Bugbear Entertainment on Next Car Game and the simple pleasure of messy driving

Next Car Game

Publisher/developer: Bugbear Entertainment Format: PC Origin: Finland Release: Out now (Early Access)

Admit it: whenever a new Colin McRae or TOCA release presented another nuanced handling model to master, the first thing you did after putting the disc in was to drive into a wall to test how far your car’s bodywork would bend. Inevitably, and disappointingly, it would only ever buckle as far as the indestructible box at the core of each vehicle. The same was true of the bangers in Bugbear’s FlatOut series, but its latest project allows you to reduce your car to a single, shrapnel-wrapped wheel.

Next Car Game, as its placeholder name suggests, only exists as a tech demo right now, released via Steam Early Access to players willing to pay for promise. This technology sneak peek is a playground of obstacles, ramps and car-destroying mechanisms, all painted in an austere colour scheme that brings to mind Mirror’s Edge. An undulating, Stunt Car Racer-style track sits next to a colossal wall of pins waiting to turn your car into a pachinko ball. Crates, tyres and portable cabins are stacked for you to hurtle into them, and a giant robotic spider stamps its feet provocatively nearby.

Car damage is remarkable. Bottom out after a badly landed jump and you’ll buckle your wheels as well as the bodywork. Clatter into a concrete column and it shatters as your bonnet and bumper bend around it. Drive into a spiked mangle and you’ll emerge with considerably less car than you entered with. That it’s so easy to damage or wreck your car is intoxicating, but such fragility may prove frustrating in the context of a full game, and Bugbear knows there’s only so often you’ll want to hit reset after having found yourself unable to drive in anything but a circle.

After crashing our car a couple of times, we headed straight for this Stunt Car Racer-style track, only to find that the car’s heavy handling makes it difficult to maintain any kind of speed without falling off.

“Showing cars getting smashed up and torn apart in spectacular crashes is cool, of course,” game designer Janne Suur-Näkki tells us. “And to really show the destruction in all its glory, you have to crank up the knobs to 11. But that then means the player will probably end the race in the first crash, [which is] not cool any more. It’s been a challenge to find a sweet spot to have both spectacular crashes and a fun gaming experience without going all arcade. And to be honest, that’s probably something we’re going to be tweaking right until the end.”

Next Car Game’s environmental objects are, in a very positive sense, equally flimsy at the moment, shattering or deforming according to the direction and force of any given impact. There’s an immense satisfaction to be gained from sending your car, roof first, into a collection of sheds positioned just beyond a ramp. But, as enjoyable as these elements are, they won’t necessarily feature in the final game either.

“Basically, everything that we thought would make any sense is destructible,” Suur-Näkki says. “That means stacks of tyres are composed of individual tyres that fly through the air when crashed into, wooden fences shatter and break down, concrete walls crumble, and trackside steel barriers bend. We’ve also prototyped destructible buildings and other neat things. Stuff like that will be included only if we deem it meaningful in that context. Although we love the over-the-top action our game features, we still want to maintain a certain realistic degree.”

“Although we love the over-the-top
action our game features, we still want
to maintain a certain realistic degree.”

Alongside refining the UI and implementing multiplayer, Bugbear is also working on a career mode that will place a great deal of focus on spending time in the garage to maintain and upgrade your cars. You’ll have to pay to repair damage using money earned from events, and the detailed car models can be stripped right down and built back up in the way you want. The team has taken inspiration from 1989’s California Dreams-published Street Rod. “[That game] did a wonderful job of making you feel the car you worked on in your garage was something important; your personal creation,” Suur-Näkki says. “We want to achieve something similar, but up to date.”

Next Car Game’s weathered stock make more sense on the dusty tracks that will feature in the final game than they do in the hyper-stark stylings of the current tech demo.

At the time of writing, the game is closing in on 100,000 preorders, netting the studio $3 million – nearly three times the $350,000 Bugbear asked for in its failed Next Car Game Kickstarter campaign. Suur-Näkki admits this far exceeds Bugbear’s funding expectations, but stresses the studio never lost confidence in the game’s worth.

“It takes a lot of faith, hope and love to create a great game, and of course every setback – whether that’s a lack of publisher interest or an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign – makes it harder and harder to keep your faith,” he says. “When we initially started pitching Next Car Game, we kept hearing how there’s supposedly no market for a game like ours. Apparently, our type of racing is adolescent fun [and] that doesn’t make a convincing business case. Even so, we believed in the game and took it upon ourselves to show it can, and will, succeed.

“We’ve always loved the FlatOut games, and over the years, fans have been asking us to carry on in the same spirit with a new game. With Next Car Game, we really wanted to get back to our roots and create another high-octane demolition racing game – for us and for the fans.”