Burnout CRASH! – Review

Title   Burnout CRASH!
Developer  Criterion Studios
Publisher  Electronic Arts
Platform  PSN/XBL (Reviewed)
Genre  Arcade Score Attack
Release Date  21st September, 2011

Get ready to rumble...

It’s not often I find myself unable to categorise a game. By conventional standards, Burnout CRASH! is essentially a racing game, except without any of the racing, which then downgrades that to a driving game… but there isn’t actually all that much driving involved, and so then it just becomes a game with cars in it and that’s hardly the description you came looking for. On reflection, it would be equally as unhelpful for me to describe the game as “Something I’ve spent four hours playing just to beat one high score”, as you’d need to understand exactly why it is I dedicated that amount of time to it and, if after that, I was still willing to keep going. Considering that it was hard enough to classify any of the other titles in the series, surely we can trust that this abstract excursion into whole new territory for the franchise is equally capable of planting its proud flag in the great unknown?

When first laying eyes on the game in early July, I freely confess that my faith in all things Burnout was severely tested. The game wasn’t giving me the same feeling of anticipation that the previous games had offered and I know that was a sentiment shared by others. When first going hands-on with the game at Gamescom, however, all of that changed. It’s hard to explain exactly how all of that happened, but think to the last time you were angry or upset and a good friend comes along, begging you to crack a smile and not letting up on it until you do. That was how I felt about CRASH; I was mad at it for no good reason but the second I stopped being so blinkered, I instantly felt good about things again.

Styling itself as a journey down Route 77, through Burnout’s fictional Crash City, the game immediately draws attention to just how simple it wants to keep things. You start by picking one of the crash junctions on offer, select an available crash mode, make a quick note of the achievable objectives, pick your car and crash. If you earn one of the five available objective stars, you unlock the remaining two modes for that crash junction and access to the opening game mode of the next junction. Collect enough stars and you’ll be able to pay the toll and unlock access to the next road – themed trios of crash junctions that take inspiration from instantly recognisable areas of the United States.

Sounds simple? It is! Of course it is, this was never a title that was designed to be played as some hardcore experience. The underlying philosophy behind the whole game is to just pick it up every once in a while have some fun and then wander off when your interest starts to trail. You can be crashing cars within minutes of the game loading and how long you decide to stay after that is entirely up to you. Naturally, Criterion provide plenty of reason to stay thanks to AutoLog and they make fantastic use of the Kinect sensor to warrant busting this one out at parties, or just give you perfect excuse to put down the pad and push back the sofa (all in the hope that a gang of youths aren’t watching from outside the window on their pushbikes).

I’ve read that the game boils down to little more than a zanily themed game of Tower Defence and for two of the modes, that’s certainly true. The starter on the menu of destruction is Road Trip, the mode which will first introduce you to the game and attempt to teach you Crashing 101. As with all of the game modes, you enter each junction through the south road, using only the left stick to control the car as you thunder towards traffic. After crashing into your first car, you’re left to sit and wait for your Crashbreaker meter to fill, allowing you to tap the A button and begin to direct your now airborne wreck towards more destruction, with the intention of causing more vehicles to crash.

Relevant to Road Trip, your objective from here is cause a set number of cars to crash in order to trigger a feature, one of three special events, preset and appropriate to the road in which you are crashing. Whilst trying to do this, you also have to keep an eye on the junction’s exit points and try to make sure that no more than five cars escape – an otherwise crash ending event which will take your score as it stands and add that to the scoreboard. It’s not a failure by any standards, as any stars you may have earned until that point are added to your totals regardless, and it’s not out of the question to set a respectable score despite never reaching the final features, with some of the current top scores on my AutoLog having been attained in exactly that fashion.

