As one of the launch titles for the original Xbox console, Cel Damage promised sharp, cartoony visuals and addictive vehicular mayhem. At the end of the day, though, the game failed to really deliver, and received middling reviews as a result. It was also practically forgotten about until Toronto-based Finish Line Games decided to remaster its wreck-filled arenas with high definition visuals.
Cel Damage HD, as they call it, was originally released a couple of years ago as an exclusive for the PlayStation suite of consoles (and handheld). Said exclusivity was merely timed, though, as the game has now made its way to the Xbox One as a downloadable affair. As such, it’s essentially come home, and — in doing so — provides a look back at the history of the Xbox brand.
The idea behind Cel Damage HD is that what we’re playing is merely a televised sporting event, and a murderous one at that. Cartoony and fictional through and through, it’s a spectacle that the general public supposedly tunes into on a weekly basis. However, plot isn’t something that this game places an emphasis on.
Our playable cast — which is made up of colourful characters like an angsty demon, a cape-wearing vampire, a talking duck, a contained brain and a buxom dominatrix — has a tiny amount of personality, but it’s very fleeting. They spill out repetitive one-liners from time to time, and happen to have their own introductory and concluding cutscenes, but there’s absolutely nothing to write home about. This design also locks you into playing as one character throughout the entire game, because you lose credit for completing a map whenever a change is made.
These boring and all-too-similar caricatures engage in vehicular combat in a cartoony world. That’s the whole premise of Cel Damage HD, and it doesn’t do a lot to separate itself from the pack, including better and more memorable titles like Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8. This is merely a game that is what it is, and one that leaves a lot to be desired. You might have a bit of fun playing through it, or combatting up to three friends, but it’s not something that you’ll remember or want to go back to day in and day out. That’s especially true since there’s no online play, which is a major omission in this day and age.
There isn’t a campaign to play through, either. Instead, you’ll find yourself tasked with picking one of three game modes after finishing up at the character select screen. These modes — which include a deathmatch style Smack Attack arena, a checkpoint style racing option, and a capture-the-moving-flag variant — offer slightly customizable gameplay, and take place on twelve middling maps, which take the form of space, jungle, graveyard and Wild West environments.
While the potential for fun, vehicular carnage exists within this set of three game types, Cel Damage HD never manages to unlock it. Its AI is spotty and inconsistent, making it so that you never know what to expect. The controls are also very floaty, which doesn’t bode well for when you need to turn on a dime or rush to that last flag. As such, frustration easily sets in, as it quickly becomes clear that this is a game that is more about luck than skill.
The most frustrating part of all of this is how inconsistent the artificial intelligence is. Sometimes it’s docile and easy to surpass, but a lot of the time it’s cheap and ruthless. During races, you’ll regularly be hit or flipped as if you’re the only one with a target on your back, and the very imprecise controls make it tough to recuperate from such attacks. And, during Smack Attack tourneys, it’s not uncommon for a computer controlled opponent to skyrocket to the top of the leaderboard with an almost unrealistic point deposit.
What the game doesn’t tell you, though, (since it has no tutorial and doesn’t provide anything more than it has to) is that the amount of points you earn in Smack Attack is wholly dependent on the type of weapon you use. If you fire your character’s basic weapon (be it thrown bricks, shot fireballs or something of that ilk) then you can expect to earn next to nothing in the way of a score. However, if you use the slow to reload and perfect aim requiring harpoon, then you’ll earn quite a few. It all depends on the challenge that comes with using a particular weapon, and there are quite a few to be found in this game, including a turret, an Arabian sword, rolling bombs, grenades, explosive sheep, and boxing gloves.
Special weapons also come into play when your character picks up a box with a piece of punctuation on it, and those weapons are especially helpful when the going gets tough. It’s also possible to engage map-specific traps, including a large weight that drops on top of opponents in the vein of the iconic Road Runner cartoons. Balance is always an issue here, though, and the AI’s inconsistency doesn’t make things any easier to like. However, at the very least, the game does look pretty nice in action, thanks to colourful, hand-drawn visuals that pop in HD.
Needless to say, Cel Damage HD is something that most gamers can safely skip, even if they consider themselves to be fans of the vehicular combat genre. There’s little here to get excited about, and while it looks relatively nice, this is a remaster that only those who carry nostalgia for the original version will truly get much out of.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Cel Damage HD is too basic, limited and generally frustrating to recommend. It looks relatively nice in HD, but its gameplay will only appeal to those with nostalgia for its original version.