Fireburst is a racing game with an interesting semblance of modern design and a host of major flaws that outweigh any of its potential. Taking a simple boost mechanic and making it both an defensive and offensive measure is a neat idea that is occasionally proven here. Mostly, though, boosting and immolating your way through an attractive wasteland is majorly hobbled by awful collision detection, weird physics, grating audio, and vacant online community. Its concept isn’t totally without merit, but that’s no reason to invest in this poor game.
The way boosting simultaneously makes you faster, on the brink of destruction, and an offensive player is a pretty interesting idea, in theory. Giving yourself a speed boost causes your car to build up heat. Boost too much and you explode, but keeping your car hot conjures a powerful, fiery attack that can protect you and obliterate your fellow racers. I like the idea of gracefully balancing several considerations from just one core mechanic, and this game does a pretty good job of streamlining speed, preservation, and offence into boosting. There are a handful of different attack types spread out among the cars that determine how and in which direction your heat is channeled, and they all seem to be fairly balanced against one another. Each is quite capable of instantly exploding several cars at once, and maintaining a speedy racing line while engulfing your opponents with fire attacks can occasionally thrill.
The cars just don’t feel all that exciting to drive. The sandy apocalypse setting and Mad Max-style vehicles inevitably combine to form a loose, wild ride through the tracks, but it doesn’t feel particularly satisfying to race around. Crashes are several measures more flat than the driving. Even slight bumps often send one or more cars sailing through the air in a ridiculous way that looks stupid and ruins the rough, weighty aesthetic a wasteland setting provides.
Fireburst’s sharp, bright and detailed interpretation of its wasteland setting is definitely the best part about it. Tracks use vast mountains, mesas, salt flats, and caves with sharp texture work and a lively contrast. Every colour on the palette is rich and warm, and the piercing azure skies and constant orange spread of fire punctuates the landscape wonderfully. The cars don’t look all that unique, but they’re rendered well, too.
It’s hard to complain much about the look of this game, though it does make the rest of the package all the more tragic in comparison.
All of Fireburst’s promising ideas and good looks are, sadly, completely squandered upon the act of actually sitting down to play the game. Collision detection is absolutely horrendous and feels like the biggest barrier to having any fun; your car will smash against objects you are clearly not touching, and this often brings you to a complete standstill. Several times, I seemed to stop for no reason at all on open, unobstructed road.
The short list of challenges for each car – the only thing close to resembling solo content besides a one-off race – are asinine affairs that ask you to race under banal conditions. Maybe you have to get a bunch of air, or maybe you need to…not get air? It plays with all sorts of random binaries that distract from the core racing and shrivel up in their search for relevance. There are also destruction events which task you with simply blowing up other racers with your boosts. These are OK, if plain and uninteresting. You can race against more competitive, human players online to circumvent these. In theory. I barely found anyone online whatsoever, and in the rare case I did, I couldn’t connect to the game.
Finally, Fireburst attempts to saddle its racing with a bunch of mascot-like characters who rhyme off quips during races. This is, without a doubt, the worst part of Fireburst’s presentation and some of the most heinous characters I’ve seen in a game. These are less than one-dimensional personalities with awful voices and a predilection of saying the same two or three things repeatedly – constantly – during gameplay. It’s beyond mere annoyance; with its hyperactive, Engrish-spouting Asian girl character, the game can venture into uncomfortable racial territory as well. The voices and characters are so bad that I truly think this game would be unplayable without the option to disable taunts from the audio menu, which it mercifully allows.
This is not a good game, and its few shining moments make it all the more frustrating that it was released feeling so unfinished. With a good chunk of additional development time and rewrites for all the the characters, I could picture this being a fun, beautiful racing game worth looking into. Sadly, all sorts of fundamental issues make it a vapid game that’s annoying to endure. Fireburst gets a little credit for some attractive visuals and a game design that ever so slightly hints at greatness, but that’s about all it has going for it.