As far as racing games went, the Burnout series was fine enough, but take a mixture of fast-paced arcade racing, clever urban and rural environments, and a metagame involving crashing into your opponents and you have a formula for success. The series peaked for me with Burnout 3, which featured an awesome mode called Crash (perfected from the previous game) which set up rolling vehicles in a confined area, set your car as the pinball, and forced you to get creative in the destruction of everything from saloon cars to tankers to achieve rapidly ascending high scores. Their latest iteration, Burnout: Paradise, ditched Crash mode altogether and despite receiving critical raves, just wasn’t my cup of tea. Flash forward to 2011 and developer Criterion announces a $10 Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network game devoted entirely to crashing? Well, let’s just say it got my attention! Unfortunately, in this dedicated solution, they seem to have forgotten what made Crash mode so great in the original games.
In Burnout Crash, a simple top-down game, you deploy your car into oncoming traffic. If executed properly (I found myself overshooting passing cars many times) you begin your tear of destruction. With the passage of time, or cascading vehicular carnage, you’re given the opportunity to explode, which will blow up any nearby vehicles and let you resettle your vessel (called After Touch) to block more buses and SUVs that probably just wanted to get to work on time. These wrecked vehicles can then wreck other vehicles, causing even more havoc, forcing some strategy as you explode over and over to rack up crazy points a la Every Extend Extra Extreme (one of my favorite XBLA games ever).
The original Crash mode was more puzzle-like in its execution: you were given an organic set of maps, the triggers were pre-determined and, more importantly, it was fast: you spent 2-3 minutes in Crash mode tops. Ditching the nuanced courses from the past, these more colorful playground intersections are broad and uninteresting; a traffic circle mixed it up at one point, but most are slight deviations of a simple plus-shaped crossing. Also, there’s a lot of these maps, grouped in batches thematically (beach courses, ones set outside an airport, etc.) In Crash, you’re given three separate modes, the headlining Road Trip mode in which the game becomes a micromanagement chaos simulator and is easily the most uninteresting. So why is this mode so dreadful? Imagine this:
The Good and The Bad
So you started down the initial ramp and started the first accident, but more cars are coming and you need to wreck them all, every single one. You explode and After Touch your way across the map to intercept incoming waves from other directions, but in doing so, you’ve left a flank open and three cars sneak past. Let a car escape off the map and it counts as a strike; earn five strikes and the round ends. While dealing with these ‘leaky pipes’, you also need to sacrifice those blockades you’ve built to destroy buildings, signage, and other stand up materials alongside the road in order to achieve even a decent score. On top of all that, as the traffic count ticks away, scripted vehicles have to be knocked out for points, or kept uninterrupted from their destination (ambulances, for instance, will remove a strike against you if they don’t crash). Each intersection consists of a predetermined number of vehicles that will be injected over the course of overly long rounds, culminating in a “Super Event” (like a crashing airplane or tsunami) that clears the slate for a crazy final score. It’s this frantic back and forth that makes the primary Road Trip mode a frustrating experience. On far too many occasions, I had deployed too far from the action and vehicles just slid right by.
Thankfully, the Rush Hour mode almost completely rebuffs Road Trip mode. Here, the strikes go away and you’re given ninety seconds to cause as much havoc as possible, something far more true to the original Crash mode. Once the clock runs out, the miniature atomic weapon (or whatever, the canon doesn’t suggest specifically) in your vehicle detonates, allowing for some final chain explosion combos. This is easily the best way to play the game, but unfortunately, even your best, fun times with it only amount to a third of the game’s Star awards, which let you unlock new vehicles of variable explosive payload/After Touch as well as new courses.
A third mode, Pile Up, tries to straddle the line between the two as far as rules go, implementing more explosion goals, but maintaining the strikes from Road Trip that determine your endgame fury. This mode features Pizza Trucks that, when crashed, allow you to randomly draw from crazy random events that can help you or harm you, all drafted from the Road Trip mode. Unfortunately, in doing so, the game kills the pace of the game to both introduce the trucks and then slowly let you spin the wheel to get your reward. All in all, it’s just not a great compromise.
On top of the over-designed game modes in a huge group of samey environments, there’s the audio. Each intersection features a canned DJ that says contextual lines that build toward the Super Event at the end. You also get to listen to them every single time you play, just like you do with the world events. Every time a bulldozer appears on the map to knock out, you get to hear a sample of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It”. When the world freezes, you get Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. Every single time. These “cutesy” little touches end up doing little more than grate.
The game also (strangely) features Kinect controls. In the fine tradition of taking precise controls from a controller and turning them into a workout that doesn’t work as well, you pantomime a steering wheel in the opening ramp, jump to explode, and then move around a defined space to guide your After Touching vehicle. Aside from the loss of accuracy and the (perhaps merciful) fact that you’ll only want to use them for a few rounds before switching back to a controller, the game also required me to stand really close to the sensor compared to other games, which seemed rather bizarre.
Crash also incorporates EA’s AutoLog middleman social network to share your leaderboard scores and stuff. Like everything EA though, this is a clunky thing that seems as ineffective here as it did in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which was the first game to incorporate it. I had to agree to the AutoLog EULA the first two times I booted the game, which is a janky thing that should be kept on PlayStation 3 titles.
I really wanted to love Burnout Crash. I’d been hot on the game since it was announced, eating up every video about it I could find. Unfortunately, what seemed neat in practice is a chore in reality. My strategies early on were my strategies later on as the game made no attempt to evolve as it progressed. The game is a super-polished bad idea. No amount of production value can overcome the sinking feeling after a few introductory rounds when you realize you’ve already experienced everything the game has to offer and you’re not having much fun with what’s there. The game isn’t all bad, but there’s little positive to be construed out of a game that plays best in clumps of time equal to how long it takes to boot the game up.