Replay Value: 7.5
Destruction derby is perfect for the video game world. It’s all about nonstop action, a whole lot of metallic crunches, and that stirring, no-holds-barred sensation not found outside the dirt ring. Enter Mayhem 3D, a Left Field Productions game that serves up a minor twist to the aforementioned winning formula: they toss in a noir comic-book atmosphere and a 3D mode that works on any television. That’s right, the game comes with a pair of those old-fashioned 3D glasses, so you don’t need a 3D-compatible HDTV. You can also adjust the 3D depth (from 0 to 10), so if you’d rather play without the 3D element, feel free. Priced $20 cheaper than your standard new game, this is actually quite a solid, entertaining romp that packs a lot of bang for that lesser buck. And although it gets repetitive, there’s more content than you might think.
Frankly, I’m still on the fence about the presentation. I’m a fan of the black-and-white noir environment, simply because it has a distinct look that always stands apart. When a destruction derby game adopts this style, it’s both way cool and a tad underwhelming. In my eyes, the noir attitude is designed to amplify the subtler aspects of a production, to give it a sense of mystery and a dash of whimsy. But the events in question are all about in-your-face impact, so it’s a strange design choice. Even so, it works out well; the effects are fitting (gotta love that comic book “krrrrunch” in the cartoon bubble), and it’s a consistent presentation. The 3D part is okay but in comparison to big-budget stereoscopic 3D, it sort of falls a bit shy. But hey, it works on any TV and it’s a nice little bonus.
The sound can be simply explained: there’s a great soundtrack and the lone narrating voice echoes about the room and suits both the noir and derby scheme. The unfortunate part is that you’ve heard it all within the first hour. I was sort of hoping that more music would come down the pike as I advanced in the Career, but it really didn’t, and I was stuck with a few repeating pieces. They’re borderline fantastic for the first hour or two but after that, I started to lose interest. Thankfully, the audio effects always help to ramp up the immersion, as the “ramming speed” strikes really hit the speakers hard. Even the ambient noises, from the engine roars to the tires impacting shifting dirt, are surprisingly effective. Overall, I’d say both the visuals and sound comprise a solid technical presentation, although there’s the rare animation stutter that should be mentioned.
As you might imagine, the gameplay controls are about as simple as can be: the left analog steers, the right analog lets you control a free camera (rarely necessary, in my experience), R2 is the accelerator, L2 is the brake and reverse, X boosts, and Circle is the hand brake. That’s really all you need to know. But even the simplest, most accessible control scheme stumbles if there are technical problems that infringe on our enjoyment of the game. The good news is that the control here really is rock solid, with the possible exception of a few wonky muscle cars. For whatever reason, I found them much more difficult to maneuver about, even though their control ratings weren’t much worse than other vehicles. That’s a balance/consistency issue but overall, there are lots of cars, different classes, various arenas, and several fun events.
I mean, for forty bucks, you get 120 vehicles across 6 separate classes, 20 levels in 5 arenas, split-screen multiplayer (up to 8 allowed online), and a lengthy Career Mode that has you trying to earn as many golden stars as possible. Your performance will dictate the number of stars you receive (1-3 in each event), and due to the reliable, responsive control, those three stars are usually quite possible. I particularly liked the slowly increasing difficulty, because you always feel capable of pulling down all the stars in each event, even if it takes a few tries. Plus, you’re not retrying because of a problem that you can’t control; you’re retrying because you messed up, and you know you can do better. It makes for a very enjoyable derby experience, and that enjoyment is increased thanks to the significantly different events, all of which require a different approach and maybe a different vehicle.
For instance, I liked the speed and maneuverability of the coupes for the race events and the solidarity and stability of the sedans for the destruction events. In addition to the standard derby, there’s Domination, Banger Racing, Eliminator Racing, and various timed events that challenge your driving skills. Domination has you trying to push opponents off a ledge into a pit (without falling in yourself, of course), Banger Racing is a straight-up race (but one that usually features crossovers and even head-on traffic situations), and Eliminator Racing is when the last two cars in line are eliminated after the leader crosses the finish line. Then you might have to snag as many engine parts as you can in a minute, or bash cars by going in reverse. Thing is, if your front gets too damaged, driving in reverse may be your only option.
That didn’t seem to happen too often to me, and I have to say, I was initially annoyed at the reverse camera. See, when you go to reverse, you don’t just back up; the camera switches around so you can see what’s behind you. Unfortunately, you also lose sight of what’s in front of you, and reverses the left/right steering as well. But that’s only logical, obviously, and after a while, I did find that reverse view pretty darn helpful. Opponent AI is decent, too, and it seems to increase as your Career progresses. Speaking of the Career, you will unlock new comic book issues that feature a bunch of different events. Once you’ve grabbed enough gold stars, you can unlock the next book, and continue forward. There is no story and for some reason, I found that a little disconcerting, but the combination of good controls, competent AI, and a nice balance compensates.
On the downside, as is the case with a lot of cheaper titles, the game gets a little too old a little too fast. The Career is indeed lengthy – I didn’t even get halfway through after nearly three hours, and I went out of my way to get three stars for each event – and being able to unlock more vehicles and customize them is a big bonus. The different events are great as well but as I said above, you’ve really seen it all in the first hour or two. The difficulty increases and you’ll compete in different arenas, many of which offer unique challenges, but as time goes on, it’s really just the same ol’ same ol’. There are some slight eccentricities but it’s an easy, pick-up-and-play game that doesn’t quite have the longevity to sustain long play sessions. The multiplayer is a blast but I couldn’t really find anyone online to play with; I was restricted to the local two-player option.
Mayhem 3D is a fun, stable, entertaining game with more than enough content to satisfy. The 3D aspect isn’t really a big deal and doesn’t have the same impact as recent stereoscopic 3D titles, there are a few hiccups in the animations and control, and the repetitiveness is obvious. The developers do what they can to spice things up with the aforementioned features, and those various events are all well designed and implemented, but after doing an event once, you’ve got it. There’s not much else to talk about. And I remain reserved on the noir design choice, because I’m just not sure it fits. But in the end, this really is a lot of fun, and the fun doesn’t falter often, so if you’ve been looking for a capable derby game, this is it.
The Good: Graphics and sound are solid. Control is reliable and accessible. Great balance and continual moderate challenge. Lots of content and a lengthy campaign for the price.
The Bad: 3D doesn’t seem to be anything special. A few small drawbacks on the animation and control front. Repetitive gameplay.
The Ugly: “Damnit…steering the wrong way going backward again!”