Destruction AllStars Review
Smashing cars into one another is a long-standing institution in video games. From age-old favourites like Burnout and Flatout to more modern entries like Wreckfest, there’s always been that drive to ram steel into steel and blow our opponents into tiny bits of scrap. With PlayStation 5 (and PlayStation Plus) exclusive Destruction AllStars, developer Lucid Games attempts to combine that classic demolition appeal with ideas from contemporaries such as Rocket League, Fortnite, and Overwatch. The result is a competitive car combat game that can have fun bursts of frantic action, but never adds up to much more than that.
The crux of Destruction AllStars is a simple one: drive fast and hit hard. This is often extremely satisfying to do as well, because it makes it easy to push down on the accelerator, line up your target, and then flick the right stick forward to slam into an opposing vehicle. The harder you hit the other car, the more points you’ll get: one point for a light hit, two for a medium one, etc. This scoring system works well as the basis for most of the four modes (more on those later), keeping things for the most part nice and simple when there is so much going on elsewhere on screen, not least the collisions constantly taking place around the gorgeous looking arenas.
Shamelessly arcadey in its handling, the driving itself is slick and responsive, with different sizes of vehicle feeling appropriately different to maneuver and a tap of the handbrake letting you effortlessly drift around corners to evade chasing cars. The trick in Destruction AllStars is to always be on the move, both so you have the momentum to get higher-scoring hits and so you aren’t a sitting duck for others trying to do the same to you. And that doesn’t only apply to when you’re behind the wheel, but when you’re outside of your car, too.
This is what separates AllStars from most car combat games: the ability to bail out and move around the arena on foot. At its best, this means ejecting yourself from a car before it explodes, flying into the air, and then landing straight into another vehicle, which feels sensational – reminiscent of launching yourself out of the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight. At its worst, however, you’re left running and jumping around in search of a new vehicle while all of the fun is had around you far faster than you can keep up with. The light parkour platforming itself isn’t unenjoyable, thanks in part to wall-running that’s smooth and nimble. It’s just how utterly powerless you feel in comparison to when you’re in a car that’s the problem.
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“Of course you shouldn’t be as powerful as a car when on foot,” I hear you shouting, and you’re not wrong. It makes sense that a human (albeit one with semi-superhuman capabilities) can’t stand toe-to-toe with a hulking piece of 100mph metal, but AllStars sets the wrong expectation by giving you the ability to barge opponents with melee attacks and summon glowing Wolverine-like blades from your hands if you’re Bluefang that sure look like they should do more than scratch the paint. With all of that available you just expect to have more opportunities to use your powers in fun ways, but you can’t really. It’s just one example of where AllStars seems a bit confused as to what it wants to be.
Hey Now, You’re An AllStar
Being on foot gives you a close-up look at AllStars’ diverse cast of 16 playable characters who, while they may not have the depth of similar hero-based games, do have their own abilities and summonable hero cars, and are charming enough in their own way to bring a welcome dose of personality to the proceedings. There’s the catchily named Tw!NkleR10t with her cutesy kitty car Mr Sparkles, and Fuego who, you guessed it, loves fire. But there aren’t really distinctive personalities, just a lot of arguably stereotypical representations: imagine if someone clicked 16 times on a random Overwatch character creator and repainted them using a Fortnite art style and you wouldn’t be far off. They’re flavorful enough to not be generic and inconsequential, but put them in a room full of characters from Bleeding Edge, LawBreakers, and Rogue Company and you’d be hard pressed to pick them out of the crowd without the aid of nametags.
More important than their personalities are the abilities that accompany each AllStar: one when they’re on foot and one when they’re in command of their hero vehicle. The on-foot powers, called Breakers, are triggered by hitting R1 and are often echoes of the hero vehicle abilities but on a much smaller scale, making them largely ineffective. This can range from Shyft’s invisibility to dropping parcels for opponents to trip over as Boxtop. But across the roster, I felt very little impact when using a Breaker, and found their biggest value was the speed boost and double-jump you get when triggering them because those actually make it easier to reach a new vehicle and become relevant to the match again.
As is the case throughout Destruction AllStars, abilities get a lot more interesting once you’re back behind the wheel. After filling up the hero meter over time and boosting that process by collecting shards littered around the arena you can summon your signature vehicle, at which point a lot of fun can be had. These cars’ abilities can be used to devastating effect, and doing so well can often be the difference between winning and losing. They range from the hedgehog-like metal spikes that can jut out of Jian’s car and defend them stoutly to Sgt. Rescue’s smoke bombs that trail him in his wake, hindering opponents’ vision.
