It’s hard to see how Destruction AllStars was ever being considered as a boxed, £70 launch title for the PS5. It’s such a weird tale: Destruction AllStars to be one of just three PS5 exclusive games available at launch and was perhaps the most potentially exciting as the three considering the other two were a freebie and a remake of a beloved, older game. Destruction AllStars was not only going to be one of just three launch exclusives, but it was also going to be the only brand new IP, the only unknown quantity. But suspicions were raised when nothing of the game was being shown. We knew it was a multiplayer game about wrecking cars in arenas, but that was it. Then it got delayed, and then finally Sony revealed it was going to be free for Playstation Plus subscribers. There’s fun to be had but it feels like someone accidentally deleted a bunch of content from the game and couldn’t get it back. Four arenas, incredibly boring customization and shallow gameplay make this worth £10-15 at most, not £70, although there is at least a solid chassis for developer Lucid Games to build on down the road.
The first thing we need to address is a misconception: Destruction AllStars is not a free-to-play game. It’s an easy assumption to make given how its currently being given away for free if you have a Playstation Plus subscription, but once the month of February is in the rear-view mirror it’s unclear as to whether Destruction AllStars is going to go on sale as normal. In this sense, if you have a PS Plus subscription there’s really not any reason not to take the game for a spin, or at least add it to your library so you can come back later once its had a little more development time. With all this in mind, I don’t feel like I need to be as forgiving about Destruction AllStars as I might normally be when it comes to something truly free, and as we’ll cover, Sony made the right call by holding this game back from being a full-priced, boxed title.
Essentially, Destruction AllStars is what would happen if Destruction Derby and Overwatch had a one-night stand and got a little kinky. 16 unique “quirky” heroes, a palette of bright colours and a Saturday night sports show vibe make up the game’s in-your-face attitude. It’s like the characters were kidnapped from the local circus, covered in superglue and dragged through a dozen different clothing shops before being deposited on a character selection screen and told to do funny gestures and dances ‘cos that’s what them there kids do!
Inside your car, everything comes down to smashing up your opponents in four interchangeable arenas, aided by special boosts called Slams that are activated with the right stick and let you do a bunch of extra damage while potentially taking none yourself. No matter which of the three basic car types you jump into (light and agile, mid-weight and drifty or big and smashy) the handling feels light and easy, letting you drift and pull of sharp hand-brake turns like the ghost of Colin McRae. The four arenas on offer are built like bowls with high, curved sides that make keeping your momentum going a breeze, and can allow for some good tricks if you can pull them off. There’s not a lot of depth to Destruction AllStars, but there’s still some skill involved in skidding around the arenas, deftly dodging other players and lining up devastating slams.
While the three car archetypes do all have slightly different handling and slightly different levels of durability, I think there are not enough differences between them. They are all so similar than I never gave any thought about which of the three I was hopping into because it ultimately does not matter or make any sort of significant difference in the grand scheme of things. I would have liked to have seen each one handle much different, like making the chunky 4x4s handle more like lumbering behemoths that are tricky to hit other people with, but when you do they damn well know they’ve been hit.
Cars in Destruction AllStar are as disposable as I view people on the street to be, even the chunkiest only taking a couple of hits or accidental crashes into a wall to KO. As soon as that happens you’re ejected of your car (although you can jump out whenever you want) and need to go on the hunt for a new ride. The thing is, as soon as you step outside of the car everything becomes decidedly worse. You can run around, climb up platforms and wall-run in order to gather up Shards which charge up your special Breaker meters, but the platforming is kind of wonky and not much fun. You can attempt to smack other people around, too, using a complete ineffective barge move that seems to rely on the roll of a die to determine if it even hits, but honestly trying to hit another player is a waste of time and you’re much better off looking for another car to hop into.
On foot, you have a special Breaker ability that’s unique to each character, activated with a quick tap of L1. And it’s useless. That’s because the Breaker is always designed around attacking or defending against the opponents, and as we’ve already covered there’s zero reason to spend time outside of a car unless you have to or unless you’re nabbing Shards to get access to your hero car faster. The only real reason to trigger your Breaker is because it boosts your speed and lets you double-jump, which in turn lets you get to a car faster or snag Shards quicker.
