Cel Damage takes a page from the Itchy and Scratchy school of cartoon mutilation and serves up a plate of vehicular mayhem
Update: Oct. 31, 2001
New screens make an appearance. If you look closely, you'll see a split-screen mode in one of the shots.
Cel-shading is fast becoming the reality TV of video games. Sure, the cel-shaded originator (Jet Grind Radio) is a modern classic, but do we really need a dozen games sporting nifty cartoon visuals and a sizzling dose of 'tude? Moreover, is there any excuse for a cel-shaded vehicular combat game?
The answer, you might be surprised to learn, is "Hell, yes." The game in question is Cel Damage, and it sets an example that any gimmick-driven game would be wise to follow.
The best thing about Cel Damage is that it chooses not to rest on its graphical laurels. The developer could have relied solely on the visual flavor of the month and racked up decent sales, but instead they chose to implement a worthy and addictive game engine.
Cel Damage doesn't beat around the bush. Rather than waste our time with useless filler like mission objectives, the game brings the noise with strategic gameplay, splendid visuals, and cool characters that sport enough weaponry to scare the hide off a Navy SEAL.
It doesn't take a MENSA IQ to get into this game. Basically, you choose a car, select a level, and then go to town like an overstressed postal worker. The intuitive controls make it easy for beginners to enter the fray, but only veterans will learn to blow up things in style.
Most of the strategy owes to the game's point scoring system, which allocates more points (or "smacks") for less effective weapons. Any four year old can wipe the floor with a Nuclear Oilcan (trust me, it's nasty), but it takes a tactical magician to score hits with a short-range weapon. Consequently, pounding your foes with a feeble or limited weapon will yield greater returns than vaporizing them with a Martian death ray.
The final version will include 36 instruments of destruction. They run the gamut from the unorthodox (boxing gloves, baseball bat) to the indispensable (our beloved chaingun). To put it bluntly, if you can't satisfy your primal urge to wreak havoc with this game, you don't have any primal urges.
Cel Damage features six main characters, plus four unlockable characters that become available when you accomplish certain feats of skill. There are 10 levels, and they each boast a pleasing degree of interactivity. In the western level, you can trigger a landslide to bury your hapless foes, and in the jungle level Venus flytraps devour unwitting passerby.
The game offers three gameplay modes - Flag Rally (capture the flag), Smack Attack (deathmatch), and Gate Relay (more traditional racing). The good news is that four-player split-screen action leavens the replay value; the bad is that there won't be any online feature (we demand a recount!). The developer, Pseudo Interactive, hopes to bring the game online for a possible sequel, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
As we have mentioned, there is a pick-up-and-play beauty to Cel Damage. The two triggers handle forward and reverse, and the A button fires your weapon. Simple is as simple does. Games of this sort typically have a lamentable driving engine, but Cel Damage handles like a gem. And the sense of speed is fantastic, thanks in no small part to the smoking frame rate.
We've put off an in-depth discussion of the visuals, and that's mainly because everyone knows that Cel Damage won't disappoint in this department. The game delivers cartoon graphics in spades, complete with lively environments and some snazzy effects (such as vehicles that flatten when they get pulverized by a sledgehammer).
The intent here was to create a fast-paced, addictive deathmatch experience, and Pseudo Interactive appears to have achieved that goal. At E3, we said some control tweaking could turn this game into a winner, and it looks like our prayers have been answered.
Cel Damage probably won't be for everyone, and there definitely is room for improvement, but so far this game has "wise purchase" written all over it.
If he were a cartoon, he'd be Megatron.