Ignoring for a moment the fact that last year's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit felt very much like that other big driving series Criterion Games is known for, it's been a good long while since we've seen the release of a proper Burnout game. Well, the wait is about to end...sort of. EA and Criterion have just announced Burnout Crash, a downloadable game that takes the points-based showcase of wanton destruction that is Crash mode and shows it from a retro top-down perspective. We recently went hands-on with the game at EA's Summer Showcase to see what's up with this new twist on the Burnout franchise.
First of all, let's issue a slight correction here. We didn't actually go hands-on with anything, having played Burnout Crash on the Xbox 360 using the game's optional Kinect control mode. Using Kinect, you steer your car into an intersection, crash into whatever looks appealing, and then move your body around to control the direction of your recently exploded car. Anyone who's spent time with Crash mode in a previous Burnout game should be well familiar with how this works; the only difference here is that with Kinect controls, you need to jump into the air to trigger another explosion and step in various directions around you to control the "after touch" direction of your demolished but still very much moving car.
The way you accrue points varies, depending on the game mode you're playing. We got to see two of the game's three modes in action: Rush Hour and Road Trip. Rush Hour is a pretty straightforward timed mode where you're trying to rack up as many points (depicted in dollar value damage) as you can within 90 seconds. Then, there's Road Trip, where you're going through every location in the game in a, well, road trip of destruction. Along the way, you'll encounter various methods of boosting your score. For example, smashing into a pizza truck triggers a minigame where you spin a pizza wheel and unlock a bonus vehicle (which looks more than a little like Wheel of Fortune) and the ability to create a massive pit in the road that grants you bonuses for knocking other cars into it.
It's worth pointing out that Burnout Crash probably has the most pronounced personality of any Burnout game to date. Besides just the bright, cartoonlike graphics and the game show-style narrator, Burnout Crash isn't afraid to throw in a few gags here and there. Besides the aforementioned out-of-nowhere appearance of a pizza bonus wheel, some of the cars you spawn come with jaunty theme songs as they enter the fold. As one example, when you manage to spawn a bulldozer to come in and ram into a bunch of cars for you, it occurs to the tune of Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It." Word play!
Carrying on what Criterion did with last year's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Burnout Crash will also support the Autolog system of asynchronous multiplayer competition. Like a leaderboard that exists purely to rub your nose in defeat or glorify your triumphs, depending on the situation, Autolog keeps a watchful eye on when your friends have beat your high score on a given level and notifies you accordingly. Then, it's up to you to take back your crown or sulk offline in defeat.
It probably goes without saying that Burnout Crash proved a very surprising take on Criterion's familiar driving franchise. The top-down perspective feels like something from the 16-bit era, while the visuals and style are a lot brighter and more jokey than we were expecting. But this is a Criterion-developed game, and that's a studio that's pumped out hit after hit over the years, so we're perfectly willing to believe that Burnout Crash--unexpected as it may be--can carry on the traditions of this series. We'll wait and see how the whole thing turns out when it's released on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade this fall.