Totaled! Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Rage

Platform: Xbox
Reviewed on Xbox

There's no fancy story to report here, no role-playing or adventure elements. This is arcade action in its purest form. Broadly, you'll engage in two types of activities – stunts and demolition. Stunt events sometimes take the form of bus-jumping challenges (you know, line up some buses, run your car up a ramp, hope you make it to the other side). Most of the time, however, stunt-type activities are woven into the demolition derby events which make up the bulk of game events. The point of a demolition derby is to smash up other people's cars using only your car (and your driving skill) as a weapon. Several different rulesets for the demolition contests offer a variety of experiences. Sometimes, you'll play a free-for-all contest either to get the highest score or simply to be the last man standing. Other times, you might play a hunter contest in which one unlucky driver is "it," and you only score by smashing into him. Other varieties of game abound, and the options expand further when you add in split-screen multiplayer. Like most driving games these days, you must play the single-player career mode to unlock new tracks and new cars, which may then also be used in multiplayer mode.

Rob de los Reyes

If the above description of Totaled! makes it sound rather simple, well, it is. It's also simply amazing. The complicated work is all under the hood, as it were. The cars are rendered with special care, in brightly-colored detail and with extensive deformability. The physics are modeled with similar attention to detail (if not realism), from the nature of impact to the traction of different arena surfaces. But you don't have to worry about any of that complicated stuff. All you have to do is find the accelerator, find the handbrake, find the nitro button, and you're up and running. Remember smashing your Matchbox cars together when you were a kid? Your satisfaction was limited ironically by one of the toys' strong points – the near indestructibility of the cars. Your satisfaction is limited no more. Smash away with the glee of a child, but the savvy of a gamer. There's enough nuance in the driving challenge, enough variety in the game types, and enough randomization in replay to keep you happily at the controls well into the future.

If you aren't going to be deep, you had better be pretty. And Totaled! is. The static screenshots genuinely fail to capture the full splendor of Totaled! since much of the game's beauty is in the motion. To be sure, the cars are attractive to look at just sitting in the selection screen. They are realistic, shiny, and come in a variety of occasionally comic shapes and paint schemes. They could easily be dropped into your favorite driving sim and not seem outclassed. The main visual treat, however, is what happens when an arena full of cars sets into motion. Suddenly, colors blur and flash, bits and pieces of car whiz past your view, and whole cars fly, flip and roll. To call it ballet is to overstate the case, but, like that art form, each individual attractive element adds up to a lovelier whole when you step back to take in the whole stage.

The arenas themselves, some more cleverly designed than others, feature far less detail than the cars. They are also rather purposefully hemmed in so as to limit the view. These shortcuts would be more troubling if they didn't strike one as functional. For all its power, the Xbox has its limits, and they show up in the fairly lengthy load times encountered while moving in and out of the contests themselves. To the extent the arenas and scenery were sacrificed in order to use limited processing power elsewhere, it's certainly the right choice. And, truth be told, the simplest arenas are the most fun. The openness of the football stadium and the circular Severnaya Snow Bowl maximize your opportunity to pummel your opponents and minimize the time you spend trying to reverse your way out of a corner or merely stay on the track. Also well-designed are the lumpy tracks that let you (deliberately or otherwise) launch your car into the air. Few gaming moments are as purely entertaining as accidentally sending one of the big cars over a jump you didn't spot quickly enough only to leapfrog an opponent for big points – or, better yet, to land right on him.

Whatever its limitations, the Xbox offers a feature that I had heretofore not really explored. Namely, the ability to copy my own music on the Xbox harddrive and substitute it for the default game soundtrack. It's not that the Totaled! soundtrack is any way deficient. To the contrary, the bands and songs are well-chosen, if limited in number. In fact, I have had the song "Chupacabra" stuck in my head for a week now (which wouldn't matter if I knew any of the lyrics beyond the word "chupacabra"). Totaled! presents a fairly unique opportunity to take advantage of the music swap, however, because its short, frenetic contests don't need music for dramatic build or scripted moments. That means that nearly any tune you find pleasing will fit into nearly any given moment of the game. It's a nifty device to add your own personality to the game in a way that neither spoils the artistry of the aesthetic package nor requires any great forethought on your part.

You will find, at first to your frustration and later to your delight, that mastering Totaled! is rather more difficult than mastering its controls. Like real demolition derby driving, if you lead with your nose too much, you'll end up wrecking your engine and totaling your own car. Getting to the later stages in career mode means picking the right car for the job and learning to use the handbrake to make quick turns for hitting or just maneuvering. Your nitro boosts are limited, so you'll also have to learn when to use and how to time them. Variations in game rules also require you to change your style of play. Short timed matches or first-to-score matches call for a slightly different play style than long or last-man-standing contests. The variations shouldn't be exaggerated, but you'll certainly notice them. And they're all to the good. A game that could easily have been interesting for no more than an afternoon of play consequently turns out to have substantial replayability.

Totaled! reminds us why we own console systems. There's nothing terribly complicated here, nothing you have to worry about, at any rate. You can't gimp yourself or screw up a build order or go link dead in the middle of a fight. You can drive well or drive badly, but either way, you'll get to try again in short order. Most importantly, you'll want to try again. Good-looking cars, a chance to lay down your own music and surprisingly subtle gameplay here add up to a visceral good time. Moreover, it's a good time that is easy to share with friends since it's unfettered by the burden of a steep learning curve. Check your pretensions at the arena gate, and prepare to get dirty.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 21, 2002 9:09 PM.

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