Should you have incurred a penalty X in Road Trip for having let a car escape, don’t panic, it’s not the end as Doctor Beat is in the house and this is where the game starts to show its real charm and true character. Along with the returning stylings of DJ Atomica, DJ from Paradise City’s CrashFM, the game is filled to the brim with snippets of 80’s music that chirps up at all the right moments. At set intervals through the crash you’ll hear it announced that Dr. Beat has been paged and is on his way. Allow him safe passage through the junction and an X will disappear. But why is it important to safeguard your Xs? Well, that’s where things start to get really silly, with each Road on the journey boasting a Super Feature – something highly ridiculous and ultimately destructive ranging from your basic Tornado and Meteor impact to a shark surfing Tsunami and the explosive stomping of Rock Lobster. The more unchecked blotches on your record, the more powerful the super feature will be, giving you that last minute push up the scoreboard and getting you up off of the sofa in victory celebrations, regardless of whether or not you’re playing with Kinect.

In Road Trip, things are far less constrictive and things get really manic. Gone are the ‘five strikes and you’re out’ system, replaced instead by a timer; when it hits zero, your wreck instantly detonates, atomic bomb style. It’s all about causing as much mayhem as you possibly can in the time given to you, encouraging you to worry less about blocking up the exits and giving you all the freedom in the world to blast your way from corner to corner in search of extra scoring opportunities. With score awards constantly flashing up all over the place, it’s one of the most satisfying parts of the game as the pinball sound effects fire through the speakers and the Pizza Truck of Destiny enters for a second time, gifting you a second spin on the Pizza of Fortune (It’sa like a roulette but widda cheese!) and keeping you smiling until the grand finale big badda boom.

Away from the chaos comes the technical play though, and fans of the previous games’ Crash modes are really going to connect best with the third and final mode on offer, Inferno. Like with Road Trip, you’ll be punished for letting cars escape although, this time, allowing them to do so will not cause the event to end.  Here you’ll start with a x5 multiplier, decreasing to x4 when your first car escapes, down to x3 when a few more escape and dropping as low as x2 in the event you fall asleep at the pad. There are only a set number of cars for the event, however, and so it’s in your interest to not only crash those cars for the points, but to keep that multiplier as high as possible for the final event. When all cars have crashed/passed through the junction, Inferno mode begins, activating that score multiplier and challenging you to keep cars and buildings burning to prolong your scoring opportunity.

And that’s where I first took notice of the game’s depth. It’s a simple enough task to just block up the junctions and see what happens, but if you plan your routes carefully, keep the cars from exploding until the very end, you can easily turn what would otherwise be a bog standard $24 million score into a triple digit screamer. Taking that mentality back through the other game modes, you find yourself trying to apply that new found logic at every opportunity, more carefully timing triggering your Crashbreaker to punt a car into another, earning an easy million through a skillshot, or positioning the traffic in such a way that you can set off the perfect explosion combo chain without compromising the flow of traffic. Of course you don’t have to look at the game like that at all as the objectives are, for the most part, fairly easy to obtain and you’re only ever going to take this logic into battle with you when you’re making the best use of the game’s massive adaptation of Criterion’s now infamous AutoLog.

AutoLog Recommends is either going to be the bane of your life or the cherry on the top. When viewing Route 77 from the main stage selection, each junction will be highlighted with the AutoLog logo to let you know that the opportunity is there for you to take on your friends list and claim top gun. Given that the unlocking of every junction will only take you an afternoon’s play, excluding the hunt for every star, this is where the game really starts to show its legs, teasing you to always come back for more in order to check to see who is on top. It’s incredibly depressing to see a friend take the top spot on one attempt, only for you to come along and take twenty four in order to take that top spot back from them.

If you’re already thinking ‘I’m never that person though, I just don’t play games like that and can’t hope to beat that guy’ well then fret no more. AutoLog has expanded this time to introduce AutoLog challenges, one attempt, 1v1 sessions in which you can pick the junction and the mode, set a score, instantly send that to a friend and when they next log in, they’ll be asked to beat it. As mentioned, you get just one attempt to do this and so the field is entirely level, with no one ever able to recreate that perfect run that has them sitting proudly at the top of a scoreboard, and just as likely to post a bad score as they are a good one. With both sides having completed the challenge, your personal trophy is then awarded to the highest scorer, only ever able to change hands between the two of you and then silently asking you to give it another shot. The ultimate bragging rights.

