Review: Burnout Crash!

I think it’s time to accept the sad truth that Criterion, once mighty grandmasters of their craft, no longer have a clue what they’re doing.

Their last full Burnout game was Burnout Paradise, a pointless, featureless nothing of a game, replete with head-scratchingly bad design choices and no evidence that anyone on the design team knew what elements should go into a game bearing the Burnout label, or what elements should go into an ‘open-world’ label either (apparently none, because open world games make themselves fun, right?). Then they released Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, a game which I toyed with the idea of reviewing for a long time, before deciding that I didn’t care about it enough to summon the requisite amount of bile required to describe how unbalanced, boring, poorly optimised and shoddy it was. Now we have Burnout: Crash!, the game which supposedly justifies the lack of a Crash Mode inclusion in Burnout Paradise by making the much-loved elevated extra game-mode a chance to shine as a game all of its own.

Many people out there in Internetville are upset that Burnout Crash! is not a racing game. Oh you silly people, it was never meant to be. Don’t waste your time criticising it unfairly; there’s an ocean of much better reasons why this game is a steaming pile so let’s focus on them. Others are angry because they expected it to be a better, refined version of the Crash Mode from previous Burnout games. Well, that would make sense seeing as that’s a great idea for a downloadable title, and it works with Criterion’s assertion that this game’s existence explains the lack of Crash Mode in Burnout Paradise. Well, it’s not that either. Live with the fact that we’ve missed out on Crash Mode twice in two successive Burnout games, despite one of them being called Burnout Crash!, and move on. What this actually is, is a physics-based puzzle game inspired by Crash Mode – which again, is actually a great idea. Unfortunately, a great idea is all it is; its implementation is just about as confused and uninspiring as it possibly could be.

For those unfamiliar with Burnout-past, Crash Mode was introduced in Burnout 2 and went on to blossom further in the two successive sequels. Playable in multiplayer or singleplayer, players were given a junction and a car. They were tasked with driving the car into the junction and causing as much damage to other cars as possible in the resulting crash. The idea was a simple one but, within that mild-mannered shell, an addictive and multi-layered game was hiding. At its best it was a party game. Anyone could play it; non-gamers and gamers alike loved it, with the latter competing for the insane high scores possible for those with quick wits and keen eyes, and the former simply enamoured with the immediacy of the response, how easy its concepts were to understand and put into practice, and the slightly grotesque silliness of the premise. Even in rooms with a spread of different ability levels it was never a problem that some were better than others; Crash Mode was a fun game to play regardless, a fun game to watch regardless, and I personally owe a debt of thanks to Criterion for the many, many hours of delight that Crash Mode has offered – not to mention the other modes of equal excellence present in the good Burnout games.

So along comes Burnout Crash!, a game so, so very undeserving of an exclamation mark at the end of its title. The first problem is that it appears there is no multiplayer mode. Apparently there is one; so say other reviews I’ve read online. But I’ve examined each and every option on every menu screen with some scrutiny to ensure I’m not mistaking the word ‘Multiplayer’ for the words ‘Help and Options’, and I see no evidence of it. I guess it’s Kinect-only, or you need a second controller plugged in before the option even appears on the menu. It does say ‘Single Player’ in the description of the campaign, which is an odd thing to say if there’s no multiplayer. Whatever’s going on, I’m confused.

In the absence of a multiplayer option, my friends and I decided to take turns on the single player campaign. A number of problems are immediately apparent. Firstly it’s too hard for non-gamers, or people playing it for the first time. Unlike the delight of new players playing the original Crash Mode for the first time, no-one other than me was able to get anywhere even close to passing any of the levels before we gave up. There was no delight on display from anyone in the room whether they were playing or awaiting their turn, only boredom. Also, levels now last five or six minutes, instead of the 30 seconds or so of previous iterations, so it lacks that snappy ‘watch, laugh, shout, pass-the-controller’ design that made for such a good party game before.

There’s no sense that any player could really control any of the chaos that ensues as it’s far too luck-dependent; there’s no point in carefully considering the layout you see ahead of you as there’s too much going on to ever plan anything successfully. In fact it’s so luck-based that the game will regularly give you an impossible challenge to meet and then fail you as a result. As a successor to what came before, it’s a mess. It doesn’t push the right buttons and it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to or not: the presentation, soundtrack and general feel is one of a casual party game, but the actual content is aimed squarely at skilled gamers interested in long-haul grinds, and even then most high scores are likely down predominantly to luck or random chance (I don’t really know for sure as this is perhaps the first score-attack game of the online-enabled generation to not think to include a global leaderboard).

So, ignoring the name, ignoring the past, what should have been or could have been, is it a decent puzzle game for those unfamiliar or nonplussed with the Burnout brand? Yeah, it’s alright. It’s fairly moreish at first, but there’s no indication of any longevity. Give it a week and then you’ll probably not bother turning it on again. The idea has multiple holes in its design and it’s far, far too easy to fail through no fault of your own. Each level is essentially the same, but it can feel satisfying when you get it right. Unlocking new cars and going back to do better at early levels is satisfying, and contributes to current progress as you will earn stars to unlock further cars and levels in the process.

It is a prime example of an ignorable game, one to be shrugged off. However, once you factor in the blueprints Criterion had to work with – blueprints they themselves created, no less – it became something worse: a hugely disappointing waste of time and money.

On the other hand there was another game released the same day as Burnout Crash!, for the same price and on the same systems. It’s also a physics-based puzzle game, it’s also a casual time-sink, only it gets better as it grows in complexity instead of growing more annoying. Unlike Burnout Crash! it has a consistent design and its constituent parts all compliment each other, plus it doesn’t involve any luck whatsoever. It’s called Rotastic and judging by my position in the top 50 of the scoreboard despite being less than halfway through and mostly rocking bronze and silver medals in all levels, very few people have bought it. If you have Burnout Crash! money waiting I’d spent it on that instead. Or maybe just go and buy an old, proper Burnout game. Or pay someone to choke you.