The racing genre might not be for everyone, but there is a certain sense of excitement in taking control of a high-horsepower vehicle and outrunning your opponents. It's satisfying to outrun your opponent, but it's even more exciting when you add weapons into the mix, whether it's a rocket or a turtle shell. Games like Twisted Metal and Carmageddon have always held a certain allure that other racing games can't match, simply by offering players the option of taking the violent path through a race. There are plenty of racing games that allow players to play on the straight and narrow, but relatively few let you really cut loose. Scrap Metal may be a racing game, but like its spiritual predecessors, it realizes that sometimes violence is the answer.
Scrap Metal is an overhead racing game that's very similar to old titles like R.C. Pro-Am. You have to guide your racer around the track and try to come in first place. The traditional control method has you using the analog stick to turn and the shoulder buttons for the gas and brakes. If you're not comfortable with that, the "easier" control method has you point the analog stick in the direction you want to drive, and the game takes care of the rest. Vehicle handling is a big part of the title, and every vehicle you control drives a little differently. Some are very slippery and require intelligent use of the gas and brake, even on the simplified control scheme, while others are easier to drive but less powerful. The real difference is that Scrap Metal is a lot more violent than similar racing games.
Every vehicle is equipped with incredibly powerful weapons. You use them at the touch of a button, and except for having to wait for the weapon to cool down before you can use them again, there is no usage limitation. Scrap Metal is a racing game, but it is a racing game where skill isn't the only element that decides victory. It's possible to win some races by turning around at the start line and blowing up every foe around you instead of outdriving them. This isn't an option all of the time, but it is enough of a factor that you can't simply hope to get by with fancy driving skills alone. Indeed, being in first place is extremely risky. There are not a lot of weapons that allow you to attack opponents behind you, so being in first place means you're in the lead ... but largely helpless. Fortunately, there are secondary weapons that can randomly spawn while you're driving around. These weapons, such as oil slicks and time bombs, have limited usages. They're also very powerful and versatile, so clever players can handle enemies that they normally couldn't without sacrificing speed.
One of the coolest features of Scrap Metal is the wide variety of vehicles available to drive. You begin the game with a rusted pile of junk armed with a single machine gun, but you won't stay in that car for long. Every time you blow up an enemy on the field, you get the chance to take his car from the junkyard after the race. Alternately, you can complete special missions that reward you with the chance to use certain special vehicles. Regardless, you're quickly able to build a greater stable of vehicles to drive, ranging from simple jalopies to monster trucks, hover cars and construction equipment. Each vehicle has different attributes. A bulldozer may have great armor, but it won't be as fast as other cars, while a sports car can zoom around the track but has weak armor and poor handling.
Each vehicle also has a unique set of weapons. Some have traditional weapons, like machine guns or flamethrowers, terrible spiked threshers or powerful steam shovels that let you toss enemies into the air, and electricity blasters that shock the enemy into submission. Regardless, each weapon has strengths and weaknesses. I was rather fond of close-ranged weapons, which usually came in the form of a horrible spiked wheel or chainsaw you could drive into foes. However, those weapons weren't as useful against fast opponents, as I had to be really close to use them. Grenades or machine guns were more effective but tended to overheat faster, making it harder to kill multiple opponents in a row.
The vehicles you get in the game are ranked by "class." The higher the class, the more powerful the vehicle will be. However, don't think that means you can just get a high-level vehicle and run through the game with ease. A lot of missions in the game require you to remain within a certain class. If you go outside of that class, you won't earn medals or upgrade points from the race if you win. Upgrade points are a harsh loss. By finishing a mission, you earn points, and the more successful you were in completing the mission, the more upgrade points you earn. These points can then be spent upgrading the attributes of your cars; this is useful because you're limited to a certain class for your races. Upgrading doesn't alter the class of your vehicle, so you can substantially boost the power, effectively raising it by a class or more. This makes certain missions a lot easier, but upgrade points are limited. Spend them wildly, and you'll find yourself without the necessary points ... at least in theory. In actuality, there isn't much to stop you from just grinding for upgrade points on easy missions. This makes it difficult to get "stuck" on a level, but at the same time, it takes a lot of the decision-making out of upgrading your car.
