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[Disclosure: This review is based on a downloaded copy provided by the publisher.]
It’s been 13 years since the original Cel Damage launched with the Xbox game console, later to be ported to the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. It’s a car combat game that seemed to fly under many-a radar, featuring a cartoon aesthetic smeared across every aspect of the game, from the characters and worlds to the weapons and gameplay. Now gamers can relive all of that off-the-wall action in Cel Damage HD for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. But the questions remains: Is a game from 2001 still fun today?
The fact of the matter is that I don’t actually remember the original Cel Damage all too fondly. I played it for a few hours at a buddy’s house and found the game to be too spastic, both in flow and control. Perhaps my assessment was correct or perhaps I simply did not spend enough time with the game to understand its unique play style. Either way, I found myself scratching my head when the original announcement for Cel Damage HD came down the pipe a little while back, as I thought it was one of the oddest selections for a current-gen refresher yet.
I’ve played a lot of games for review that I wasn’t too sure of at first. I tread in slowly and do my best to abandon all preconceived notions of the game, especially if it’s a remake or reboot of a title I’ve already played before. It’s always a bummer when a game turns out to be as bad as you had feared, turning those necessary hours of play in order to produce a review into an utter slog. On the other side of the spectrum, however, is the “nice surprise,” a game you didn’t expect to dig and wind up enjoying quite a bit. And that’s exactly what I got out of Cel Damage HD.
Either I simply did not click well with the original Cel Damage or the team at Finish Line Games figured out a secret formula to bring the game kicking and screaming into this new age, because I had zero trouble sinking into the chaos this time around and just enjoying what was on offer.
The content in this $10 cross-buy package is relatively light, but what’s there is varied and enjoyable enough to keep you coming back for more, especially if you have friends around and like the idea of playing a Twisted Metal-style game without all of the blood and with plenty of color. This goes double for the PS4 version of the game, as it’s one of the few titles available on the console right now that offers up four-player action.
That actually brings me to my one big gripe with Cel Damage HD, which is the lack of any sort of online play. The single player content is good and the enemy AI ranges from “dumb as a brick” to “downright tough,” depending on where you set the difficulty. And like I said, this is exactly the kind of game you want to break out when you have friends over and want to get in some good old fashioned couch play. But I can’t help but feel like an online mode would have really given this game some legs, especially since it’s filling a niche not currently being catered to on Sony’s latest console.
My gripes about a lack of online play aside, however, what you’re looking at here is a collection of goofy characters, insane weapons, cel-shaded levels and driving mechanics that are still extremely hectic, but perfectly at home in this Saturday morning cartoon world of craziness.
The cars all drive a little differently, so you should be able to find a vehicle that plays more to your liking. But this being inspired by a world of Bugs Bunny violence, you should expect to be able to turn on a dime, slide around with ease and occasionally go spiraling through the air when you get rammed too hard. Believe me, I know how that sounds. It sounds exactly like the type of gameplay that turned me off back in 2001 but, in Cel Damage HD, it’s all been dialed in to a point where the madness makes absolute sense.
Your initial cast of six archetypical characters gets bolstered as you unlock additional insane wheelman by playing the game. You’ll only have three modes of play to choose from, but they all feel distinct enough to warrant exploration. There’s a race mode that sees you tearing up the track in a mad dash to hit checkpoints and make it to the finish line first. There’s Smack Attack, which basically asks you to hit your opponents with weapons 300 times before anyone else. Finally, there’s my favorite mode, Flag Rally. Several flags on legs run around the arena, just waiting to be picked up by a passing driver and dropped off at a common scoring zone. The trick is that you can attack and slam another character who is carrying a flag in order to steal it from them and make a sprint for the scoring zone yourself. It’s a car combat version of capture the flag and it’s an easy way to lose quite a few hours without even realizing it.
As you play more and more modes (and win), you’ll unlock additional maps set up across four themed zones, like outer space, Halloween and desert. All three modes can be played in each of these dozen or so locations, meaning there’s a decent bit of variety for those who are won over by the game’s unique charm.
Cel Damage HD isn’t a system seller and I still think it was an odd choice for a modern remake, but it’s one I’m glad was made. There isn’t an embarrassment of riches to be had and, like I said, online play sure would have been a nice addition. But what’s there is a nice little package of wild and wacky driving fun, especially if you’ve got a few friends lying around.
Players: 1 - 4
Platforms:PS3, PS4 (Reviewed) PS Vita
Developer: Finish Line Games
Publisher: Finish Line Games
ESRB: Everyone 10+