There are four modes in Destruction AllStars, starting off with Mayhem which is just a straight free-for-all with 16-players all vying for the title of the crappiest driver on Earth as they smash into each other. There’s little more to say about this mode, except whoever has the most points by the end wins. With 16-players blasting around small, generic arenas the action is fast-paced, sometimes almost to the game’s detriment as you smash and get smashed from every direction.
Gridfall is also a free-for-all but introduces the concept of an arena where the floor is slowly disappearing and everyone has a limited amount of respawns. Last car driving/last person standing wins. It’s…okay. The ever-present threat of toppling into the abyss and thus losing a life adds some welcome tension into the mix, but the more confined nature of the mode doesn’t suit Destruction AllStar’s brand of mayhem.
Stockpile is easily the worst of the four modes, pitting two teams against each other in a race to snatch up cogs and bank them at locations around the arena. Admirably this mode attempts to incorporate the on-foot action by having the cogs you smash out of opponent’s cars only be collectable when you’re on-foot. Likewise, you can only deposit your points at a bank when you’re using your feet instead of your wheels. While I do appreciate the developer’s goal of trying to mesh the driving and the parkouring together into something cohesive, Stockpile actually just ends up feeling clunky. Halting the action to get out, scoop up points, jump back in the car and then jump back out to bank them is awkward, and as I’ve already said Destruction AllStars is at its worst when you don’t have an engine powering you. Still, you can get a little teamwork going by having some players dedicated to smashing and others doing pick-up duty.
The best of the modes is Carnado, an 8v8 battle where you gather up points by bashing and smashing and then drive straight into the tornado in the middle of the arena, destroying your car but banking the points you earned in the process. There’s a fun risk vs reward mechanic here because if you’re ride is totalled before you reach the tornado you lose the points, and if you hijack an enemy team member’s car you can steal their points, too. In Mayhem the lack of teams can sometimes make it frustrating because you can barely move without getting hit, while Stockpile has teams but doesn’t nail the balance of in-car and on-foot action. Carnado manages to get the mix right, the two teams meaning you have some breathing room without ever going very long without crashing into something, and the Carnado itself forces you out of the car for a little while, at least.
Even though two of the game modes feature teams of players, there’s really very little room in Destruction AllStars for teamwork. I think the developers really messed up in their hero design by not having abilities and powers that could work well with other hero characters, and instead the roster of 16 heroes all have Breakers that do very little to aid the rest of the team.
Let’s talk about that roster of misfits, shall we? They’re certainly a varied and colourful bunch with names like Ultimo Barricado, Shyft and Tw!nkleR1ot. There are some nice designs and even nicer designs for the hero vehicles, as well as cool powers. Lupita, whom I was instantly drawn to due to the fact that she’s wearing a wolf head, can leave a trail of blazing fire behind her car, while Barricado deploys a metal shield in front of his ride that makes him invulnerable to damage from the front for a while, and Blue Fang unleashes spinning blades that instantly destroy any car they come in contact with. While none of the abilities really offer up chances for cool teamwork, they are still fun to use. However, there is a fairly big problem: Destruction AllStars has a clear hierarchy. Some heroes simply aren’t as good as others, and that’s becoming more and more apparent as players try to snag the best heroes before anyone else does. For example, Hana’s Breaker makes her already fast car even faster and thus hit harder, but since it can’t turn worth a damn actually hitting anything is a pain, so why would you pick her over someone like Blue Fang who destroys everything he touches? Or what’s the point of a character who targets a car and can deal extra damage to it? That’s not very useful compared to a car that has a literal blade which slices other cars in half. This is something the developers are going to need to get to work out to create a more balanced playing field.
