Destruction AllStars is built around a neat idea: what if we took the hero shooter concept and swapped out the “shooter” part for “vehicular destruction in the vein of Destruction Derby?”. It’s a solid idea that seems like a shoo-in for some hectic, exciting multiplayer mayhem. When all the stars align, that’s exactly what Destruction AllStars is: a game with a lot of depth, a lot of creativity, a lot of flair, and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it’s also a game that struggles to put its best foot forward, with its best ideas too often getting drowned out by a lack of content, lack of variety, and an assortment of little frustrations that build up.
The basic idea in Destruction AllStars is, simply, to jump into a car and crash it into others. The difference is that you’re not confined to your car; when your ride blows up—or, ideally, when you jump out before it blows up—you can freely run around on foot, tackle other players, and find another vehicle to jump into (or steal) so the destruction can continue. The hero element comes in with the character choices: a roster of vibrant All Stars, each with their own unique look, personality, a special power-up, and most importantly, their own hero vehicle with unique qualities and a special power-up of its own.
As I said, it’s an interesting concept. While you’ll spend most of your time behind the wheel—running around on foot in an arena full of cars trying to crash into each other is dangerous, it turns out—the pedestrian element adds a different dynamic. A well-timed eject can go a long way, and high-rise platforms throughout each arena mean there are places you can only go on foot. Hero cars are powerful, but have to be earned, either by collecting gems scattered about the platforms or by crashing other players using the generic cars that spawn regularly. Call your hero vehicle at the wrong time, and it’ll be wrecked before you even get a chance to unleash its power, wasting all the time and effort spent to charge it up in an instant.
While the basic idea remains the same across the board, four different game modes offer different twists on that idea. Mayhem is the “standard” mode, if you like—earn points by crashing, wrecking other cars, knocking out players on foot, and so on, and highest score at the end of the match wins. Gridfall takes a last-man-standing approach in an arena whose floors gradually fall away to leave deadly pits in their place, while Carnado and Stockpile are two different riffs on team play and collecting car parts to either bank for points or use to hold control points.
The heroes themselves are the real stars of Destruction AllStars, a bunch of vibrant characters from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of stories behind them and personality in abundance. From a former child actor / model to a K-pop stan, from a Kiwi motocross champ to a metalhead who went from the sport’s number-one fan to a competitor, the All Stars are an eclectic but loveable bunch. Hana is the stand out among the group: extremely cool but a bit of a goofball when her guard slips—and also a Māori character who’s not a racist caricature, and is voiced by a Māori actor. (I wish the bar wasn’t so low, but here we are.)
When it all comes together, Destruction AllStars can be a whole lot of fun: the action, the mayhem, the energy of the cast all combine to drill up some pure adrenaline and excitement.
Unfortunately, it hits that sweet spot far less frequently than it should. The biggest problem is a lack of variety and, much as I hate the term, content. The different game modes have their own quirks, but they’re largely the same at their core; there’s a lot of missed potential for more varied objectives and modes that encourage different ways of interacting with the core game loop. There are only three different maps, and despite being set in different cities around the world, they look almost identical and lack any real defining features.
There’s no way to filter matchmaking to find players of a similar skill level, in a game with a high skill ceiling where experience (actual experience, not XP) makes a world of difference. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but Destruction AllStars doesn’t have much in the way things to help you improve—there’s a practice mode, but the bots don’t really behave like human players—and the chaotic nature of the game means that when you’re getting whomped it can be hard to figure out what’s going on and use that as a way to get better.
Nor can you filter out players with bad connections, in a game where even a little bit of latency can be game-breaking. There’s nothing quite like suddenly get rammed by a car that’s not actually present on your screen yet, or jumping into a vacant car first only to find yourself forced to try steal it from the person who arrived after you but somehow still got priority for the driver’s seat. Oceanic players are particularly hard-hit, since there’s no Oceanic matchmaking region—like it or not, you’re going to be playing with players from America, Europe, or Asia, with the lag that comes with that.
Some of Destruction AllStars‘ most interesting moments are found in Challenge Mode, a set of rotating single-player challenges that also serve up a little bit of backstory for the cast. But with the exception of the first set of these, they’re gated behind a weekly rotating schedule and a premium currency that can’t be earned in-game at all. Microtransactions in a live-service game are standard, but having pretty much a whole game mode locked behind them is bizarre.
There’s a great game somewhere in Destruction AllStars. The concept is an original take on the “hero” trend, and could be a nice return for the vehicular combat genre that’s been quiet for a while. Every now and then, when everything clicks into place, you can see that potential on display. Sadly, despite its vibrant cast and unique concept, the lack of content and matchmaking woes prevent it from really delivering on that potential.
Destruction AllStars is developed by Lucid Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It’s available now for PlayStation 5 (reviewed), and is included with PlayStation Plus until the April 5, 2021.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.