What’s really clever about all of the AutoLog features is that everything you do still counts towards your overall progress. If you had only got three out of the five stars the first and only time you’d played it, that return calling through AutoLog provides you with, not only with the opportunity to defeat your friends, but also to make another dent in your race to 100% completion. In AutoLog Challenges, this gets even cooler for players who are issued challenges for junctions they haven’t actually unlocked yet. Despite not otherwise having access to the event, you’re able to have this one off opportunity in the challenges to do so, and if, during that event, you happen to earn a few stars, you get to keep them. When you do eventually unlock that junction, expect those stars to be there waiting for you.

If you don’t have any friends who have picked up the game, however, you’re going to miss out on all of that. AutoLog does provide a service in which it will comb your friends list for friends of friends that are playing it so it may not be a total bust. There is, of course, one final avenue of pursuit should you be feeling robbed of your cash for a short four hour experience. If you have a Kinect sensor, you could always invite some actual friends over for what is, quite possibly, the party experience of a generation.

Earlier this month, I visited Criterion Studios in Guildford to go hands on with the game, or rather ‘hands free’, in a pre-release showing of the game’s Xbox only Kinect Party Mode. With Producer Dan McDonald as my guide, he talked me through everything you have so far been told about the game and then ran off back into the offices to grab programmers Gary Casey and Sean Donnelly for a three on three testing of the games ‘hellafun’ party mode. When on the main menu, a flashing stickman in the corner is constantly encouraging you to throw what’s dubbed the ‘Cheerleader’ pose, throwing both hands up in the air in order to get things started. After the on-screen introduction explained how this was all going to work, we were then asked to split into two teams of whatever size we wanted and to choose how many rounds we wanted to play; three, five or seven.

From here, the player left in control of sensor then has to start the Fruit Machine with a hand gesture to pull the old school one armed bandit, rotating the dials and stopping on the Crash Junction, the car you’ll be crashing and the gesture you’ll need for the Crash Breaker. Wait, what? That’s right, a gesture that changes each round in order to activate your Crash Breaker. As if the game wasn’t silly enough, prepare to give it the Cheerleader, throw a Hadouken, bend it like Beckham and the ultimate (and now infamous) favourite, lay an egg like the Hoff.

Using both arms in a steering wheel position, you drive up to the Rush Hour only junction, make your first crash and then start what will be the first of plenty of gestures, leaning or moving around the playing space in order to direct your wreck and making a complete tit of yourself. It’s exactly the kind of thing you want to break out at a party as it’s accessible to just about everyone. As you advance through the rounds, points are awarded to Blue and Red team, ending the entire experience with cheekily taken snapshots of each player who achieved the highest explosion combo, set the highest score and whatever else they can think to award as treats for having taken part.

It was fantastic to get the opportunity to play Burnout CRASH! with those who had nurtured it to its final release. I always expect to see a lack of enthusiasm or signs of annoyance at being made to do something they have to do every day, but the guys were loving every second of it, laughing as hard as everyone else in the room and swapping comments between each other about the AutoLog scores they’d set and beat in between games . Being passionate about your product is one thing but genuinely enjoying the game for everything it is? That’s Burnout CRASH and Criterion Studios all over.

With the game now in my own play space, I wanted to see if it really can appeal to just your Average Joe. I don’t actually know any Average Joes, but I do know an Abnormal Cindy and she thankfully agreed to come over and join the party for a night. She plays games; a bit of Angry Birds and a LOT of Plants vs. Zombies, with a history in Final Fantasy VII, amongst others, floating around in the background, but Kinect is something she wasn’t familiar with and that requirement was vital for me in discovering the game’s true appeal. With no alcohol to interfere (although I think the bag of Skittles may have tampered with my experiment somewhat) she really got into it, loving the game for what it was, laughing, and forgetting her surroundings so completely that she gave the leg of my sofa a fantastic kick during one animated session.  To top it all off, she beat me!

