Back in 2001, Cel Damage was released for the original Xbox. Offering a cartoony, cel shaded take on the then popular vehicular combat genre, it was an immediate hit and many people still have a soft spot for it today. Fast forward to 2016, and Frontline Games have produced an HD remake of the game, but has time been kind, or should the game have stayed in the past?
Straight off the bat, the new version is loud, both in terms of volume and graphical style. After hastily turning the TV down, we were presented with a simple start up cinematic, detailing the story of the game, such as it is. Apparently, Cel Damage is the name of a TV show where the idea is to drive and fight to the death, but the twist is that because all the characters are cartoons, they can respawn once defeated. After this exposition, you're offered a choice of characters to take control of. They vary wildly, from Sinder, the failed demon who was apparently too destructive to work in Hell, via vampires and demons, all the way through, to Dominique Trix, who is a cliche ridden as the name would suggest. There are other characters, six in all, and they can each have two movies unlocked to explain their back stories, by winning three and twelve victories respectively. Whether you're going to want to play that long is another story, however. In addition to the six staple characters, there are also three boss characters that can be unlocked by winning all the events in a particular category, and then beating the boss level.
Graphically, the game is smooth and the animation of the characters is very amusing. As you turn the car, the vehicle flexes and bends and the drivers can be seen bouncing around in the seat, which helps draw you in to the world of the game somewhat. Each character also has a taunt button, which can be good fun when playing with friends when they miss a high risk manoeuvre. However, the camera seems hell-bent on undoing any immersion the graphics create, and also tries to cause as much motion sickness as possible. As you drive along, the camera bounces and spins as the car moves, which is very distracting until you learn to filter it out. And the worst sin the camera commits, in our opinion, is when you cross the finishing line in first place. You just get a constant spinning motion as the camera orbits around your car, and the spinning continues until you move on to the results screen. This effect is deeply unpleasant.
Once you choose your avatar, the game offers a choice of three modes. Gate Relay is the closest the game comes to an actual race, where you have to be the first to complete eight laps of a track, passing through gates as you go. Obviously, being a vehicular combat game, you'll run into weapon crates to allow your car to wield some oversized weaponry. These can be melee based, like baseball bats and axes, projectile based, like miniguns and harpoons, or weapons that don't really fit into a category, like freeze rays and woodchippers. Add these to the trackside hazards that are present in each level, and you're left with what looks like a recipe for tasty chaos!
Sadly, the whole is rather less than the sum of the parts, as the races are either ridiculously easy to the point of you only seeing the other racers as you lap them, or ridiculously hard, where it seems every weapon in the game is trained on your car and it's almost impossible to move. Add to this hangups on the scenery and the characters desires to drive up vertical trees and it rapidly becomes a chore to try to win. The other two main modes offer little more. These are Smack Attack, where you have to hit your opponents a certain number of times with weapons or by ramming them to win. and Flag Relay mode, where you have to drive around an arena, picking up flags and dropping them off in the scoring area. Smack Attack is the straight forward combat mode, where the whole idea is to roam the arena, dishing out the beatdowns. There is a certain satisfaction to destroying a competitor's car with explosive sheep or a scimitar, and this can be fun for a time. The different arenas do add a twist to the way this mode plays out, and with the weapons being customisable, it's possible to set things up to add as much or as little challenge as you'd like. We found the boxing gloves allowed us to get hits quickly, but that the grenades or the aforementioned exploding sheep were trickier to use. Flag Relay is again arena based, with a minimum of ten points required to win. If you can accrue four flags at once and get them home, you can win the mode with a single cap, except for one small issue. If the other drivers ram you, or hit you with another weapon, they can knock the the flags loose and pick them up themselves. Obviously, you can do the same, and quickly two styles of players will appear. There are the flag collectors, who drive all over and pick up the flags, and the ambushers, who hang around the capture point trying to knock flags loose. Again, the scenery hangups and the odd fall through the game world increases the frustration that seems to set in all too quickly, whichever mode you play.
As a multiplayer game is where Cel Damage HD shines, but even though things have been updated for 2016, the ability to play online hasn't been included. That's right, Cel Damage HD is a local multiplayer only title, which seems like a real missed opportunity. Playing with friends when you can get four of you together is a relatively fun experience, as the comedy violence is even more satisfying when it has a friend's face attached to it. The issues with the scenery, rock and tree driving and so on are also here, but with the inevitable pushing and shoving that goes on when four friends are sharing a couch, its seems to be less noticeable. When you manage to get this amount of players sharing a split screen and maybe mix in an apéritif or two, the good times can certainly begin to roll.
In conclusion, if you have three friends who come to your house to play games, or a number of siblings, then Cel Damage HD is a fun game, whose shortcomings can be overlooked. However, for the single player, this is sadly a game where the frustrations outweigh the good points. There is fun to be had for sure, and the achievements are easy to pick up, but ultimately this is a game that despite the graphical overhaul is showing its age and just isn't as good as the premise would lead you to believe.