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In particular, my favourites so far have been the wolf-themed Lupita, whose sleek car leaves a trail of flames in her wake to damage any driver that runs through them, and Bluefang, who has a burly ride with giant rotating saws on the front that shred anything in its path. I think we can all agree that carving through opponents like they’re made out of papier-mâché while donning a tiger head and leather jacket is a fun time. Anecdotally, it seems fairly well balanced – it’s still very early days balance-wise, and I have been seeing Bluefang frequent the winners podium more than most, but plenty of different characters appear on the victory screen alongside him.
Get Your Game On, Go Play
There are currently four PvP modes to play, which hit and miss to varying degrees. Mayhem, a 16-player free-for-all where the driver with the most points after the six minutes takes the win, is AllStars at its most stripped back and arguably its best. It’s fast, chaotic, and rewards aggressive play with big points for huge collisions and wrecking opposing vehicles. This is also where the varying hero abilities most successfully come into play, offering the chance for dramatic comebacks and blockbuster moments.
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The other (less enjoyable) free-for-all mode is Gridfall, a cross-between sumo wrestling and Fall Guys’ Hex-A-Gone round. Drivers tussle to become the last car standing as sections of the arena floor disappear and beckon you into the depths. I found it hard to have fun consistently since you’ll either fall unceremoniously early or survive long enough to see the action diluted down to a cagey game of cat and mouse towards the end of each match. This mode requires a more deliberate approach to driving and rewards defensive play more than any other, making it feel at odds with the fast and furious nature of AllStars as a whole.
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More in keeping with Mayhem’s mood is the 8v8 Carnado mode, essentially a team-based equivalent with the addition of a 100-foot-tall tornado in the centre of the stadium. You still score points by wrecking enemies, but then have to bank them by driving into the vortex before your car is destroyed by an opponent. It’s fun to play with friends, but lacks any form of real teamwork. It feels like a missed opportunity not to do what other hero-based games like Overwatch do in creating opportunities to let you combine ultimate abilities together for even greater results. For example, having a driver that possessed an ability similar to Zarya’s Graviton Surge that pulls enemies together into the same spot could combine with Bluefang’s Shredder to create highly rewarding moments of play, but they’re all much more independent than that.
The fourth and currently final team-based mode is Stockpile, and unfortunately it’s one I struggled to enjoy at all. Once again you smash into cars, but this time that causes glowing gears to appear on the floor which you must then collect on foot before depositing them in one of three banks around the map. In order to bank these points you must again be on foot and not in your vehicle, which just isn’t fun. It’s bizarre to me that this mode forces you out of your car so much. I guess Lucid Games didn’t learn the lessons taught from Tony Hawk’s Underground, where it was proven conclusively that not being on your wheels is not what people want.
This isn’t the most baffling design decision that appears to have been made, though. Despite there being 8v8 modes, you can only play in a party up to four players in size – but not only that, you can’t play any of the free-for-all modes with friends at all. This seems like a huge miss as I could see myself having a great time crashing into my pals in the Mayhem mode, delivering a healthy amount of schadenfreude as most great party games do. These restrictive options, combined with a lack of any local multiplayer, makes the experience of playing with friends a shallow one.
Shooting Stars Not Breaking the Mold
If you are playing solo though, alongside the free-for-all modes are the Challenge Series. Each series consists of a string of short events that revolve around a single AllStar (the first being the luchador-garb wearing Ultimo) and offer very, very light bits of story. Most of these events are versions of the multiplayer modes but against AI, but others do re-up a bit. One was a fairly rudimentary time trial that involved moving through gates placed around a multiplayer map, both on foot and in car, before time expired. Another was much more bizarre and quite unexpected: a riff on Crazy Taxi that involved picking up and dropping off NPCs to different points around an arena. I enjoyed it, but it’s hard to know how much of that was just nostalgia for simpler times, especially given how brief it was.
The cosmetics situation in general is pretty poor, with a limited amount of customisation available. In my first roughly seven hours of playing I only gained enough coins to redeem two new outfits for my characters, both of which were just fairly simple colour swaps. It’s a shame that Destruction AllStars looks so visually impressive when all the gears are in motion, but gives you very little to show off within it when trying to add your own dash of personality to the mix.
AllStars does take advantage of the power of the PS5 to good effect though. The visuals are shiny and sharp throughout with loading times kept to a minimum. It also implements some of the best use of the DualSense’s haptic feedback that I’ve experienced to date, especially when the health of your car gets low and you feel the axles become loose and fragile in the palms of your hands.