Scrap Metal Review

Short version: Scrap Metal’s cheerfully sloppy control makes the game fun in short bursts, but hinders long-term enjoyment.  Though a variety of mission types try to break up the monotony, they aren’t as fun as the basic races.  In the end, there isn’t enough depth here to support the amount of content the developers delivered.

Ostensibly a combination of top-down racers and car combat games, Scrap Metal’s overly ambitious design keeps it from greatness.  That the game comes wrapped in a coat of slightly too dark, dingy looking graphics, and sports an unappealing set of characters (Jane JunkTrunk? Really?) doesn’t help matters.  But the core mechanic of piloting slidey little bundles of destruction around the game’s twisty courses is actually a lot of fun.

Kudos are in order for Scrap Metal’s novel controls.  Though the game offers a traditional top-down racing scheme in which steering is relative to the orientation of your vehicle on screen, the second (and better) option simply sends your car in whatever direction you point your controller’s analog stick.  Driving in the game is accessible, but imprecise.  Cars slide all over the place, and the exaggerated in-game physics reward a certain recklessness. Unfortunately, too many of the modes in the game require a degree of precision that the controls just aren’t designed to offer.

Races are only one of several kinds of events available in Scrap Metal.  There are also destruction derbies, one on one battles, evasion events, last man standing events, elimination events, and more.  There are even escort missions! Unfortunately, none of these are as fun as the standard races.  Particularly, missions that require you to destroy a designated opponent are real downers.  The charmingly sloppy vehicle control, which is fun in the races, makes trying to blast just one specific character unnecessarily frustrating.  Add in AI that generally ignores whatever goal is at hand in favor of causing trouble for the player, and the single player campaign ends up wearing out its welcome long before you’ve finished.

Scrap Metal features a wide selection of cars, from buggies and monster trucks, to cop cars and beyond.  Players start by selecting a car from the junkyard.  Once chosen, the car can be visually customized, and eventually upgraded.  During a race, destroying an enemy car adds that car to the junkyard, and the whole process can start over.  Finishing races in the top three positions rewards players with money that can be used to purchase upgrades for their rides.  It should be instantly clear that particular cars are best suited for particular events.  When players find themselves unable to move ahead, finding the right car for the job will probably solve the problem.

Tracks are generally well laid out, often with cross-over sections that encourage maximum conflict between racers.  But, as with other elements of the game, the more complicated the tracks get, the less fun they are.  It can be extremely easy to go off course (there are often no hard barriers to keep you from doing so) and difficult to get back on.

Multiplayer is predictably fun.  Allowing players to focus on the strengths of the game (combat racing) and avoid the pitfalls (most everything else) makes for a great time.  Scrap Metal offers both online and split-screen play.  Though the game really lends itself to playing against others in the same room, the tracks can get quite a bit harder to navigate, given the reduced screen space.

In the end, Scrap Metal remains a fun little top-down combat racer.  Had the developers left it at that, we’d have a solid title on our hands.  But the inclusion of so many other mission types in the single player campaign actually hurts the game — there isn’t enough depth here to support the amount of content the developers delivered.  Still, if you’re in the market for some fun, slippery racing (preferably with friends), Scrap Metal is worth a look.

Scrap Metal is available now on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 1200 MS points.