To a certain generation of PlayStation players, Destruction AllStars will feel like a crash course in nostalgia. It doesn't take long to feel the warmth of familiarity rush over you, with Lucid Games' PS5 debut so clearly influenced by the likes of Destruction Derby, Twisted Metal, and WipEout. For those of you that aren't familiar with PlayStation's particular affinity for automotive mayhem, then Destruction AllStars will likely feel like a slightly strange cocktail of Rocket League and Overwatch – an inelegant comparison in somewhat inelegant times.
No matter your experience or familiarity with the vehicular combat genre, Destruction AllStars is a good time with enough room around it to gather some momentum. The core experience sees you and 15 other all-star drivers with a particular affinity for destruction jump into an arena and jostle for victory from behind the wheel of vehicles built to be driven fast and furiously. If your car gets wrecked beyond repair, leap out of your seat and go hunting for another – replacements are scattered around the map liberally, although forcing other racers from their cages is always a viable option too. Destruction AllStars is chaotic, and you'll easily find comfort in its carnage, but that isn't to say the first PS5 exclusive of 2021 isn't without its problems.
The value of atmosphere
Destruction AllStars has a certain energy to its presentation. It arrives with a charismatic cast of 16 diverse drivers, each of which arrive into the Global Destruction Federation Championship with a signature vehicle to help turn the tide of destruction in their favor, a special 'Breaker' ability that improves their utility while running around on the ground, and a distinct style that can be altered with both earned in-game and real-world currencies. If you're feeling generous, you could say that the characters have Big Overwatch Vibes; if you're feeling less so, you could probably point to Bleeding Edge or Battleborn, two live-service games that arrived and died in the last generation cycle, despite being imbued with a similar air of chaos to their core aesthetic designs.
There's a buoyancy to Destruction AllStars. It does a good job of drawing anybody that's willing to commit to the 30GB download through PS Plus into a "global sporting entertainment event where stars and cars collide" – as Sony XDev Europe's senior producer John McLaughlin pitched it to me. The different vehicle types handle well, signature cars introduce an element of emergent nonsense, and moment-to-moment action moves expeditiously enough that you are rarely left without anything to do, regardless of whether you're burning rubber or gracefully leaping over speeding chassis.
It's surprising then, that Destruction AllStars fails to take that presentational flair that you see in its title screen and character customization menus and transfer it into its arenas. As fun as the game is – wrecking vehicles in a multiplayer setting is undoubtedly a good time, particularly when it's running at what appears to be dynamic 4K with HDR at mostly-stable 60 frames-per-second – the energy in its four key arenas is undeniably flat.
I think this is largely down to the lack of music once you're in-game. The momentum apparent in the play isn't reflected in your surroundings; the crowd is largely silent, the commentators rarely make a peep in two of the game modes, and the lack of high-tempo audio leaves Destruction AllStars feeling weirdly unenergetic. It creates this strange dichotomy, where the appeal of the action feels like it is locked wheel-to-wheel with your attention span, and the only thing that's winning out in this race is a creeping, undeserved sense of boredom.
It's true that competitive games rarely feature music, but Destruction AllStars doesn't require precision input and full spatial awareness to function as intended – like, say, Rocket League, Fortnite, or Overwatch. It's an arcade racer where destruction reigns supreme; you win games by settling into its rhythm, looking for opportunities to wreck the opponents in front of you while hoping that you won't get broadsided in the process. It's also true that this isn't a problem unique to Destruction AllStars; as I recall, Bleeding Edge was met with similar criticism in its first beta and Ninja Theory subsequently worked to find a better balance between environmental audio and a slamming OST for the final release.
The result of this means that I'm reaching to Spotify to soundtrack my time with Destruction AllStars at an alarming frequency. I've got a number of raucous playlists that have served me well on long road-trips and late-night deadlines that are getting the job done once again – and a special shoutout goes to L7's Bricks Are Heavy for providing the riffs and Sony for working smart Spotify integration into the PS5's dashboard. Of course, this solution won't be viable for everybody.
Pump up the jams
Spotify premium isn't cheap, nor should it be expected that every Destruction AllStars player has access to a subscription. There's another problem with this inelegant solution that many like myself are having to implement, all in an effort to inject a little energy into this spectacular prime-time sport for dangerous drivers. If you find yourself turning to Spotify to bring audio into the mix, that essentially precludes you from streaming the game. Start bringing copyrighted tracks into your play sessions and you may have a situation on your hands where uploading footage to YouTube or archiving on Twitch becomes problematic.
Destruction AllStars is a game that will live and die by the community that builds up around it. With the game available within the PS Plus subscription until April, and with Lucid planning to expand the roster and introduce new game modes in the future, there's every chance that the game will find an audience – and to be clear, I think it absolutely deserves to. If it does, a large part of that will be because of PS5 owners becoming aware of its existence through YouTube videos and Twitch streams, that's just the nature of visibility in the modern era. Unless Lucid is able to inject some more of its OST into rounds, or otherwise find a way to ramp up the dynamic commentary and crowd reactions, I fear that this fun and fearless slice of next-generation carnage could fail to get the traction that it deserves.
It also doesn't help that so much of play is dominated by mandatory voice chat, right now at least – Lucid has promised that a fix is on the way, and in the meantime this is how to disable voice chat on PS5. As it stands, the balance between game audio and conversations leaking through your DualSense controller is off-kilter and distracting, and should you find a way to turn voice chat off you'll be met with an uncomfortable stillness. Destruction AllStars is fun, destructive, and an easy way to blow off a little steam, but without an injection of a little music and energy there's a good chance that it'll be left behind in the months to come.