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Burnout Crash
Graphics: 7.2
Gameplay: 7.3
Sound: 7.8
Control: 7.7
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 7.5

Before I get started, I’d like to make it plain that I had way more fun with this game than the overall 7.5 score implies. It just got really frustrating later on, and more of the flaws became obvious in the last stages. Up until that point, this was an absolute blast; I’d say the score fell a full point in the last hour or so.

Burnout is one of those franchises that arcade racers everywhere love; the emphasis on crazy speeds and even crazier crashing has been attracting adrenaline freaks for years. And while many had hoped developer Criterion Games would generate a full follow-up to Burnout Paradise, they instead decided to deliver a downloadable iteration called Burnout Crash. It’s a top-down, cartoony, explosion-riddled production with a very high fun factor. It just has one major design flaw…

I’ve seen many critics say the game isn’t visually impressive and while that’s true to some extent, I beg to differ. There’s a lot of cool detail jammed into this colorful top-down palette, and the explosions and animations aren’t half-bad. There aren’t enough different vehicles, there definitely aren’t enough various locations (well, there are, but they all sorta look alike), and you’ve seen most everything there is to see after the first few hours. But I still love the inspired effects and this charming visual style is really quite appealing on a number of levels. The graphics aren’t amazing but I find them quite pleasant.

As for the sound, there’s going to be a ton of subjectivity here. Criterion uses a lot of licensed music for this one and personally, I love it. “Crash” by The Primitives (which everyone will remember from “Dumb and Dumber”), “Push it” by Salt ‘n Pepa, and “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls cement an entertaining and creative soundtrack, although it can get a little repetitive. The voiceover work is hit or miss; you’ll either find the wacky guy on the radio funny or just plain irritating, but you can turn him off. The sound effects are crisp and solid, too.

If you’re familiar with this franchise, you know all about crashing and the Burnout-specific feature called Aftertouch. This came into play in past installments when you could detonate your car – often in an effort to dispatch other opponents – after crashing. To make this game work, you can execute an Aftertouch after a gauge fills; the gauge will fill faster when more crashes occur and stuff gets blowed up big time. Keep blowing stuff up, and you can keep “Aftertouch-ing” to rack up big combo scores. It’s just plain addictive.

You can also direct your destroyed vehicle in the air for a few seconds after exploding; some vehicles allow for more Aftertouch maneuvering, while others are better at sheer power and impact. You progress along a route where each stage features three levels, which consist of Road Trip, Rush Hour, and Pile Up. These are the only three modes in the game and unfortunately, Road Trip and Pile Up are too similar. That’s because of the design flaw I mention above; I’ll get to that in a second. In the meantime, the control is simple and easy, and the presentation is awesome.

Get More:, Burnout Crash - Rush Hour Gameplay, PC Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

There’s a lot of creativity here. Filling up the traffic gauge will unleash one of the scheduled special occurrences for that level. This could be Good Cop (they’ll block off a side of the intersection for you), Bad Cop (they’ll try to bust you and if they succeed, you won’t be able to do anything for 5 seconds), Pizza Truck (spin the pizza wheel, get a random effect), blizzards, thunderstorms, fog, gas trucks, missile trucks, etc. Every once in a while, an ambulance will show up and if it gets through the mess safely, you’ll get a red X back. Let me explain.

For Road Trip, you have to block the intersection(s) with crashed vehicles so others can’t get through. If five get through safely after your first crash, the level ends. For every vehicle that slips through, you land a red X, which can only be removed by a successful ambulance run. If you can reach the end of the traffic flow, a special feature will trigger to end the level, which results in massive destruction. The less red Xs you have, the more powerful that feature will be. If you have three or four Xs, you just won’t score as high. In Pile Up, it’s sort of similar, as Inferno will ignite when the traffic flow ends, and the strength of that Inferno is based on how many cars got through.

Therefore, two of the three modes have to be approached with a similar strategy. That’s one problem. But the single biggest issue is that as the game progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that if you want to get all those valuable gold stars (five for each level), you need the top scores and all sorts of destruction. And to do that, you need to keep those intersections blocked, which means the majority of your focus is keeping cars from escaping. At first, it’s fine. But later, it becomes immensely frustrating and the focus of the game slips.

In later stages, you just spend all your time trying to keep vehicles from escaping. And with more complicated road setups in those levels, higher traffic counts, and more events that hinder your goal, the frustration level spikes. The problem is that something as cool as a Missile Truck or Gas Truck is actually bad; they blow everything up and give you points, but they also clear the intersection of your very necessary roadblocks. And with more crap sitting there, it’s rare that an ambulance gets through, so it’s even harder to keep your red X count low.

There’s just too much luck and randomness involved overall, and the emphasis on keeping vehicles from escaping is just too irritating. The rest is super fun, and with that Autolog feature (you remember it from last year’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, perhaps), the game is super addictive. Toss in extra players and you’ve got one hell of a party experience. Also, for only $9.99, you get a long campaign and if you want all those stars, you’ll be playing for a while. Unlock more vehicles, top your friends, string together combos, and wreak havoc.

Burnout Crash is well presented and encourages a lot of replay. It’s not technically accomplished but it’s visually attractive in my eyes, the combination of great sound effects and licensed music works nicely, the longevity is high, and for a fair amount of time, the game is just wildly entertaining. And then you realize that you’re spending too much time doing one thing, which detracts from the explosive goals, the environments don’t change much, and the annoyance meter goes sky-high during later stages. For a while there, though…

The Good: Colorful, attractive presentation. Music and sound effects add a lot of flair. Longevity and fun factor is high. Autolog and gold star system is addictive. Great party game.

The Bad: Repetitious levels. Over-emphasis on one strategic feature, which detracts from overall goal and contributes to frustration. Two of the three modes are too similar.

The Ugly: “There goes another one…and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.”

9/23/2011   Ben Dutka