As fun as Burnout Paradise was, there was something fundamentally wrong with the title: the absence of Crash Mode. In a racing game that emphasized crashing over reaching the finish line, Burnout was pretty fun to play. When Crash Mode was introduced in Burnout 2, it provided hours of entertainment as it challenged the player to create the most spectacular car crashes ever seen in a video game. Crash Mode wasn’t just about blind mayhem, it required an element of strategy in order to find the best location and position to block traffic and score a ludicrous number of points. It was disappointing that this mode was left out in the last Burnout game and Criterion Games has addressed that with the release of Burnout Crash!, a ten dollar downloadable game.
Burnout Crash! is a peculiar animal. A spin off of the main franchise, there is absolutely no racing to be had and no competition against AI opponents. Instead, you’ll just play a modified version of Crash Mode, steering a car into a busy intersection and create a traffic headache in order to score point. Unlike the semi-serious presentation of other Burnout games, Burnout Crash! is light, colorful and tries very hard to be funny.
Burnout Crash! is an arcade-style action title that tasks you with creating spectacular traffic jams in six distinct locations. These locations are broken up into three intersections that vary in design and traffic patterns. In order to advance the game, each level has a list of milestones that you’ll need to reach in order to accumulate stars. Milestones range from reaching a certain score, smashing up special vehicles and destroying buildings. Earning enough stars will grant additional vehicles as well as access to later levels.
At the start of a level, you’ll steer the car (there is no speed control) directly into the path of an incoming vehicles. Ideally, you’ll want to position the car in such a way that when you crash, it’ll begin a chain reaction that clogs the street, allowing for more cars to crash. As vehicles collide into one another, your Crash Breaker power slowly fills up, a process that hastens as long as cars are consistently crashing. When the Crash Breaker meter is full, pressing X will cause your car to explode, damaging anything in it’s path. At this point, you’ll use Aftertouch to guide the car around the map, either to jam adjacent roads or smash into environmental objects. Each car in the game has their own rating when it comes to strength and Aftertouch maneuverability, so if you’re having a difficult time with a particular intersection you can always switch to a more effective vehicle.
Each location in the game is made up of three gameplay modes, Crash Course, Rush Hour and Pile Up. However, Rush Hour and Pile Up are initially locked out and in order to play them you must earn at least one milestone in Crash Course. This is rather unfortunate because Crash Course is the least entertaining of the three. Here is a breakdown of what each mode entails:
Crash Course: In this mode you’ll steer your car into traffic, earning cash by knocking cars into each other and the environment. The trick is to block the roads so traffic doesn’t escape because if five cars make it out of the intersection, the round is over. Each intersection has a set number of cars that will appear during the round and taking out a specific number of them will unlock the first of many power ups. These range from Good Cops (who will block traffic from escaping on a specific road), Bad Cops (who will attempt to slow you down), ice storms, sink holes, bulldozers and other useful implements of carmageddon. Periodically, ambulances will drive through the intersection and if they make it without being hit, it will take away one escaped vehicle penalty. If the round’s preset number of traffic vehicles reaches zero, you’ll be rewarded with a game ending finale that will level all remaining objects the screen. The strength of this finale is based on the number penalties you’ve accrued - the lower the penalty, the stronger the finish.
Rush Hour: By far the most entertaining mode in the game, you are given ninety seconds to cause as much damage as possible. When the timer reaches zero, you’ll unleash a final explosion that will knock wrecks around the screen, destroying anything they touch and giving you that one last chance to rack up points and milestones. Pizza trucks will zip in and out of the intersection and wrecking them will give you a spin on a wheel of fortune made up of power ups available to you from Crash Course.
Pile Up: A variant of Crash Course, you must cause as much damage possible without letting traffic escape. You’ll begin the round with a x5 point multiplier and for every car that escapes the intersection, that multiplier will decrease by one. Crashing into cars and buildings will fill up an Inferno meter and when full, you’ll need to guide your car using Aftertouch to ignite the remaining environmental objects. If you wait too long to do this (and you will thanks to the slow Crash Breaker build up), a timer will count down zero and end the round.
Unlike previous games, Burnout Crash does away with realistic visuals, car models and race tracks in favor of something a little more Saturday morning cartoon-like. Each location has a distinct, animated look to them: a rural town populated with barns and wheat silos, a Santa Monica-style beach city, an airport with jets parked on the runway and so on. Road traffic isn’t as diverse as the environments, but the selection of cars you’ll earn throughout the game have their own unique look. I like the game’s bright, broad color palette which is something you don’t see too often in this current generation.
The game is played primarily from the top down perspective, very much like the original Grand Theft Auto, and although this view is designed to provide a bird’s eye view the entire map and path of incoming traffic in order to plan out your congestion strategies, I honestly didn’t care for it much. The thrill of Crash Mode in Burnout 2 was being able experience the chaotic and spectacular traffic collisions from up close. By moving the camera upwards a few miles, that awe inspiring, jaw dropping effect of seeing a small vehicle careen wildly into a bus and fly ten feet in the air is lost.
Despite being wildly different from the Burnout franchise, there is still much fun to be had. The game awards points for everything you do and seeing those numbers jump on and off the screen is distinctly Pavlovian. With all of the milestones to reach and cars to obtain, there is enough replay value to keep you busy for awhile, especially since you can replay levels with different and better better vehicles. You can issue challenges to people on your Friends list as well as other random players in order to prove who is the better scorer on any given stage.
It is a real shame that Rush Hour and Pile Up are locked out considering they are far more compelling. The problem with Crash Course is that you’ll find yourself helpless at times to prevent traffic escaping because you’re stuck until the Crash Breaker meter fills up. It doesn’t help that a greater number of cars appear to be driven by stuntmen who will make it through the tiniest of gaps like they were Jason Bourne. As helpful as the ambulances are, its frustrating that they can be taken out in one hit and I even had a few instances when the AI controlled rescue vehicle drove straight into a blockade instead of steering away from it. The intersections and traffic patterns are not puzzles, so there is no “right way” to properly block traffic, which means you’ll probably be restarting the level over if you fail to get a good start.
As fun as the game is to play, I find the presentation to be blindingly obnoxious. From the moment you start the game, you’re introduced to a voice over who is obviously an Englishman attempting to sound like an American and utterly failing at it. Ears will bleed when you hear the same guy attempt to pull off a redneck and surfer-dude accent. Additional stereotypes include the worst sounding Italian and New Jersey accents one can can muster and when the ice cream power up appears, sending the narrator into a Schwarzenegger rendition of “Ice cream man! The ice cream man is coming!” I prayed for a blow to the head. Burnout Crash’s also likes to throw out dated music references that will appeal to no one. During a rain storm power up, you’ll hear a few bars of “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls, Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” during an ice storm and Miami Sound Machine’s “Dr. Beat” every time an ambulance appears on the map (this is, at the very least, effective in letting you prepare a clean path for the vehicle).
Burnout Crash is a funny little game that ditches any semblances of racing in order to bring back what was missing from Burnout Paradise. While I find the presentation grating and it would have been nice to have been a little closer to action, you can’t go wrong with what essentially is pinball with cars. With a strict focus on racking up high scores and being able to challenge friends and online players, there’s enough replayability on hand but after a few hours it all gets a bit stale. This isn’t the type of game you’d want to play for hours on end, lest the frantic nature of the gameplay, bright colors and terrible voice acting drive you mad. Burnout Crash is better served as a something to do when you have a few minutes to kill.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.