Destruction AllStars is saved, really, by PlayStation Plus. Launching as a game all subscribers can play, Lucid's PlayStation 5-exclusive arcade racer crash 'em-up feels like a fun but throwaway download that benefits from weighing in at just 28GB - a smaller size than your average Call of Duty patch. In this context, it's easy to give Destruction AllStars a shot on a whim, and when you discover there's not much to it, well, that's okay. It's free, it's inoffensive, and it's a bit of a laugh. No harm done.
I cannot for the life of me work out why someone at Sony imagined this game as a £70 PS5 launch title, though. Perhaps it was once intended to be fully-featured, to have more depth, to include more modes. If it had launched alongside the PS5 at that price I'm sure it would have died on arrival, its matchmaking system begging for players, virtual cap in hand. As it stands, lobbies are full. And they are chatty. (More on that later.)
(Watch our Ian play Destruction AllStars in the video below.)
Destruction AllStars is a mashup of two different types of gameplay: arcade crash racing in an arena, and third-person on foot action. The driving part of the game feels great, controller in hand, and despite some flaky adaptive trigger feedback on R2, there's a great crunch to the crashes. The right thumbstick is reserved for boosting forward and shifting left and right, the idea being you're actively trying to smash up enemy cars. This means you do not have camera control while you're driving. Thankfully, the developers at Lucid have done a wonderful job with the camera, which gives you good coverage of the arena even when you're sent shooting upwards in a physics-defying spiral.
The game fares less well when you're on foot. Each match starts with your character sprinting into the arena, and from there you're given typical third-person movement, the right thumbstick now offering camera control. But the camera here can be fiddly, and the floaty jumping can feel frustrating, particularly when you try to climb a wall. Each character has a "barge" attack, but it's so imprecise as to be practically useless out on the field. Each character also has a "breaker" - an on-foot super that grants a speed boost and a double jump alongside a unique ability. But most of these abilities are useless. Boxtop, a "minimum wage warrior" from a small town in England who delivers parcels for a living - and wears a cardboard box over his head - deploys parcels that helps your teammates and knocks down any opponents who walk into them, but the action is so fast and frenetic that this breaker has little impact. Hana's breaker increases her strength and makes her more lethal, so much so that her barges are one-hit kills, but good luck landing one. There are some traps you can activate by running over them, but it's incredibly difficult to set up a situation where you're leading a vehicle into a bollard. The upshot is there's little to do outside your vehicle except collect shards that fill up your special ability meters and find a new car because yours is about to blow up. There are no power-ups to pick up. No weapons to fire. It's run and jump and, well, find a new car.
(Digital Foundry's video analysis of Destruction AllStars is below.)
The four multiplayer game modes, each for 16 players, are varied enough to encourage dipping in and out. The main mode is Mayhem, which offers basic, solo deathmatch action, with the player who scores the most points winning. You get points for slamming into your opponent's car, for wrecking vehicles and for running over on-foot characters (this is almost impossible due to how easy it is to dodge cars while out and about). Driving is best but you need the shards, which can only be obtained on-foot, to fill your super meter quickly. And you'll want to do that because a full super meter lets you spawn your character's "hero car" - and some of these are extremely powerful.
Perhaps too powerful. Even at this early stage in the game's life, it's clear a few of the 16 characters are overpowered. Hero vehicles whose breaker allows for one-hit kills, such as Hana's Sabre and Blue Fang's Shredder, feel like the best choice. Too many of the hero cars' breakers feel useless. Sgt. Rescue's hero car breaker can cover an opponent in clouds of smoke, which is pointless. Back to our friend, Boxtop, and his Boxmobile's breaker lets him attach a drone to vehicles he slams into. These drones barrage their targets with damaging fireworks. It feels like a tickle, where other breakers can kill in one hit.
The balance issue is a by-product of the lack of depth. Your character choice is really the choice to pick a hero car breaker, and each hero car has just one. They really could do with a few to pick from, just to add variety to the gameplay and a dash of strategy.
While you want to be driving around in your hero car for as much time as possible, the bulk of the cars in Destruction AllStars are fleeting. They're weapons, really, divided up into light, medium and heavy classes, each to be wielded until they've exhausted their usefulness, then discarded in favour of a new model. Ditching cars at the right time and quickly getting into new spawns is the name of the game, and it's this push and pull that's at the heart of Destruction AllStars' strategy.
