Remember Bugbear’s Wreckfest? The game that was intended to be a spiritual successor to 2005’s cult classic FlatOut, but given a modern makeover to really wow people with impressive damage modeling and a semi-competent driving model? There’s a reason you probably don’t. Releasing on Steam’s Early Access Platform around the same time as Assetto Corsa in late 2013, the game both physically and metaphorically died after only a handful of updates. While the popularity of the game momentarily exploded and actually made the team at Bugbear a hell of a lot of money thanks to the promise of what could be a really fucking good re-boot of the FlatOut concept, Wreckfest was never actually finished.
Yes, as we’re only a few short months away from the 2017 calendar year, Wreckfest is still this awkward Early Access title. There are a few more cars and a handful of extra tracks compared to the initial release many of you have most likely played (and forgotten about), and mod support has been hastily implemented to cater to the small but loyal flock of fanboys, yet Wreckfest is possibly the absolute pristine example of why Steam’s Early Access program doesn’t work in execution. Developers aren’t under any sort of incentive or legal obligation to finish the game, and the end result of this situation surrounding Wreckfest and Bugbear has left customers with a product stuck somewhere between a physics sandbox and a private beta.
In a move that surprised absolutely everybody, Bugbear have announced Wreckfest will be coming to both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – but there’s a catch. No, the game won’t magically be finished in the next six months or so, nor will it turn into this fleshed-out, enjoyable diversion of sorts from Assetto Corsa or Project CARS; a simcade demolition derby product with acceptable driving physics and phenomenal crash damage effects. Bugbear will simply release Wreckfest in an unfinished state yet again, taking advantage of the new Early Access-like programs that both Microsoft and Sony will implement within their respective consoles in 2017. The team have also announced a spinoff title named Stuntfest, a game many believe to be focused around a customized physics sandbox that was once available to Wreckfest Early Access customers at no extra charge.
This is sheer insanity. Wreckfest, while quite enjoyable with a wheel, isn’t done. In fact, it’s nowhere close to being done, currently resembling what WMD members were treated to during the weekly beta build releases of Project CARS. The game is little more than an advanced tech demo with functional menus, and you can see everything Wreckfest has to offer – every track, car, and race type – in about thirty minutes of light play. Bugbear doesn’t believe this is an issue despite their title sitting in Early Access for three years, and have already began work on another game. The advanced tech demo of Wreckfest can be bought for as low as $20, or as high as $70 depending on the contribution level you prefer, but given how Bugbear has let this game literally sit unattended for 36 months, there are no guarantees the product will be worth even a fraction of the asking price.
With something this bizarre unfolding, I struggle to understand how some can say this is a Golden Age of Sim Racing. We’re at a point where a developer is about to release a console version of an Early Access game they’ve neglected for three years. This is about as anti-consumer as you can get, and the fact that nobody has stepped in to say “you can’t do this, it’s crossing into anti-consumer territory” is absurd. Are we going to get to a point where racing games in 2021 are merely blank word documents, and fanboys sit around defending the practice by saying they love the new minimalist ideology fueling sim racing development?