Posted by John on September 21, 2011

Review: Burnout Crash! (PS3/360)

If you listen to the internet, Burnout Crash! looks like an iPhone game and doesn’t represent what the hardcore Burnout crowd want from a game under that precious umbrella.  If you listen to us, somewhat overreactive backlash be damned, Burnout Crash! is actually not bad at all.  Sure, it doesn’t look great and there’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t be an iPhone game, but that’s missing the point: this is what it is, a top-down, distilled version of one of Burnout’s key early features, and it’s a simple, enjoyable blast of fun.

So here’s what it doesn’t feature: cockpit cameras; detailed physics; realistic next-gen jaw dropping super high definition graphics and licensed vehicles.  Still with us?  Good.  Here’s what did make the cut: college-level comedy; one button gameplay; Spandau Ballet and Gloria-bloody-Estefan; a slick, intuitive progression system; tornados, monster trucks and some of the best sound effects this side of Blackpool Pleasure Beach.  You can’t help but raise a smile as Crash! works its magic, a series of Pavlovian cues setting up most of the set-pieces.


The main issue with the game is trying to position yourself when your movements are constrained to a few seconds at a time.Split over a scattering of junctions are three main game modes – they’re all similar enough in that you need to cause damage to score points, but the main ‘Road Trip’ mode is the one that you’ll play the most, not least because it headlines each location.  Starting a short drive away from the intersection, you steer a little and choose your first victim, setting off a chain reaction of crashes that bump up your multiplier and points tally.  The slightest of touches counts as a collision, the target vehicle in question immobilised and itself a future source of destruction.

Whilst this is happening your Crashbreaker meter will slowly fill – when it does, a tap of a button causes your vehicle to explode, taking out anything in range and – hopefully – shooting metal and glass into other vehicles and buildings.  The value of anything that is destroyed is added to your total, and the Crashbreaker starts its perpetual recharge loop again.  Special power-ups come into play along the course of the game, including weather and a whole range of increasingly bonkers vehicles to explode or avoid, and once a few of these have passed it’s level over.

All good?  Almost.  The issue is that levels are also lost by the player letting five cars through without damage.  This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but you can only move when you activate the Crashbreaker, and only for a second or two – think PAIN’s Ooch meter and you won’t be far off.  So, maneuvering yourself into position is akin to watching an elderly man with just enough energy to lift a leg – he’ll never really get where he needs to be very quickly and even when he does, chances are things have already moved on and more stuff is happening behind him that are just as bad.

This, as you’d expect, is a bit frustrating.  And it’s not like you can pre-empt what’s going to happen without repeated play; events feel too random at first and it’s not even clear which direction vehicles will go at the junction – and whilst there’s rote learning here it can’t help but feel like cheating.  Of course, the illusion of chaos adds a certain amount of freeflowing charm and keeps the game open to anyone to just dip in and have fun, but when you’re a few hundred points off the maximum required score for a level and a little truck comes weaving past everything you’ve left in your wake it’s annoying – that said, if you’re dedicated then no doubt you’ll be topping the scoreboards.


It might not look like much but there’s literally no other way the game could have been designed and played.Regardless, the level structure is set up nicely.  Each intersection and each of the three game modes have five challenges, ranging from score-based tasks to activating a specific power, and the star reward system means it’s obvious what you need to do to unlock new cars and areas.  This works really well – completists will love the little totals – and means that you’ll breeze through the game easily enough but will want to go back and at least try to get some more stars along the way.

Those graphics, though, that were so divisive when they first emerged, have turned out to be actually quite appealing, if a little basic.  The top-down viewpoint is a necessity, not a blight on the developers – the game simply wouldn’t work from any other angle – and the cars, landscapes and buildings are all modelled well enough if a little uninspired.  There’s a distinct look to each area though, and the presentation is really solid throughout, with a robust menu and selection interface making way for nicely done pop-ups and visuals during the actual game.  Sound, too, is great, with a likeable voiceover and some brilliant music.

What there isn’t, though, is multiplayer.  Sure, there’s the Kinect bonus bits but if you’ve got a traditional controller (or the PS3 version) Crash! is a solitary experience.  It’s saved slightly by the presence of Autolog, which does the same sort of job as with the recent Need for Speed games, but a multiplayer portion – even if it’s just a basic ‘pass the controller’ party mode – would have really helped, offline or online.  In context though, we’re talking about a reasonably priced downloadable game, hopefully one that might see an update or two down the line.

Pros:

  • Simple, smart gameplay
  • Expertly chosen soundtrack

Cons:

  • Some frustrating design choices
  • No real multiplayer

Burnout Crash! offers a decent amount of fun for a smart price.  It’s focused and confident enough to concentrate on a very small set of mechanics without drifting off to try to cover too many bases.  It almost succeeds, too, but a few odd design decisions slightly spoil what could have been a really solid game.  You’ll no doubt want to try the demo at least, as it gives a decent indication of what the game is all about but, please, do us a favour – don’t just listen to the internet on this one – if you’re looking for something fun then Criterion’s alternative take on the Burnout universe might just inflate your airbags.

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