Aftertouch. It's the inexplicable ability to exert some degree of control over a wrecked car as it flies through the air. First introduced in the phenomenal Burnout 3: Takedown, this ludicrous power returns in a big way in Burnout Crash. Here is a game built entirely on driving into intersections, crashing, and then making your car's wreckage explode again and again, guiding its movement in an effort to cause as much destruction as possible. It seems shallow at first glance, but there's actually some skill required to master this mayhem, and although the core mechanic remains the same throughout, varied intersections and modes make you change up your approach. It's a little too in love with itself, with narration and production choices that sometimes cross the line from infectious to obnoxious, but addictive gameplay that benefits from Criterion's competition-fueling Autolog system makes Burnout Crash an entertaining detour.
Burnout Crash is divided into 18 intersections, and each intersection offers three challenges: Road Trip, Rush Hour, and Pile Up. Regardless of which game type you're playing, you start each one the same way: by steering a car into traffic. (Don't worry, these cartoony cars are free of occupants; this is bloodless, casualty-free crashing.) Once you've impacted another vehicle, the crashbreaker meter appears. It fills up slowly on its own but fills much more quickly when cars are crashing, and each time it's full, you can push a button to explode. This explosion launches you into the air, at which point you can control the direction in which the flaming husk of what was once your car travels.
What you want to do with that flying piece of metal changes depending on the game type you've chosen. When you play an intersection for the first time, you're limited to Road Trip. In Road Trip, you get a strike each time a vehicle escapes from the intersection unscathed, and if you get five strikes, the game ends, so one of your concerns is trying to make sure that cars that enter the intersection do not leave it. To that end, you can use your crashbreaker explosion, which knocks any cars within a certain range out of commission. You can also use the force of your explosion to try to position wreckage in such a way that it blocks lanes of traffic (buses are especially handy for this). The cars that enter the intersection might make a modest attempt to swerve around obstructions, but they're incapable of stopping or turning around, and it's amusing to watch them plow right into a massive pileup, which they should have seen from miles away.
So Road Trip has a bit of a puzzle element to it. How can you use your crashbreakers in such a way as to prevent cars from escaping? In addition to worrying about that, you also want to cause as much destruction as possible because everything you destroy adds to your score. The streets are lined with houses, shops, boats, airplanes, and other destructible objects, and you want to raze as many of these things as you can. Of course, straying from the streets to destroy these tempting big-ticket items is a risk; if you haven't completely blocked the intersection, cars might slip through while you're trying to take down city hall. This element of risk adds some excitement to your destructive efforts, and the more effectively you've blocked an intersection, the less you need to worry. Some intersections make effectively blocking traffic trickier by adding more roads or having a traffic circle, which keeps things from feeling too predictable as you advance.
You also increase your score by doing things like triggering explosion chains and by making skill shots in which your explosion sends cars into pools of water or down holes in the ground. These occurrences are celebrated with flashing numbers and slot-machine sound effects, making the entire experience whimsical and your explosive triumphs rewarding. Contributing to the chaos are special events that occur periodically. These include cops who form a roadblock at one exit and an ambulance that removes a strike if it gets through the intersection safely, which gives you incentive to clear the road rather than obstruct it. And if you manage to wreck the intersection's entire allotment of cars without earning five strikes, you trigger that intersection's super feature. This is a tornado, a tidal wave, or some other destructive force that lays waste to anything left in the area, giving you points in the process. It's a cool reward for your success and a satisfying way to cap off the chaos.
Rush Hour is a less tricky, more gleeful mode. Here, you have 90 seconds to cause as much destruction as possible, and there's no penalty for cars that escape the carnage. It's also a more random mode; pizza trucks frequently appear, and each time you destroy one of them, you spin the pizza of fortune. This can have a beneficial effect, like opening a sinkhole you can send traffic into for big point bonuses, or a negative effect, like slowing traffic down so there are fewer cars to destroy for a short time. This randomness undermines the sense of competition the game attempts to foster; a 3x score multiplier from the pizza of fortune can make the difference between a decent score and an incredible score. But it's still enjoyable to engage in some destruction without having to worry about penalties.
Pile Up is the trickiest of the modes because your initial goal is to wreck cars without making them explode, and that takes finesse. You can accomplish this by hitting cars with the outer edge of your crashbreaker's explosive radius or by making cars drive into the wreckage of other cars. Once the full allotted number of cars has entered the intersection, the inferno phase begins, and then it's time to make things burn. Your score is multiplied during inferno, which lasts until five seconds pass without anything catching on fire. When you've done a poor job of setting things up for inferno, Pile Up ends not with a bang but a whimper. But if you've successfully surrounded yourself with plenty of wrecked cars that are just waiting to burn, reaping the rewards of your skill with a massive multiplier as explosions trigger more explosions and the destruction spreads is satisfying.
Unfortunately, the visuals don't contribute much to the inherent joy of crashing and wrecking things. In a big shift for the Burnout brand, you won't see these vehicles twist and crumple in gorgeous detail. Your bird's-eye view is vital for giving you the lay of the land, but you're quite removed from the action, and the tiny cars aren't much to look at. However, the energetic sound design livens things up and the game's sense of enthusiasm is often contagious. From the moment you hit start on the title screen and a little red car explodes in a burst of color as "Crash" by The Primitives plays, you're ready to crash some cars. Song snippets punctuate your destructive efforts; take out a valuable gold car, for instance, and you hear a few seconds of Spandau Ballet's "Gold." These elements create a genuine sense of fun. Too bad there's nothing genuine about some of the voice acting. The exaggerated Southern accent you hear in weather reports in the first three intersections is shockingly awful, and the announcer's wisecracks often feel forced. Thankfully, you can turn the volume down on these intrusions or turn them off altogether.
Meeting certain goals in each game type on each of the game's 18 intersections awards you stars. Each event has a total of five stars to earn on each intersection, and they're awarded for doing things like achieving a certain score or demolishing specific buildings, and earning them grants you new cars to crash. But competing is a much more compelling draw than earning stars, and Burnout Crash makes good use of the Autolog system to fuel the fires. When a friend topples your score in an event, you're notified and given the option to jump to that event with the push of a button. It's hard to pull yourself away from the game when a friend's high score is pushing you to do better. You can also easily create specific challenges for friends by selecting an event and an intersection and giving it your best shot. This competitive angle elevates the game, encouraging you to focus and give each event your best effort.
You can play any event using the Kinect, but this tacked-on option adds little to the experience. With the Kinect, you jump to explode and move your car by stepping forward, backward, left, or right. Your actions feel disconnected from what's happening onscreen, and the decrease in precision makes pulling off your destructive plans needlessly difficult. Unfortunately, the only multiplayer option forces you to use the Kinect. This party mode splits players into teams and randomly chooses cars, intersections, and crashbreaker gestures at the start of each round. You might need to kick to explode, or raise your hands in the air. It's silly, but it's not actually much fun, and the option to play the party mode by passing the controller back and forth would have been welcome.
It doesn't take long to see everything the game has to offer, and it doesn't look impressive. But skillfully laying waste to these intersections is fun, and the competitive features give you a powerful reason to revisit these locations again and again. This spunky little game packs a decent amount of bang for your 10 bucks, particularly if you relish the thought of proving that you're better than your friends are at destroying things.