Scrap Metal’s a reminder of why top-down viewpoints have been abandoned on modern consoles. While it achieves a familiar perspective sufficiently, it doesn’t make a very strong case for its hectic blend of racing and car-combat. Nonetheless, for players pining for the old school appeal of games like R.C. Pro AM and Rock ‘n Roll Racing, Scrap Metal’s the next best thing and is unrivaled on the Xbox 360. With that said, the game can be taken at face value – if you happen to be looking for a loose racing title from the overhead perspective, it fills that niche, for a hefty sum of 1,200 Microsoft Points.
The title’s strongest feature is the opportunity to unlock a variety of vehicles by destroying them. In total there are twenty cars to tweak to their full potential. A limited number of attributes such as a car’s top speed or the firepower of its attached weaponry can be upgraded through points earned by completing as many as 60 single-player objectives. The downside to this is that there are only four spots allotted in your virtual garage, meaning you’ll often find that by the time you’ve maxed out on a vehicle’s potential stats, it will need to be replaced with one of the stock cars from your junkyard. It’s aggravating not being able to stick with a vehicle you’ve come to appreciate, although later missions often specifically require certain cars, so it becomes necessary to adjust your garage lineup accordingly.
Unfortunately none of the upgrades transfer over to multiplayer and after taking down the end bosses in each of the tracks, there are no other single-player modes, either. While the online play is lively and does serve as the highlight of the experience, it’s disappointing just how limited the game ends up being once you’ve undergone a few demolition derby matches and have finished collecting all the achievements. Comparable vehicles are provided in multiplayer matches, specific to the selected tracks and modes of play; the game still allows for trivial exterior modifications such as new paint jobs or simple touches like placing a flag on the rear end of your chosen vehicle.
In terms of controls, there’s a simplified option mapping almost all of the gameplay onto the left thumb stick, whereas the more formidable “R.C.” control style allows for acceleration and deceleration to be mapped to the triggers, which is honestly the only reasonable way to play Scrap Metal. The cars initially feel far too light for their own good, extremely over-responsive, careening off the track with even the slightest movement of the thumb stick. There’s sadly no way of adjusting this. Even after spending hours with the game, I found myself battling the control scheme just to keep some of the lighter vehicles driving steadily. Not all cars are created equally – many of them are ineffective, but are generally redeemed by their other attributes. While having a buzz saw fixed to the front bumper of a punchy little sports car might initially sound like an effective option, the limitations of only being able to cut through whatever’s immediately in front of the vehicle becomes readily apparent, although the said vehicle definitely makes up for this fault by providing speedy acceleration.
Backed by a rigid, looping soundtrack consisting of generic rock music, Scrap Metal’s attitude is brought forward with quips from opposing racers displaying in the corner of the screen. The presentation doesn’t make for any kind of memorable experience and while the various physics-based environments promise some interesting interactivity with otherwise static racetracks, their effect on the vehicles is far too inconsistent. Oftentimes exploding barrels won’t leave a dent your car, but they will occasionally send you flying off to the other side of the track. These are the details which could’ve been fine-tuned if Scrap Metal were given a few more months in development. Instead, it has been pushed forward in time for Microsoft’s yearly “Block Party” promotion, where it was quickly overshadowed by the relatively low price of Perfect Dark, which is available for a mere 800 Microsoft Points and provides so much more content.
Overall, Scrap Metal’s certainly not a bad game, but it’s not going to inspire a string of like-minded developers to start working on additional top-down racing games for the Xbox 360, either. Maybe it’s for the best that the genre’s been nullified as simulation-style racing makes much more sense today than it did back when the overhead perspective was king. If you’re itching for a car-combat game without pretenses and don’t mind the price it’s difficult to make an argument for anything else on Microsoft’s service other than Scrap Metal. Just be aware that what you see is what you get and that the game’s lifespan is severely undercut by the lack of single-player modes outside of the otherwise respectable mission-based content.