Plenty of racing games involve boosting, and many give you weapons with which you can obliterate your opponents. In Fireburst, these two mechanics are one and the same. The heat generated by your boost fuels flames that can fry your competitors, or blow you up, if you boost for an instant longer than your car can handle. Maintaining that delicate balance between maximizing your speed and not destroying yourself is tricky, and pulling it off can be exciting. Unfortunately, frustrating physics and a severe lack of content douse the fires of this slightly unusual racer.
Each of Fireburst's vehicles falls into one of four offensive categories. Fireball cars become engulfed in flames when hot; attacks of other cars have no effect when you're in this state, and colliding with other cars detonates them. Fireblast cars are surrounded by a ring of fire while boosting that expands as you hold down the boost button. When you release the button, the ring flares up and disappears, destroying any cars within the circle. Firewall cars blast flames out of their sides when boosting, and firewheels cars leave tracks of fire in their wakes.
Regardless of which type of car you're driving, the attack works the same. As you hold down the boost button, a heat meter rapidly fills up. Once it reaches a certain level, your car exudes flames as you boost. The meter fills up very quickly, and if it fills up completely, your car explodes, so you need to keep a close eye on your heat level and not overdo it. Initially you'll probably blow up your own car over and over again, which can be frustrating. But once you get the hang of it, hovering close to your car's heat limit brings an exciting element of danger to your attempts to maintain a high speed.
The tracks themselves are varied, gorgeous, and inviting. The sun beats down on the salt lake, where ships that once sailed its waters now lie on the dry, cracked earth. The moonlit refinery combines winding desert pathways with industrial trainyards. Each course is alive with vibrant lighting and packed with environmental details, and the smooth frame rate creates a convincing sense of speed. Unfortunately, flawed physics often trip you up as you speed around these courses. You can get caught on little outcroppings in unrealistic ways, immediately bringing you to a dead stop. And impacts often send your car hurtling and tumbling through the air as if it's nearly weightless.
There's no hint of a story, nor any attempt to set up the outrageous premise. What you do get is a bunch of off-putting characters, each one a stereotype or a caricature, and each one obnoxious or insulting. Hanako is an Asian schoolgirl who speaks in occasionally broken English and often giggles with glee. Hightower is a dwarf who lords his wealth, and what he sees as his potent masculinity, over everyone. These unlikable characters spout a constant stream of unfunny, repetitive taunts (You can do this too with the press of a button!), but mercifully you can mute these voices and spare yourself the failed witticisms of your competitors.
Far more glaring than the lack of a story is the dearth of single-player content. Each of eight characters has a series of challenges for you, and you're rewarded for completing these with more vehicles and characters to use in competition, but these rewards feel almost meaningless because there's no compelling content in which to use them. There's no single-player campaign or tournaments or anything of the sort, nothing but the option to create and play individual races and destruction events, which are shallow contests in which vehicles scramble around, heading into each other to blow each other up and trying to get away from each other before they're blown up.
The challenges themselves take the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach and frequently require you to play in ways that aren't enjoyable and that you would never play under normal conditions. You have to win races while crashing into a significant number of barrels and win races without crashing into any barrels. You have to drive around tracks while racking up tons of airtime and drive around tracks while racking up hardly any airtime at all. It's as if the game throws any possible minor variation it can think of at you, and the result is that most challenges end up being chores you attempt to complete to earn rewards, rather than enjoyable experiences in and of themselves.
Vibrant online competition could have filled the void left by the lack of single-player content, but this scene is anything but lively. Searching for games dropped us into different empty lobbies than those created by other players' searches. Only by inviting friends to our game were we able to scrounge up any competition, and the fact that events aren't filled out with AI drivers leaves them feeling empty. Fireburst also supports local split-screen multiplayer for up to four players, but as in online competition, there are no AI drivers, and on top of that, game performance takes a severe hit.
The result is that Fireburst is a good-looking racer with an unusual and exciting boost mechanic, but it doesn't give you nearly enough opportunities to enjoy what it offers. With some enjoyable single-player content or a more active competitive scene, this hot rod could have burned some serious rubber, but as it is, there's not much reason to take it out of the garage.