There’s something to be said about games that prioritise good old fashioned fun. When it comes to story-driven epics I’m just as much of fan as the next person, but after a long day of work, I can’t seem to go past those pick-up-and-play titles that hook you with satisfying game modes and mechanics that beg you to improve, which is probably why I play so much Rocket League. When Destruction AllStars was announced during the PS5 reveal event I was drawn to it instantly, knowing that it had the potential to be one of these post-work winners that I love so much. It’s now in the wild and free to all PS5 PlayStation Plus subscribers, so is it a smash with the crowd or does it get T-boned and wrecked straight out of the gate?
At the heart of any addictive online title is a solid gameplay loop that begs you to ‘get good’ without being punishingly difficult; easy to pick up, hard to master. AllStars more than has that box ticked. In this game’s universe, Destruction AllStars is a vehicular destruction derby extreme sport with a healthy helping of theatrics, spectacle and free running; think pro wrestling fused with NASCAR and parkour and you’re most of the way there.
Broadsiding an opponent’s car just never gets old
Gameplay is comprised of two main states, in-car driving and on-foot free running, both of which you’ll need to use in every match to be successful. Driving is arcadey, fast and responsive, allowing you to scream around the arenas at blistering speeds before tapping circle to swing into a drift that would make the Fast and the Furious folks shed a tear. Combat while in a vehicle is just as intuitive and simple. With a flick of the right stick, you can launch yourself forward for a full-frontal smash, or throw your car left or right for a drive-by collision. It feels natural and you’ll get the hang of it within the first few minutes, though getting the timing right for sideswipes will take a bit longer.
At any time you can hit X and propel yourself out of your car and into the air, giving you full freedom to sprint around the arena. Similar to driving, the on-foot movement is satisfying thanks to arcade-style movement such as inhumanly high jumps, slick wall running and handy dodges that will get you out of a tight spot when a van is heading your way with bad intent. You definitely feel underpowered when out of a vehicle, but it’s a feeling you’ll have to get used to, as cars in this game are meant to be disposable, so don’t get attached and maybe do some lunges to limber up because you’ll find yourself hoofing it a lot.
Running around on-foot is a dangerous game with so much carnage going in around you
On launch there are 16 heroes to choose from that each have their own signature vehicle and character ability. The hero vehicles are earned by inflicting damage or collecting Breaker Shards (small pink diamond pick-ups) on-foot that are scattered around each map. Each character’s hero vehicle has a different set of stats such as speed and health, but the main attraction are the car’s abilities. Take my favourite character, Hana, for instance, her hero vehicle Sabre can produce a huge blade down the middle of the car that slices enemies in half when you boost into them, causing an instant KO. Not all abilities will seem that useful at a glance, such as Shyft’s car that can turn invisible, or Xander’s which paints a target on one enemy that buffs damage dealt to them. True, not all of the abilities are as satisfying to use as others, but across the different game modes each does have its place. While we’re on the topic though, Lupita’s flame trails do need a nerf, they cause too much damage for too long, that or I’m being salty, I’m not sure which it is.
The on-foot abilities, called Breakers, also change depending on your character selection, though these won’t matter anywhere near as much. Helpful in a pinch, the Breakers are only really used as a means to get back behind the wheel, though they do correlate to the hero and their vehicle which is nice. Take Genesis, for example, her whole shtick is speed, so her Breaker ups her movement, allowing her to cover some serious ground. Some Breakers are combat based, as you can barge other on-foot opponents to knock them back and KO them after a few hits, but you’re better off locking in a movement-based Breaker if you think you’ll be spending time away from your ride.
