Review: Burnout Crash!

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Criterion’s uber-awesome Burnout Paradise was a lot of things to a lot of gamers—including an expansive open-world drive-fest and the source of more than a year’s worth of free and paid DLC. But the glaring lack of the fan-favorite Crash Mode left a bitter taste in some gamers’ mouths, akin to discovering that the Everything Pizza you’d just ordered had somehow arrived without sauce. After all, the Burnout series has always been about creating as much spectacular vehicular mayhem as possible, and not being able to bounce and aftertouch your wreck around the environment while stacking up collateral damage just seemed, well, wrong.

Enter Burnout Crash, a digital download that’s literally all about the sauce. And the silly. While it’s best consumed in small bites, this a game that speaks to the seven year-old in all of us—you know, the one who loved to create 20-car Hot Wheels pile-ups in the driveway.

Unlike every other Burnout game you’ve test-driven, Crash abandons the series’ third-person perspective for a top-down view. Gameplay doesn’t even involve using a gas pedal: You steer into a busy intersection, crash into cars, then smash the “A” button to create huge chain-reaction crash-explosions and maneuver your wreck to derail the rest of the traffic. Each time your crashbreaker meter tops out—like every few seconds—you can launch another explosion.

Each intersection has three different play modes. The most straightforward is Road Trip, which finds you trying to prolong a single crash by bouncing around the area until five cars have managed to escape the carnage. Rush Hour is more straightforward, challenging you to rack up the highest crash score within 90 seconds and rewarding you with a satisfying nuclear explosion when time’s finally up. Pile Up, meanwhile, is all about economy—you need to build up the biggest pile of cars with a limited stream of traffic. Every car that escapes drops your inferno bonus multiplier, which means you’ll score far less at the end when it’s time to set all the buildings on fire. Rush Hour is easily the most user-friendly of the modes, and the place where it’s easiest to pick up stars that unlock new cars and stages.

Burnout Crash sports a glove compartment filled with goofball touches, and sounds are a big part of the fun. No, we’re not talking about the melodramatic announcer, whose cries of “COOL!” every time you set off an especially explosive crash wear thinner than ten-year-old tires. It’s the musical touches that really amuse, starting with the game’s theme song– The Primitives’ “Crash.” Salt ‘N’ Pepa’s “Push It” plays when you fill up your crash meter enough to unleash a bulldozer. Smash the gold car that’s hidden somewhere in the buildings that line each level and you’ll be treated to a snippet of Spandau Ballet’s (yes, Spandau Ballet) “Gold.”

Special features and super events can be unlocked at each intersection by filling your crash (not your crashbreaker) meter, and these are also hilarious and clever. A phalanx of good cops might show up to block off a traffic escape route. The ice cream truck, complete with musical jingle, might freeze traffic solid, giving you the chance to make Honda-flavored ice cubes. Pizza trucks patrol certain levels, and if you can destroy them, you’re rewarded with a Wheel of Fortune minigame that yields a bonus effect. (“It’s like roulette, but with cheese.”) If you can jack your score high enough, Mother Nature might even lend a hand to the destruction with a timely tornado or a blizzard.

As you unlock new cars and new intersections in ways that’ll seem second nature to any Burnout fan, the difficulty begins to ramp up like an overpass in Charleston, challenging you with civil engineering wrinkles that’ll have you desperately sliding your car around trying to cover two-lane divided highways and roundabouts. No matter what kind of traffic flow you’re facing, landing a score high enough to score you a precious star or two involves blowing up the buildings and surrounding landscape, not just the cars.

It’s possible to play against friends (and strangers) using the game’s Autolog feature, but just like the traffic on I-90 tends to be a little on the dead side at 4 am, there are times when scaring up opposition is as pointless as crashing your car into a house on the way to the intersection. There’s even a Kinect mode here—or, more accurately, Kinect party mode, that lets two teams of players use their hands and legs to see who can post the highest score in Rush Hour mode. It’s a nice idea (and probably one that was heavily pushed by Microsoft) but it comes off like a ‘and-now-how-much-would you pay?’ add-on that isn’t nearly as good as advertised. The central problem lies in controlling your car after unleashing an explosion–which is, of course, the key to staging the pile-ups that rack up points and keep the action going.

The Kinect controls require you to move your foot/leg in the direction you want your car to drift, but not only is this dreadfully imprecise (especially if your car drifts into the confines of the buildings surrounding the intersection), but it’s actually counter intuitive. Depending on which of several action-control options pop up in the slot machine minigame you play before the crashing begins, you may have to jump into the air or perform a soccer kick to trigger the explosion meter. Now imagine trying to do that, then drift your car quickly in the other direction. Great for party laughs, maybe; deadly for scoring actual points.

With Burnout Crash, Criterion has driven a simple concept a long ways down an entertaining and oftentimes funny road, even if it’s best driven and enjoyed in short bursts. Don’t look now–you’re gonna crash!

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Pros:
+ Making cars crash and stuff go boom is always fun
+ Easily mastered controls
+ Goofball touches keep the action light and laughable

Cons:
– In larger doses, the three types of play modes run out of gas
– Halfway through, the difficulty curve becomes brutal
– Kinect Party mode is more trouble than it’s worth

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade; also available on PS3 via PSN
Publisher: EA
Developer: Criterion Games
Release Date: 9/20/2011
Genre: Arcade / Racing
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (online), up to 14 in Kinect party play
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.