I’ve been saying for years that Criterion needs to just repackage Burnout’s Crash mode and stick it onto digital distribution services. Really, I have. And now what have we got? They’re spying on me.
Although to be fair, that’s not really what this is. I admit that Burnout Crash! – and I’m going to dispense with that silly exclamation mark from now on – is, in broad strokes, the Crash mode from the big-budget Burnout games put onto digital delivery services. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s really a rather unique top-down title comprising three separate game modes, aimed squarely at score chasers. It’s also utterly out of its tree. We’ll get to that, but I’ll give you a hint: Spandau Ballet.
Every mode begins with you driving towards a busy intersection, to ram traffic. Once you’ve hit something your car stops dead, but a Crashbreaker bar builds up as more cars smash into whatever pile-up you’ve created. Once it’s full, you tap the A button to make your car explode into the air, blasting nearby vehicles and scenery away and giving you the ability to control your trajectory. Rinse and repeat as you try to fulfil five objectives per level, each awarding you a star, with stars removing roadblocks from the campaign map and unlocking more vehicles – some of which control more easily in mid-air, some of which explode with much greater force.
Road Trip is the “main” mode, insofar as success here is always required to unlock both the next level (of 18, divided across six different zones) and the bonus modes for the level you’re currently on. In this, you’ve got five “lives” – if five vehicles manage to make it unscathed through your pile-up, it’s game over. Destroying certain numbers of vehicles triggers special power-up events, eventually culminating in apocalyptic level-enders that range from tidal waves to alien invasions and guarantee far more points.
Progress is rarely tricky; getting one star on Road Trip is sufficient to unlock the next lot of content, and the easiest objective is normally a fairly low score so frustration is kept to a minimum. Getting five stars, however, is a lot harder. This often requires destroying specific targets on the map, surviving the entire level with very few vehicles escaping your destructive clutches, getting particular “skillshots”, or achieving a massive score… and massive scores normally require you to destroy buildings, which means you might have to take your eyes off the road and risk traffic slipping by.
Points are awarded for destruction, but more points are awarded for destroying things with style. Simply having cars smash into your pile-up isn’t worth much. Using a Crashbreaker to blast a vehicle into another is worth more. Using a Crashbreaker to blast a vehicle into another, which then smashes into another, which catches fire and explodes, destroying a building, which in turn knocks out three more vehicles… well, that gets you a massive combo bonus. (And gives you a lovely warm glowing feeling, if you’re as terrible a human being as I am.)
The other two modes – Rush Hour and Pile Up – focus heavily on different aspects of the game. Pile Up has a very limited amount of traffic, so you need to make the most of it. Rush Hour goes the other way: loads of cars, but only 90 seconds to do as much damage as possible. Is it any surprise that the unbridled carnage on offer here makes this my favourite mode?
Burnout Crash is a cheery game. The graphics are bright and colourful, there’s a constant stream of casino-like sound effects (cash registers ring as you score points, and buzzers and horns go off regularly) and there’s an announcer so annoying I tried to chew off my own ears because he never shuts up – although I can’t say that was unexpected. Brash though it is, the atmosphere somehow works.
But this doesn’t go into the full lunacy of the sound work. Oh no. For that we need to talk about another element of the game: power-ups.
As you play through the modes, you’ll trigger rather unique power-ups. These are the “events” in Road Trip, but in Rush Hour they’re instead triggered by destroying pizza trucks (which brings up the “Pizza of Fortune”, a roulette wheel that dispenses bonuses both positive and negative). Each of these has their own sound cue. Trigger a blizzard, turning the roads into skating rinks? You get a snippet of Vanilla Ice’s seminal Ice Ice Baby. A vehicle-destroying thunderstorm? The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men. Smash the stage’s gold car, which awards bonus points? Spandau Ballet’s Gold.
They put Spandau Ballet in a Burnout game. That’s not even the weirdest – I’ve deliberately omitted some to keep a few surprises, but suffice to say these are genuine laugh out loud moments the first time they happen, and the clips don’t go on long enough for them to get repetitive or annoying.
And that insanity sums up the game rather well: it’s a light-hearted and fun take on the traditional Burnout Crash mode that doesn’t take itself at all seriously. There’s plenty of replayability in terms of toppling your own scores and a surprising amount of thought is required to get all the stars, but the game’s simple concept and controls mean that newcomers can have a blast, too. EA’s Autolog feature makes a welcome return, so you can compete for scores against everyone on your friends list.
On that note, though, there’s a distressing lack of local multiplayer – well, unless you have Kinect, in which case it appears to turn into an arm-flailing party game. But you can’t take on an intersection in co-op and there’s no dedicated hotseat mode. If you want to compete with your friends in the comfort of one household then you’ll need to note down individual scores manually.
There are a few other hmm-inducing moments, too. The game has an irritating habit of interrupting its own flow with big pop-ups that pause the game to announce each power-up every single time you trigger one, which gets more than a little tiring when you really just want to explode things with a dune buggy. The random elements will probably annoy some, and the AI driving can be a tad unpredictable – sometimes it’ll careen wildly into the only other car on the road, and sometimes it’ll mysteriously snake through a massive pile up. That’s when the announcer’s cries that you “LET ONE ESCAPE!” start to make you wish one of the bonus modes let you drive over him repeatedly.
But even if you fail it doesn’t take long to get back into the action, and that’s what this is all about: glorious, bright, colourful, and above all explosive action. The destruction is joyous and evokes memories of city-destroyers like Rampage, or some of the better bits of the Red Faction series. It’s one of the few games where you can proudly look at the smoking rubble of what used to be a busy intersection, and think “I did that. I blew up that windmill by blasting a bus into it, before directing my garbage truck into the marina to sink that boat. Then I ricocheted into that gold car, which had a weird Spandau Ballet side-effect.” Then you wonder, briefly, if you might be losing your mind.
It’s a light game but with a lot of entertainment for 800 Microsoft Points, and while you might not play for hours at a trot I daresay you’ll keep coming back to it. Burnout Crash doesn’t quite have the weight for me to call it a must-have, but it’s certainly a must-strongly-consider.