In a year like 2021, I think Destruction AllStars is the video game vibe we may all be looking for. Last year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave us solace, somewhere peaceful to retreat to as the world fell apart. Among Us would later change that vibe to something more aggressive. It allowed us to reconnect through the magic of throwing baseless accusations at your friends. Destruction AllStars is the logical endpoint of this short evolution — consequence-free vehicular manslaughter, property damage, and funny emotes.
Destruction AllStars is the video game equivalent of a Spider. A Spider is an Australian confection, the combination of soft drink and ice cream in a single cup. It is a flavoursome combination of different textures and ingredients that shouldn’t work, but do. Crucially, it’s full of sugar.
Destruction AllStars is a vehicle combat game by developer Lucid Games that draws heavily on the Destruction Derby titles of old. It takes that aging formula and updates it for modern audiences by pulling from current multiplayer flavours of the month. Players choose from a roster of animated heroes with unique abilities and beat the hell out of each other in arena combat.
Cars slam into each other at pace, shearing parts of the body away and affecting stability. Using the right control stick, you can deliver devastating head-on charges or jarring sideswipes. Deal enough damage to enemy vehicles to take them out of the fight and collect points. Take enough damage to your own vehicle and it will detonate. Mayhem mode counts all the points you’ve earned and tallies them against everyone else in the match. The player with the highest score wins.
Duck and weave
Once the vehicle detonates, your character is flung, defenceless, into the arena. Now on-foot, you need to find another car and you need to find it now. You’re not helpless when on foot by any means. You can dodge incoming vehicles and, if you’re fast enough, even steal them from other drivers on the fly. This is accomplished by landing on a moving vehicle and completing a short quick-time event. Alternatively, you’ll have to find an unused car above the arena you can steal. The moments you’re on foot are among the game’s most tense. You are a small and highly mobile target, but still attractive to other players. You’ll need to learn to dodge like Spider-Man if you want to get your next car.
Like the Spider, the combination of said flavours here should not work as well as it does. Mashing Rocket League, Overwatch, and Destruction Derby into a single game feels ambitious, to say the least. Add the confident swagger of Fortnite as the cherry on top and you have the makings of something truly obnoxious. It should be too cluttered and at war with itself to ever generate a game that’s actually fun to play. But it is. It’s great fun.
For a couple of hours at least. Because Destruction AllStars is connected to 90’s nostalgia in more than one way.
Short, fast, fun
Destruction AllStars would be perfectly at home on the shelf at a video store in 1995. In many ways, it would be the perfect weekend rental. There’s only a couple of modes. The gameplay isn’t terribly deep. It’s fun in short bursts, but wears out its welcome quickly. You could play it with friends on Saturday night and drop it back in Sunday afternoon.
This lack of longevity will, I think, be the game’s major downfall. There’s only two real online modes, one of which is the classic arena battle and the other a Fall Guys-esque battle royale where the floor falls out from under the arena. It feels like it was supposed to launch with quite a bit more content, but Work From Home measures meant scaling back. What’s there has clearly been taken to 11. Its 16 hero designs are fresh and fun to look at. The cars are suitably muscular and feel weighty to drive. The DualSense’s capacitive triggers are put to great use, applying extra pressure to the accelerator trigger so you feel the moment the tyres grip, launching you into the fray.
I think giving Destruction AllStars away for free on PlayStation Plus was the wisest move Sony could have made under the circumstances. Trying to position it as a full-priced launch title would have been a tough sell indeed. As it stands, there’s a lot to like about the game but it isn’t enough to keep me there. I’m happy to play a couple of rounds and then I’m ready to put it down. But man, smashing my friends up is a damned good time while it lasts. We’re feeling a bit punchy in 2021, and this is a fast, tactile way to work through that.
Good on Lucid for trying something so daring though. I’m keen to see what they produce next.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Cool blend of many multiplayer greats; Slick visuals; Smart use of DualSense
Lowlights: Very lightweight; Wears out its welcome quite quickly
Developer: Lucid Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 5
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a retail copy downloaded from the PlayStation Plus storefront.