one another throughout the match in classic online multiplayer fashion. This means that, now, you don’t need a headset to talk to people in the lobby and throughout the game. The giant glaring problem is that there is no way to mute the chat in-game. It only took two matches for me to hear my first racial slur at which point I took a break to figure out how to turn the chat features off on my own which I had to do manually at the start of each match.
Overall, if Destruction AllStars was entirely focused on the driving and crashing aspects, this review would be a hands-down recommendation. I just wish it didn’t come to a complete stop as often as it does when you lose control of the car. It does interesting things with the DualSense’s adaptive triggers and has a satisfying loop but comes to a screeching halt in other areas. Lucid Games has promised at least a year of new content for the game following its release, so hopefully, things will be fixed over time. Waiting for a fix, however, isn’t how I like to enjoy games. Luckily, Destruction AllStars is one of the free PS+ games for February, so with an online subscription and a PS5, I would recommend downloading it to give it a spin.