That’s what I think makes that final sell for the non-believers. The game has mass appeal and elements of both the random and the strategic that can give every level of player something to sink their teeth into. It’s gorgeously presented with a vivid and changing colour palette, consistently high frame rate and social features on a scale you don’t see in a full RRP release. There are things like replays, more detailed scoreboards and perhaps even a level creator that would really push this game out into the stratosphere, but for 800MSP, you’re already getting far more than you bargained for.

  • Insanely fun
  • A soundtrack so eclectic you can't help but smile
  • AutoLog has set a new standard
  • Tailored for players of all backgrounds

  • Criterion were able to convince 'The Hoff' to star in that ad
  • Will magically make every play session end at one in the morning
  • Won't apologise for doing that
  • Will leave you out in the cold if you're unable to populate your AutoLog
  • Doesn't feature any pass the pad modes beyond any of your own devising and will require a Kinect Sensor to enjoy the game for its Multiplayer component

It's been an absolute joy to review Burnout CRASH. It was often difficult to remember that this was something I was doing for the site rather than just indulging in a little guilty pleasure. The game is so much more than meets the eye and has such an absolutely irresistible charm to it that I find myself getting 'angry face' when I meet someone who never found that same spark within. Of course, that frown turns upside down when I remember all of the reasons why I love this game.

It's fun, it's rich, it's simple and it's faultless in design. I accept that it's better positioned for Kinect owners and heavy Xbox Live users and that without them, you're getting a lesser experience. That said, it's without doubt the underselling itself at 800MSP for what should be otherwise sold at the 1200MSP point and that's the only counterargument I feel needs to be offered in response to that.

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  1. Joeydale13 says:

    Adam, Adam, Adam…Fantastic review sir, utterly marvelous.

    This game is my game of the year so far. You can keep your AAA fancy pants titles so far I have already had more fun on Burnout CRASH this year than I have on any other title this year. As I was never a NFS player this is my first experience of Autolog and it just enhances that experience.

    Get this, I still haven’t tried it out with Kinect yet..! So I have even more fun waiting for me.

    One last thing Adam, I haven’t forgotten about your scores, I’m just taking down other people first so it is just you and me left!

  2. Richie richie says:

    High praise indeed. I must admit, I didn’t really give the demo much of a crack. It felt like it was playing itself at points. Great review though so I’ll take another look at it tonight.

    Good work, Adam.

  3. Ben Ben says:

    Not sold on this at all yet, from the time spent playing it just felt rather shallow and without much substance. Sure the autolog stuff is great and usually I do enjoy the whole “beat my friends score” mentality, it was brilliant in Hot Pursuit, but not this time.

    The crash mode was one of the reasons why I fell in love with the Burnout series but this just doesn’t do it any justice, at all. I can understand what they’ve done and can see its appeal but it just doesn’t feel right. Instead it just feels like an empty party game and I struggle to get excited by it.

    Not for me this one, I’ll keep my wheel primed in the eternal hope of a true Burnout sequel.

  4. Michael Authir says:

    I remember the forum slagging this off when the trailer was released… I’m loving the game!

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    It does absolutely nothing for me I’m afraid, not even the tiniest spec of “Ooooh maybe I’ll give that a try!”. I’m hanging on for Ridge Racer as my next driving game.

  6. Richie richie says:

    Marquis, RRU looked pretty good at the expo. Even if I did spend the whole time racing into oncoming traffic because of Burny P flashbacks.

  7. Edward Edward says:

    Top review Adam, but it’s not the sort of game for me. Much as I’m otherwise convinced, I don’t have time in my life for another score attack game right this moment.

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