Destruction AllStars Review
Destruction without much motivation
Many were happy to see that Sony managed to launch their new PS5 console late last year despite the global pandemic. There have been issues with hardware shortages, but at least those who managed to nab one were able to enjoy a solid and varied launch lineup. Many games in that launch lineup were also made available on PS4 though, as the company didn't want to leave behind its huge install base. That left just Astro's Playroom and the new Dark Souls remake as the true PS5 exclusives – a rather small group, which is now joined by the newly released Destruction AllStars. While this demolition derby offers a few thrills and spills, it lacks content and is hardly an impressive showcase for the new console.
Destruction AllStars is a multiplayer-focused car action game, where players compete in one of a few arenas in order to dish out the most damage to their opponents. However, before heading online, you can complete a set of tutorials against bots to get familiar with the mechanics, and game modes. You can return to these tutorials at any time to try your hand at the different playable characters and see which one suits you best. There is also a brief Challenge Series solo experience focusing on one hero with a couple of cutscenes, and more such content is planned in the future. In the currently available chapter, you get to play through some unique scenarios and challenges, which makes it worthwhile as it's not just a tweaked version of multiplayer. While the current first adventure is free, the rest must be purchased with Destruction Points – which are only attainable with real money. For a game already lacking in content and long-term goals, this seems like a poor decision.
Before heading into the arenas, you get to select one of 16 available characters to play as. The character selection determines what special ability, called a Breaker, is available to you while on foot, and in your hero car. The characters fit the visual style of the game well, and have whacky animations and personalities, though they don't speak much. Destruction AllStars is very straightforward, in terms of gameplay mechanics - all heroes just have a single ability, and they don't really interact with each other in any way, be that against your opponents or with your teammates. Everyone just gets the special Breaker attack to use, and there's nothing else to consider other than being in a good position to dish out damage – there are no "counters", or even any pickups in the arena. You simply pick what works for you, and try to deal as much damage as possible.
This sort of design leads to the fact that some hero cars are clearly more powerful than others – even if the abilities themselves are decently well balanced as not to feel overwhelming (they are usually short in duration). The matches have a limit of two/three of the same hero, so you have to be quick in selecting them, and have backup options, as it's already obvious which heroes the community prefers. For example, Bluefang's car has a devastating set of blades that almost guarantees a takedown on anyone he drives into. Hana also gets a blade that can cut through opponents. Area-of-effect focused heroes such as Ratu unleash a blast of damage to all nearby cars; Shyft's special ability lets him go invisible and sneak up on opponents for some big hits.
Heroes with abilities that provide a direct damage or defensive effect are incredibly more useful than the rest. For example, Genesis gets a speed boost which increases her damage, but it's obviously much more difficult to land any sort of hit. Xander can mark a target to which he deals increased damage, but Destruction AllStars isn't the type of game where you can effectively target a single opponent. Lupita can leave a trail of damaging fire behind her car, but it's brief and very easy to avoid. Fuego can light nearby cars on fire, but the damage is small and it's not as devastating as someone like Bluefang. Destruction derby undoubtedly involves a lot of luck when it comes to performing well, but picking the right hero can help immensely.
When the match begins and you enter the arena, all characters begin on foot and with a few cars in front of them to jump into. When inside a car, the game handles like a straightforward arcade racer; the controls are decent, you can drift a little and perform sharp u-turns. You don't go overly fast, but the sense of speed is good and smashing into an opponent provides plenty of satisfaction. The only action you can perform is a slam, either forward or to the side, by flicking the left controller stick. Of course, the nature of a derby means there is a lot of luck involved; lining up a big hit often goes awry as the enemy decides to make a turn at the last second. You can drive head-on into a pileup hoping to score damage points, and crash into a wall instead; you can also get some sweet hits from random cross-traffic across the arenas. You get awarded points for damaging enemies, and even more for wrecking someone – but you have to land the final blow to get the KO, hence again the luck factor comes into play.
The unique aspect of Destructions AllStars is that you can jump into and out of cars at any time, and run around on foot. Despite the seemingly strange premise, it's actually a decently well balanced mechanic. You must always watch out for your car's health bar, and if you're about to take fatal damage, you can simply jump out quickly, and your opponent doesn't get the points for wrecking you as they smash into the now vacant hunk of metal. On foot, you can then run up to the random floating platforms above the arena which have a new car for you to get into. The cars range from hatchbacks to SUVs, and handle slightly differently with different health pools. The chaotic nature of the game means you won't spend too long in any one vehicle, however.
While running around, players can be hit by others, but your dodge button usually keeps you safe and the game seems to opt on the side of the pedestrians as not to overwhelm them with unfair damage. You can also run over some pillars which pop out of the ground and can cause some crashes for anyone chasing you. When dodging or nearby an enemy vehicle, you can actually grab onto them and ride on the roof. During these moments, the rooftop passenger has to perform a timed QTE, and if successful, they can either wreck or take over the vehicle. Meanwhile, the driver has to swerve and try to get them off the roof. In this case, the driver is heavily favored – you simply spam the stick back and forth, and shake off the invader, who rarely has enough time to complete the QTE.