Blue Fang’s hero vehicle is a moving mechanical mulcher and it’s wicked
Speaking of game modes, there are currently four on offer at launch, with more being promised at a later date. In each game mode you accumulate points based on damage dealt, with a light hit being worth one point, medium two and so on. Mayhem is your basic 16-player free-for-all with the highest point scorer crowned the winner. It’s the easiest mode to get your head around and it’s also one of the funniest as you can just focus on that entertaining car combat. Gridfall is what would happen if the beans from Fall Guys decided that getting into cars would be a good way to spice up Hex-A-Gone. 16 players start the match with the goal to knock others off of the edgeless arena, while the floor periodically falls away to shrink the play area. This requires a bit more thought and precision and can be really tense at times. Carnado is a two-team mode that sees you gather points, by wrecking cars of course, before driving your car into a gigantic tornado in the middle of the arena to bank those points for your team. Some strategy needs to be used here too, as holding onto a car will earn more points, but it also runs the risk of losing them all if you get wrecked. The last mode is Stockpile, where wrecking cars results in Gears being dropped. These Gears must be picked up on-foot and deposited into one of three banks to claim them for your team, so it’s more or less domination from Call of Duty. This is the least engaging of the four modes as you’re forced to exit your car to score. It’s still decent enough, but it’s the one I’ll be coming back to the least.
All of the game modes are worth playing and the variety is there from the outset so you’ll enjoy bouncing between them to change up your playstyle. Bewilderingly, when you’re in a party with friends, you’re only able to play Carnado and Stockpile, locking out the other two modes entirely. I understand that the two team-based modes are the ones highlighted for party play, but locking the others away just isn’t a good idea, especially when there are only four modes to begin with. It sucks when players team up in all-on-all game modes, but I desperately want to be able to smash the shit out of my friend’s car in Mayhem and the fact that I can’t is a real disappointment.
All of the vehicles move and feel different but they all look badarse
Without a doubt, one of the most impressive aspects of AllStars is its presentation. Visually and technically it’s unbelievably slick. A huge amount of popping colours and a lively soundtrack will keep your spirits high, while the huge amount of personality will keep you coming back. The character designs are unique and diverse and while they might not be as instantly recognisable as say the Overwatch folks, they’re all filled with life and charm. The game goes as far as to change the title music to match the character you’ve selected, so if you’re playing as Luchador Ultimo, the theme will be given a Latin twang to accompany him. It doesn’t hurt that the game is drop-dead gorgeous as well, with every crash being lit to perfection with sparks and flames, to the way that each car becomes progressively more damaged and worn, it’s a real looker. I should also mention that matches are announced by the one and only Bruce Buffer (the ring announcer for the UFC) which put a big, stupid smile on my face.
If you’re not feeling up to online interactions there are some solo offline options as well. Arcade lets you play any of the four game modes offline with some surprisingly decent AI bots, all the while honing your skills for when you go online. Outside of this, you’ve got the Challenge Series, which is a character-specific series of events that sprinkles in some extremely light story as well as a few modes specific to this part of the game, such as time trials and point-to-point drop-offs. Completing these segments will net you a few cosmetics for that character which is cool, but there’s an issue. First and foremost, this kind of progression is sorely missing from the multiplayer side of things, where all you receive for winning (or losing mind you) are coins to spend on fairly bland, colour-swapped outfits and emotes. Secondly, aside from the first one, each of the Challenge Series are required to be purchased with a premium currency, locking away any kind of player progression behind a paywall. I understand that AllStars is currently free on PS Plus, but this does sting a little.
You can take over other player’s cars, but it’s a risk/reward situation because you’re very exposed
It’s always hard to see where party games will be in six months to a year. They could end up either like Rocket League, a runaway success, or like Battleborn, a car crash. I do see big things in Destruction AllStar’s future, as it has such a strong foundation to build upon. Satisfying and downright fun gameplay is backed up by some strong game modes and interesting character abilities that mix together to create a hell of a good time whether you’re playing by yourself or with friends. Wrinkles like the game’s whack progression and limiting party play need to be ironed out if there is to be any kind of longevity, but with any luck, the AllStar engines will continue to roar on and improve as the months tick by.
Reviewed on PS5
- Lucid Games Limited
- Sony Interactive Entertainment
- February 2, 2021