Next Car Game hands-on: reducing racers to wrecks in Bugbear's FlatOut follow-up

You'd have to be an archaeologist - or perhaps a doting mother - to look at my car and say it had ever been roadworthy. It's been mashed down to two wheels, and what's left of the chassis looks more like a glitch than the rumbling muscle-beast I kicked off Next Car Game's tech demo driving. Brilliantly, as broken as it is, it's still attempting to act like a car. I can gun the engine and move this lump. It's a cruel mockery of damage modelling. Just look at this video to see for yourself.

The tech demo I'm toying with provides a glimpse of the engine that will power Next Car Game, an as yet un-named spiritual successor to FlatOut. It's given to those who pre-ordered the game in the series of funding grabs ( pre-orders now the Kickstarter failed), and it's exactly what you'd expect from Bugbear's twisted metal minds. It's a goal-free playground filled with destructive toys. There's a hammer that pounds the ground, there are poles that spin around like drunken boxer, and best of all there are grinders. Put me and some suicidal AI in this sort of arena and I can put the car in "carnage".

The cars appear sturdy, but the smallest bump will gleefully tear metal and flip them over. Harder hits will crumple wheels and compact front-ends, leaving a surprisingly functional vehicle underneath an otherwise wrecked, stubbed body. You just have to accept that this will happen, because the AI has no fear. They smash and crash with an admirable single-mindedness no matter what state they're in. I was looping around the outside of the arena, just to get an overview of what to do. I watched as an impromptu destruction derby was taking place between the rest of the cars, occasionally glimpsing a smash through a haze of grey smoke and tumbling car parts. When I thought it was safe to drive back in, I was nudged by one of the AI's cars - now just a wheel with a small block of non-Euclidian metal on top. It was gently pushing at me, attempting to ram me in a sad echo of its former glory. I guess it had succumbed to the attentions of one of the three grinders in the level, the largest of which is a pair of spinning, spiked cylinders that gobbles up cars, but doesn't quite eat them alive. As long as the resulting out has a wheel that touches the ground, what's left can still drive.

The rest of the level is a bit less brutal, but no less spectacular. There's a pachinko board that you launch the car into. You hit the bottom with considerably less car than you started with, and all those torn bits come tumbling down after you. There's a giant mallet will pound you flat, there's a cannon that spits you out at speed towards a stack of barrels. It's a sandbox of mayhem while a destruction derby takes place. And the AI seems to enjoy it: when they're not aiming sideswipes at you, or crashing into each other, they'll head straight for the jumps and toys. In another game, their lack of self-preservation might seem stupid, but in this setting it makes them almost human. They're doing what every player would when he sees a device that bats cars into piles of boxes.

Still, there's a few flubs in this early tech. The camera is pretty bad, and tends to lurch about when the car is tossed around, and the car's slight floatiness and steering means you need a delicate touch to keep in control. There's also no end-game, so all you have is carnage. There's no customisation, selections, or other tracks to play with yet. It is an early peek, after all. Whatever it becomes, and whatever it's eventually called, it's already really enjoyable.