There's not much to the strategy, unfortunately. I suppose there's an element of timing in when you trigger your hero car, but honestly, it's best to spawn your hero car as quickly as possible because of how powerful they are. And there's a decent chance you'll spawn it more than once in a match. Just go for it! And that's all there is to it: just going for it. There's not much more to think about and perhaps that's a good thing. It's basic, feel-good carnage.
Outside the online multiplayer, there's an arcade mode that lets you play any of the four game modes on any of the three, samey maps, on any difficulty against bots. There's a practice mode. And there's a customise portion of the game, which at launch is a bit of a let down. There are skins, emotes, vehicle emotes and shouts to unlock with the in-game currency you earn through play or the in-game currency you buy with real-world money, but there's nothing particularly eye-catching. The skins are just palette swaps for the characters and their vehicles. The emotes are just, you know, current video game emotes.
This brings me on to the Challenge Series mode, which is bitterly disappointing. Each challenge series (the game launched with three, with more coming soon) contains seven unique challenges spread across the various match modes. They're as close as Destruction AllStars gets to a story, where a rivalry between two characters is established via a few enthusiastic cutscenes. Here's the issue: you get one of these sets of challenges for free, and are forced to pay real-world money to play more. I picked Ultimo's challenge and completed it in an hour, unlocking seven uninspiring cosmetics in the process. I can only do Lupita's challenge series if I pay 200 DP. Genesis' challenge series, which is a limited-time event, costs 400 DP. The store will sell me 500 DP for £3.99, 1000 for £7.99, and 2000 for £15.99.
The challenge series don't cost a huge amount on their own, and Destruction AllStars is, essentially, a free game, so Sony has to make its money somehow. But when a game launches this barebones, paywalling content you'd expect to be able to play by default feels grubby. Sell all the cosmetics you want. Release a battle pass, even! Don't lock the snippets of story behind a microtransaction. The better I get to know these characters, the more likely I am to want to invest in them. Destruction AllStars wants to charge me for the privilege.
This is one of a few proper head-scratching decisions from Sony. The main menu has music, and, brilliantly, it changes ever so slightly to reflect the character you currently select. But there's no music at all during a game. As you leap into the action you expect some sick beat to drop, but it never does. There's nothing to really shoot towards, beyond an XP grind that rewards unwanted cosmetics. There's no ranked play, so no skill ladder to climb. You just play to play, which will be enough for some, but isn't quite for me.
The headline head-scratcher in this game is the voice chat, which I at first hated but now think is kind of hilarious. When the game gets 16 players into a lobby, voice chat is on by default, and so is your controller's mic. You cannot mute yourself or the lobby from within the game. You can disable both outside the game, but I honestly think a lot of players do not realise their controller microphone is on as they're playing. And, astonishingly, you can not mute individual players.
I have heard some stuff, dear reader, playing this game. I have heard people eating up close and personal. I have heard long, wet farts. I have heard children screaming. I have heard conversations in many European languages. I have even heard a couple talk about getting their car's discs replaced. The best of all: I heard a wife book her husband a taxi for 3pm, revealing to all in the lobby their home address, and that they were going to their local medical centre. To the chap whose wife booked that taxi: I hope everything's okay, mate.
Honestly, part of the pull to play Destruction AllStars for me right now is this window into other players' lives. What are they having for tea? What did they think of the result last night? And what about that boil they really should get checked? It's kind of disgusting, kind of hilarious, and I can't not listen, because actually the game makes it hard for me to not listen.
Destruction AllStars does a lot right. It looks the part. It's polished and, from what I can tell, largely bug free - a testament to Lucid that the studio was able to produce a game this slick amid a pandemic and a work-from-home order. It's vibrant, feels good in the hand, and I like most of the character designs. But it's throwaway and barebones at launch. It's a game of potential right now. It desperately needs more to it, more depth, and more strategy. The driving is so good I'm craving an actual racing mode, or maybe a power-up filled multiplayer mode, something like a Mario Kart crossed with Burnout. That would be cool, I think.
I want to end on this: Destruction AllStars has a good heart. Just as I was wrapping up this review, I played a game of Gridfall, Destruction AllStars' battle royale mode, and got to the final two. It became clear I wasn't going to win, going up against Blue Fang's terrifying shredder with Boxtop's piddly Boxmobile. So I leapt out and did a wave emote, just for the laugh. My opponent jumped out of his car! He then said over voice chat: "I'll give you the win if you give me an accolade after the match." Destruction AllStars has PS5 accolades! Okay mate, you got it! He jumped to his death, handing me victory. As the XP rolled in, a pop-up on the top-right of my screen: he had given me an accolade for being a good sport. As promised, I did the same.
(If you want to see this in video form, the gameplay clip is below:)