The last but not least reason to be on foot is so that you can do a little bit of basic platforming. There are platforms that float above the arena, out of reach of cars, where you collect red crystals. These crystals give a big boost to your Breaker (special ability bar). So while everyone is busy crashing into each other and waiting for their ability to fill overtime, you can expedite the process and have your ability ready very quickly. Once the Breaker is ready, you can execute it while on foot – which usually gives your character double jump, and a special move against other pedestrians. However, interaction with others that are running around is pretty much non-existent – you can shove them, but that's about it. What you'll really want is to fill your Breaker bar so you can call-in your hero's special car.
Each character gets a car that has a unique look and an ability. For the sake of balance, you can't hijack these cars, and since there's no way in the game to restore your vehicle health, they can become high priority targets for other players. The special ability of each car recharges overtime, so if you're lucky and skilled, you will probably get a few uses of it before you're wrecked. After that, you're back to using the randomly spawned cars, or you can do some more platforming and collect red crystals to get your ride back sooner.
All of the action is set against a backdrop of four different modes. Mayhem is a 16 player free-for-all battle where the person with the most damage points at the end of the six minutes wins. Gridfall is quite a bit more intense – in a circular arena, the floor tiles continuously disappear, leaving you with dangerous gaps to fall through. You also have a limited number of respawns (more can be earned by dealing damage), and the last person standing wins. The two other modes are 8v8 team based affairs. In Carnado, the damage you deal is converted into Gears, and you must bank these Gears for your team by driving into a tornado in the center of the map. If you get wrecked, you lose the Gears you're carrying, so there is a risk and reward mechanic. Lastly is perhaps the least enjoyable mode, called Stockpile. Here again you're collecting Gears – but they must be picked up on foot, and then delivered to one of the three "bank" platforms in the arena. Delivering enough Gears converts the platform to your team, and the team holding these banks for longest/or the most at the end of the match, wins. This mode requires an amount of coordination that doesn't really fit the game.
Three of the four modes are all pretty fun, and provide enough variety to keep your attention for at least a couple of hours. However, after you've found the characters and modes you enjoy most, Destruction AllStars runs into its most serious issue – a lack of content. There are just a couple of arenas, and in the case of Gridfall, there's just one. There are daily and weekly goals to complete, and everything you do earns you experience points. That experience then translates into AllStar Coins, the second currency in the game, which is used to unlock visual customizations. However, the visual customization options are underwhelming – each hero has less than 10 skins to unlock, which are mostly just alternative color schemes. Other unlocks are backgrounds for your name plate, victory screen poses, shouts/emotes, and so on. On the one hand, this lack of meaningful progress is OK, because all players will always be on equal footing, regardless of how long they play – but on the other hand, there's very little to strive for in the long-term, especially if you don’t care about cosmetics.
This sort of leads us to the unique way that Destruction AllStars was handled at release. Like Bugsnax, this title is currently only available to PS5 PlayStation Plus members for free, until April. However, originally Sony was planning to sell this at full retail price. As a free PS Plus title, it's a decently enjoyable experience with the begrudgingly accepted micro-transaction focused model for future content. We always review such games from the perspective of their "real price" (i.e. Fall Guys, Bugsnax) for those who don't subscribe to Plus or choose to buy the game normally. However, Sony has removed all mention of what Destruction AllStars is priced at. As such, we don't know what will happen in two months from now, when the game leaves the PS Plus service. Will Sony keep it free to play in some way? Will they start charging full price, or half price? That will have a significant impact on the value.
While Destruction AllStars is a PS5 exclusive, it’s not exactly an impressive showcase for the console, and it would have likely worked just fine on the PS4. Sure, the texture work is very detailed and the game looks sharp, but beyond that very little here is next-gen. The damage model on the cars is okay; the debris, explosions and special effects are fairly basic and quickly disappear - so the arenas look just as clean at the end of a match as they did at the start. While the framerate holds steady, the game still features a lot of hitching and cars teleporting around in multiplayer – something you'd have hoped we left behind with a new console era. With just 16 players and very undemanding gameplay – that demands precision – you would expect better network performance. The DualSense controller offers adaptive trigger support and some sound effects, but that’s about it.
Speaking of audio, the developers made a few strange choices. The game only has one main theme song, that has a few different mixes that it goes through. And it only plays in the menus – the actual matches lack music, which often makes them eerily quiet. There is a very generic arena announcer that sometimes makes comments about you, or how your team is doing, in the vaguest possible terms. The sound of crashes, tire squeals, and car engines is fairly subdued. Another odd case was at launch, when the lobbies featured an open microphone policy by default with no quick option to mute, which turned out about as well as you might expect. This has since been patched, at least.
Destruction AllStars was planned to be a full price launch title on the PS5, but someone made the very smart choice to delay it and make it free on PS Plus. And as such a game, it's only decent – the gameplay is rather one note, despite a variety of characters and well designed modes. There's not much to strive for, and after a few hours of play, nothing left to see. If you've got a membership, there's no harm in checking this title out, however what we're concerned about is what will happen after the next two months. As it stands currently, Destruction AllStars is an occasionally enjoyable car demolition derby that lacks longevity and any wow-factors to make it stand out as a PS5 exclusive.