Developer: Criterion Games / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played On: PS3 / Price: $9.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence]
Burnout’s crash mode has been the most entertaining aspect of the Criterion Games-developed racing series since its debut in Burnout 2. You’d plow into expensive cars, ricochet into big-rigs to chain the score a la a fighting combo, and then pass the controller to a friend to see if he or she could–literally–do more damage. Ten years and four crash modes later, Criterion Games separates it from the racing gameplay and offers up an XBLA and PSN game called Burnout Crash! The changes don’t stop there, however. An overhead perspective, Wii-quality graphics, and a few dull game types weaken its otherwise enjoyable core concept and slick menu presentation.
Burnout Crash! has more in common with a pinball game than the mode that it’s named after. All three of its game types have you careen through one of 18 intersections inCrashCity and hit a first target. From there, you must bounce yourself into a second, third, and fourth target in an effort to build up your Crashbreak Meter. Once that’s filled, pressing the X button ignites your dynamite-filled car and sends it flying in whichever direction you’re holding the left analog stick. Crash into more traffic to fill that meter back up and repeat, repeat, repeat. Crashbreaker and controlling your car post-detonation–previously known as Aftertouch–have been part of the series before.
But while previous crash modes (excluding Burnout Paradise’s Showtime) were limited-time affairs and very succinct, the Road Trip and Pile Up game types let you bounce around until inevitably failing to inflict enough damage or completing their different parameters. Road Trip’s goal is to not let more than five cars pass unscathed through the intersection. Pile Up’s objective is to hit the 30 cars the game throws at you, and then spread your car’s flaming wreckage to at least one new incendiary. Every time a car explodes into flames or a building catches fire the timer resets to extend your game. All of a sudden, the emphasis on crashing into anything and everything has been turned into crashing into specific objects. Whether it’s a luxury vehicle or a plain-looking car, their Kelley Blue Book value doesn’t matter in this puzzle game of sorts. The same applies to leveling nearby buildings.
With your eyes peeled for cars that may pass your net of destruction in Road Trip and focusing on setting something new ablaze in Pile Up, the gameplay of this Burnout game is very different from what franchise fans have seen before; there’s no racing, just crashing. That’s why Rush Hour is such a pleasant addition to the trio of game types. It gives you 90 seconds to slam into traffic and create as much monetary damage as possible. Slamming into cars, buildings and other combustible hazards in a finite amount of time can be fun and, wouldn’t you know it, is very close to the traditional setup of Burnout’s crash modes. There are just two problems. First, you don’t actually have an acceleration button because your car moves toward the intersection on rails. Lame. Second, everything looks like a Micro Machines handheld title.
The problem with the new look is that Burnout’s crash modes have always felt like a crash simulator. They were the ultimate crash test dummy exercise you didn’t want to experience in real life, your worst road wreck nightmare. Conversely, the gameplay was pure arcade fun. This perfect blend is lost in Burnout Crash! Here, any careless-fun gameplay that exists is matched up with obnoxiously-cute overhead graphics. Gone is the realistic sense of danger because you’re seeing the car from a pursuit helicopter vantage point. This is a cartoon-style puzzle game, plain and simple. Maybe a car chase-like point of view could’ve been thrilling if gamers weren’t playing this after experiencing crash modes from the perspectives of The French Connection and The Matrix Reloaded.
Every mode features crazy gameshow-like bonuses and multipliers, which can be enjoyable. Pizza trucks are worth extra and, if exploded, initiate a carnival-spinning “Pizza of Fortune” wheel for even more bonuses. Lending life to the chaotic graphics are police cars, ambulances, and armored bank trucks that enter the scene at various times to spice up the gameplay. But all of this depth would’ve been better if it were served in 3D.
As much as I’ve lamented the top-down perspective of Burnout Crash, the retro look and sound makes for a charming menu presentation. Like Guitar Hero during its waning years, everything here looks hand drawn. Matching that throwback look is a soundtrack that includes title song “Crash” by The Primitives. You may recognize it from Harry and Lloyd’s roadtrip in the movie Dumb & Dumber. The “far out” announcer also fits the theme, although you may find his in-your-face humor and style annoying after a while.
No real-time multiplayer in the game means passing the controller or venturing into the Autolog mode to compete passively online. Autolog mimics the back-and-forth trend we’ve seen in PSN and XBLA games like Pinball FX2 or iPhone’s Words with Friends. Multiplayer competition doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be ever-present anymore. In addition to the Autolog mode, your friends’ top scores for each of the 18 intersections can be found within the menus. It helps make the game and your friends feel connected and spurs competition.
Burnout Crash! is no longer a cute extra in a big boy Burnout game. Now it just looks cute. To its credit, Criterion Games’ first downloadable title does have some highlights, namely the chaotic atmosphere, Autolog challenges, and slick menu presentation. But the new game types, cartoon graphics and on-rails acceleration turn it into a car version of the human slingshot PSN game Pain.