Scrap Metal's single-player portion is divided into missions. While at heart a racing game, Scrap Metal's missions each require you to take on a different aspect of the title. Basic races just require you to finish the race with a high standing. Whether you do this through driving skill or by destroying everyone else on the field is up to you. Other missions, however, require you to do more. Some missions are elimination races, where you can only win by outracing, not outfighting the other opponents. On the flipside, you have demolition derbies, where only your fighting skills matter. Other missions have more exotic goals, such as outracing a fleet of electricity-shooting paparazzi vans for a set period of time, or defending a V.I.P. from gangsters who want to assassinate him during a race. The missions are fairly simple, but there is enough variety to them so that you'll rarely feel like you're doing the same thing twice.
Scrap Metal's missions are of varying quality, which is perhaps its weakest point. The races and demolition derbies are a lot of fun, but others end up feeling tedious. There are a few boss fights where the enemies sort of drive around, and if they bother to attack, it's rare to see. Others, such as the escort missions where you have to defend a friendly vehicle from enemies, are just no fun. The escorting is either so easy as to be incredibly boring or frustrating, as the AI acts like a complete moron and you're forced to defend it. When the missions play to the game's strengths, they're fun. Allowing players to race and blow the crap out of the things they're racing against is exciting and interesting. When it plays to the weaker elements of the game, though, things are noticeably less fun. Perhaps the worst of the lot are missions where you're given an annoying objective and forced to use a certain vehicle. It isn't difficult to use an ambulance armed with grenades to defend a Nitro truck from gangsters, but it isn't really enjoyable, either.
Of course, a big part of Scrap Metal's fun is going to be playing against other humans. The mission AI is passable but certainly not great, and it's hard to not imagine gamers wanting to play something a little more challenging. Scrap Metal supports both offline and online multiplayer, including races, demolition derbies and even King of the Hill match types for up to four racers. You can select from any of the mission areas that are available in single-player mode, which determines the difficulty of AI racers and which cars are available to you. Multiplayer is just as violent as single-player, and if you're racing against humans, they're sure to be relentless. This is not a racing game to pick up if you're the kind of person who hates being blown up as you get into first place. On the other hand, there's a lot of Twisted Metal-caliber fun to be had in turning your opponents into heaps of burning wreckage.
Scrap Metal is fairly nice-looking for an Xbox Live title. The cars are generally well-animated and have a great level of detail. It can be a bit difficult to keep track of your car during some of the races, especially if you accidentally pick a similar-looking car and color to one of the AI racers. The environments are varied, although it takes a while before you get beyond brown, rusty dirt tracks. The soundtrack is reasonably well done, although it falls fairly heavily into the realm of unmemorable. The generic rock-slash-techno soundtrack has no particularly notable tracks or songs, but it fits the tone of the game very well and rarely gets in the way.
This is a title for which you should consider keeping an iPod full of your favorite racing tunes at hand. One thing the game is dearly missing is voice acting, and although that may sound odd for a racing game, it is true. A lot of the characters, especially bosses, will quip and quote at you using text boxes on the upper left-hand corner of the screen. You can't really take your eyes off the action to read these, so you're usually missing out on the only way that the AI racers are given personality. Most quips are pretty mediocre (there's a reference to Kanye West's infamous interruption, which already feels dated), but even a handful of simple lines could have done a lot to add atmosphere to these battles.
Scrap Metal is a solid, all-around vehicular combat game. The controls are simple, the vehicles varied, and the combat intense. There is not a lot to say about the game, as it doesn't do anything particularly new or innovative. At the same time, it remembers why vehicular combat is fun and offers players plenty of chances to take out their frustration on unlucky cars and their even more unlucky drivers. The mission-based structure of the single-player segment offers many play types and allows gamers to hone their skills. Perhaps the only downside is that with over 60 missions to complete, there are a few duds. The game does things right more often than it does them wrong, and there is a good amount of fun to be had here. Inevitably, the real star is going to be the multiplayer, as turning a fellow gamer's car into smoldering scrap is more fun than doing it to a rather lackluster AI. Scrap Metal doesn't do anything exceptional, but if you're looking to blow up some cars, it's got everything you need.
More articles about Scrap Metal