Say the name "Burnout," and visions of high-speed racing and massive crashes are usually the first things that come to mind. Developer Criterion has made the franchise into a household name, so when Burnout Crash! was announced as a top-down, arcade style game, plenty of long-time fans weren't sure what to expect. Many were expecting a focused version of Burnout Revenge's crash mode. Instead, we essentially got Micro Machines crossed with pinball.
If you remember the old NES Micro Machines racing games with their top-down, overhead view and R/C style controls, then you know what to expect in Burnout Crash!. The view is permanently pulled back in order to ensure the entire intersection is visible at all times. While this works for the game, it does lead to some initial disappointment for franchise fans. Explosions and carnage are still present, but when you're viewing from a distance, it's just not as visceral.
Since the game doesn't provide a sense of speed or real danger, the team at Criterion had to come up with a new hook to keep players coming back to the game. With Burnout Crash!, the hook boils down to basic physics: the pinball angle.
You start a level by driving your car into the intersection and crashing into another vehicle. As soon as you impact the other car, drive time is over and explosion time is in full force. Here, your tool of choice is the crashbreaker, AKA a rechargeable bomb. It arms itself right after your first impact and then recharges after every use. If crashes are actively occurring, the crashbreaker recharges faster.
Through the miracle of video game magic, the crashbreaker doesn't harm your car, but it does damage anything around you. Buildings, cars, trashcans — you name it. If it's there, it can be blown up. The trick to scoring high in Burnout Crash! is knowing how to properly time your crashbreaker explosions. After all, blowing up something right next to you is easy. Throwing one car into another via the force of the blast takes a bit more skill (but nets you more points).
One catch to using the crashbreaker is its explosive nature. Use it next to cars that already crashed, and you have a good chance of setting them on fire. Once that happens, it's only a matter of time before the cars in question explode of their own accord. This removes the cars from the intersection, clearing previously blocked routes. Depending on the situation, this can be a good or bad thing. The same is true of the secondary explosions. Start the chain reaction at the wrong time, and all you'll do is let the next batch of cars through unmolested. Time it right, and you can disable a new group of cars as the old set vaporizes itself. The secondary explosions are also a great way to cause environmental damage to the buildings, earning some nice point bonuses in the process.
The process of blowing things up is spread across three different game modes: Road Trip, Rush Hour and Pile Up. Road Trip is the primary game mode, and the goal is to eliminate a predetermined number of cars to trigger a level-ending special. Let five vehicles slip by your watchful eye, though, and it's game over. Rush Hour gives you an unlimited number of cars but a limited amount of time. Cause as much damage as you can as quickly as you can because after 90 seconds, you're done. Pile Up is similar to Road Trip, though your penalty for letting cars through is a lower multiplier. After all the cars have either crashed or escaped, you start a bonus round that lasts until the fires have gone out.
Crashing cars is definitely the high point of the game, so it is a bit disappointing that Burnout Crash! is solely a score attack game. None of the modes are endless. Being able to crash an unlimited number of cars would have added to the draw.
Since the core game is a single-player affair, Criterion implemented the Autolog feature. The downside is that Autolog requires you to create a separate EA account if you want to use any of the leaderboards. It'll also nag you every time you start the game if you don't create an EA account. On the upside, if you decide to sign up, the experience is seamless after the initial account creation, and it really does bring an extra level of integration to the traditional leaderboard experience. You can use Autolog to expand your friends list by finding friends of friends as well as challenge your friends directly.
Challenges are done via the Autolog menu. Pick a friend, pick a level and play. After you finish your turn, the game sends a note to your friend, who will see it the next time they hop on. It's not that far off from the way play-by-e-mail games used to work. Another plus to Autolog is how it compares scores. Not only do all your friends show up on the level leaderboards, but the game also displays a little "A" on the world map for any level in which you don't currently hold the high score. Talk about driving competition.
Exclusive to the Xbox 360 version of Burnout Crash! is Kinect support. Individual levels can all be played with the Kinect instead of the traditional controller. There is also a multiplayer Kinect party mode that is designed for team play, but while the potential for a Kinect-controlled Burnout experience is high, the actual implementation is nothing to write home about.
As far as the single-player game is concerned, Kinect control can best be described as tacked on. You can use it within the levels, but not to navigate the UI. As soon as you finish a level, a screen pops up telling you to pick up the controller. It's not exactly fulfilling the hands-free gaming promise.
The control implementation is also a bit odd in how you move around. For the first segment, you control your car by holding your hands out and pretending you're holding a steering wheel. It works, and it feels intuitive. Firing off the crashbreaker is done by jumping, but the movement after the explosion is based on where you're standing. With a small action box, it's very easy to be off by a few inches, so what was supposed to be a slight nudge can end up flinging your vehicle across the level. It ends up being more frustrating than fun.
Kinect party mode is a little better in that the UI in this section can be controlled with the Kinect, but it still suffers from the movement box flaw that is present in the single-player experience. In party mode, you choose the number of rounds you want to play, and the game randomly picks a level, a vehicle and a crashbreaker action. Each side takes a turn, with the high scorer being the winner. The various crashbreaker actions can be somewhat amusing (such as the chicken squat), but they don't relieve the frustration of the movement. Kinect party mode is something that you're likely to play once and then never touch again. It's too bad there isn't a party mode that works with the standard controller.
If you can leave your preconceptions at the door, Burnout Crash! can be a great little time waster. It may not be the core title that franchise fans were expecting, but it's definitely fun to blow stuff up. Burnout Crash! is also a very casual-friendly game, easily appealing to non-gamers with its pick-up-and-play simplicity so long as you pretend the Kinect mode doesn't exist. It's not likely to set any records, but at the budget price of 800 MSP ($10 USD), anyone picking up this game is going to get their money's worth.
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