Carmageddon is a notorious vehicular racing/combat game developed by Stainless Software and published by Sales Curve Interactive for MS-DOS PCs in 1997.
It was originally meant to be a game based on the Mad Max series of films. When that didn’t happen the developers then bought the license to the infamous Roger Corman/Paul Bartel film Death Race 2000, but they later decided to drop it and create their own IP, eventually coming up with the title “Carmageddon“.
Carmageddon broke the ‘cardinal rule’ of race games at time, which was: “thou shalt not mow down pedestrians.” Allowing drivers to kill pedestrians caused significant controversy in 1997, leading to some versions of the game being censored, with pedestrians being turned into green-blooded zombies. This was an issue throughout the series’ lifespan, and it took a year of appeals against the censors to see Carmageddon released uncut in the UK.
You begin Carmageddon by choosing either a male or female driver (Max Damage or Die Anna respectively, although you can rename them), then you race against computer-controlled cars in single-player races (or other people in multiplayer races). You can win a race by doing one of three things: 1. either complete a set number of laps by driving through a series of checkpoints; 2. wreck every opponent’s car within the time limit, or 3. eradicate every pedestrian within the time limit.
Car mechanics lean towards the more realistic, so it’s easy to lose control of the car by driving recklessly. Credits can be earned by wrecking other cars, pulling stunts, ploughing down pedestrians “creatively”, collecting coloured drums, or by completing or winning races. You can spend those credits at the parts shop (to improve your car), or you can use them in-game to repair your car on the fly. Opponent cars wrecked during the race can be ‘stolen’ and driven by the player afterwards.
The time limit during a race can be increased by hitting pedestrians (or animals such as cows), or by driving into green drums that award you a time bonus. So unless you go looking for that extra time, your chances of making it to the end are slim.
Carmageddon is playable, challenging, well-made, and a lot of fun to play. It’s also full of nice little touches, like the driver’s faces which show their reactions on-screen, and the excellent cockpit views. The soundtrack is also excellent, with a mix of heavy metal, ambience and Chemical Brothers/Crystal Method-style dance music (which was big in 1997).
The humour of the developer shines through in Carmageddon. The devs were also dedicated stock car racers, so took their experience from that and applied it to this game, and it shows. Driving and crashing cars has never been so much fun.
Carmageddon is still available to buy on Steam and GOG.com, at the time of writing, as the “Max Pack“, and it’s uncut and uncensored. It’s well worth a play if you’re not easily offended by the pixellated violence. Just remember: this is a satirical video game, not real life.
A sequel, Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now, was released in 1998. A second sequel, Carmageddon TDR 2000, was released in 2000. And a modern remake, Carmageddon Reincarnation (aka Carmageddon Max Damage), was released in 2015. Of all the versions of Carmageddon available I still think that this first game is arguably the best.