Customization is, quite frankly, shite. Each character gets a handful of skins that you can spend the cash you earn during matches on, but they are quite literally nothing more than colour changes. In fact, sometimes it’s a very small change of colour. You get a 1000 coins each time you level up, which goes up to 2000 past level 20, and I’d say on average you’ll level up once every 2-4 matches, with a new skin typically costing around 8000 coins. So that’s anywhere from 16-32 matches for a simple change of colour. And given the fast-paced nature of Destruction AllStars, it’s difficult for other players to notice your different skin anyway. There’s also on-foot and in-car emotes to buy, but again these aren’t something you’ll see much during a match, nor something your opponents are going to see.
The only way to speed up your earnings is by completing the daily and weekly challenges which grant XP and thus help you level up faster. There’s nothing special to talk about here as the challenges are the typical things you’d expect: play X matches as X character, or collect 200 Shards.
Each character also has skins and emotes that require real money, bringing us to the topic of how the microtransactions in Destruction AllStars work. These skins are a bit more substantial than the others on offer, but are currently still largely just colour changes and, in my opinion, are lazy and unworthy of charging money for, especially not the insane prices that are being asked. 16,500 coins are needed (32-64 matches for one skin) plus you need 600 of the special tokens which must be bought for real cash. Now, keep in mind you can’t just buy 600 tokens, instead you have to buy bundles of 500, 1000 and 2000 which cost £3.99, £7.99 and £15.99 respectively. This kind of shitty tactic of making people buy more than they actually need is prevalent in the free-to-play genre, but it’s even more insulting here since the cosmetics are so crappy. So, in short, a single skin will actually cost you £8.00 and roughly 32-64 matches.
Microtransactions appear again in what are called Challenge Series, which are pieces of single player content that attempts to add some narrative into the game. Basically, each series has a little cutscene and then five events that feature some fun new elements, like a crazy mode where you have to pick up passengers and drop them off or race tracks that loop around the arenas. Each event also has three optional goals, and beating them unlocks some banners, icons and cosmetics. You get Ultimo Barricado’s for free, which pits him against newbie Lian. Meanwhile, Lupita’s series has her getting into a feud with Seargent Rescue because Rescue ate the last donut and will cost you 200 tokens. The last series currently on offer (there’s a countdown for a fourth) costs 600 tokens and features Genesis, although I can’t tell you anything about it since I refused to pay for it. So, to access the current singleplayer offering you need to shell out £8. Ouch. And that tenner doesn’t get you a lot of content – you’ll blitz through ’em in an hour or two.
The only other singleplayer content can be found in Arcade where you can setup matches with A.I,, which isn’t very good. The artificial drivers just can’t come up with the same moves as real players can, and typically just drive in mostly straight lines before pulling the handbrake and performing a quick spin. This habitual 180-degree spin makes slamming into them a breeze.
It’s easy to forget that Destruction AllStars was actually going to be the third Playstation 5 exclusive at launch, and the first exclusive for the PS5 which also happens to be a brand-new IP. Astro’s Playroom was built into every PS5 and didn’t really feel like a true launch exclusive, even though it was, and even though Demon’s Souls was amazing it was still a remake of an existing game, taking a little of the shine off. Destruction AllStars was going to be a true, brand new exclusive to the machine, coming out at launch. And yet here we are now, as a free PSN game. Still, AllStars uses the PS5 tech quite well, holding a rocksteady 60FPS even with 16 cars creating a mountain of metal in the centre of the arena. And while the cacophony of colour might not be to my personal tastes, from a more objective viewpoint it does look crisp and detailed.
I also like the use of the Dualsense controller’s special abilities. When you slam on the brakes there’s a really solid tension in the left trigger, likewise, you can feel the throttle fighting you when you try to accelerate hard when sliding backwards. The rumbles, grumbles and thuds throughout the controller when you’re slamming into cars or getting slammed yourself are great and really help get you into the action.
Lacking in content and depth, Destruction AllStars nonetheless is a good chassis on which the developers can build something great. In its current form, there’s fun to be had, but it’s fleeting fun. After a few hours, I was ready to put AllStars down for a while, but I can also see myself returning for a match or three every couple of weeks because of how easy it is to jump in and have a laugh. With some tuning, tweaking and maybe a few upgrades under the hood, Destruction AllStars could end up being the first big multiplayer game on the Playstation 5, and while it’s free on PSN there’s really no reason not to add it to your library.