Crash 'N' Burn
... Oh, you sweet, sweet, dirty bastard. You're a game with an intriguing proposition. Yours are special features -- features that can even be considered prerequisites for racing greatness, but your error is clear and I do believe you're somewhat of a liar.
I can close my eyes and see how you came about, Crash 'N' Burn. I can see how you crawled through heaven and hellfire and rock and water and eventually onto store shelves everywhere. I close my eyes and I can see that it all began over some kind ice cream.
"Do you know what the coolest parts of a racing game are?" Says the nicely dressed man with a large bowl of the neatly topped pricey flavor.
"Why no, I do not, sir. Tell me...would you please?" Says the other one -- he's still torn between the ice, the cream, the question, and the chunks of some discarded brand of ready to bake chocolate chip cookie dough.
"The coolest parts of a racing game are car customization and crashing into stuff. Boo-ya!"
...Anyone might have made the same mistake and shouted out "pure genius" in return. That is, anyone who hadn't seen the working idea that eventually became Crash 'N' Burn. The most important part of a racing game is not crashing or customization, it's racing. That's R to the A to the C to the I-N-G and whoops, it's not here. And then there's the whole story about how the crashing and the burning aren't all that great either.
Look, no amount of accidental or intentional collisions will save a title that plays terribly, nor will any kind of advanced neon light, rim, bra, or skirt make a poor game anything more than a poor game. Crash 'N' Burn sadly lacks that basic competitive thrill that comes from a quality racing title and it lacks it in a big way. This is Crash 'N' Burn's most glaring shortcoming and because of it, the game becomes unexciting and shallow.
Before a title can become Burnout, there must be some thought placed into the area of speed. Before it can be Hot Pursuit 2, there must be some advancement in the area of track design. Before it can be Sega Rally, it must first be fluid. Before it can crumple like FlatOut, it must be exciting. And, before it can be good, it must be well presented. Forgetting to accomplish any or all of this results in Crash 'N' Burn, a good extended idea that completely fails to deliver the basics.
The crashing and the burning are clearly going to be in a game called Crash 'N' Burn. Unlike a conventional destruction themed title, though, Crash 'N' Burn forsakes the beat up junkers that have become synonymous with automobile havoc. Like Burnout, it focuses on newer fake cars gussied up to resemble their real life counterparts from VW and Honda and so forth. In addition, the game also features a surprisingly robust customization system, whereby players can earn money to purchase a wealth of car related items, including body kits and basic performance enhancers. Appearance can even be changed with an extensive assortment of decals and a very comprehensive painting system, but when racing against others or alone, the focus falls out of customization and onto crashing, since much of the personalization has no discernable bearing on actual gameplay.
Now that we're focused squarely on the crashing, it becomes important to note that it's simply uninteresting. Plainly, Crash 'N' Burn is neither fast nor vicious and it doesn't have a believable or purposefully outlandish physics system. Most of the time cars either fly without weight or jerk and twitch when nudged, crunched, or ground into. Everything just feels like a box. Since it's not fun, the only real benefit to crashing comes from the dispersion of debris across the road, which creates for a whole new set of hazards (fires even burn for a time, which is an interesting, if ultimately trivial effect). The ever more pressing requirement to avoid some junk in the road seems like it could develop into a pretty exciting gameplay mechanic, but the AI, simplistic track designs, and squirrelly controls make even this most compelling aspect of Crash 'N' Burn pretty lame.
It's perfectly normal to be racing smoothly when, five laps into it, you'll be adversely and unexpectedly impaired by some damn piece of rubble that shouldn't be flipping the way it is. The AI, being idiotic, doesn't even bother thinking about avoiding your soon to be wrecking car or preserving its own life; it just plows straight on and pushes itself, your car, and the chunk of debris that hit you into some awkward corner that's a pain to get out of. Once you come to the realization that this formula is repeated throughout the entire poorly laid out championship mode (that requires repeated "quitting" to even come to grips with), you'll want to crash into and burn something.
Supposedly, this is where Crash 'N' Burn's frantic 16-player online mode comes in to save the day. When a player inevitably grows tired of solo racing, he or she can jump across the Internet and get to the real business with a bunch of other suckers who bought into the illusion. In fairness, online Crash 'N' Burn does offer a few interesting modes, including Bomb-Tag, but the basic principle of stumbling about plain tracks waiting for someone to get effed by twitchy controls or some unpredictable fire is still what it's all about.
Throughout all of this solo and online play, Crash 'N' Burn manages to deliver consistently unimpressive audio and visuals. It does run at a high, smooth framerate, but also cranks out a steady stream of squared environments and bland cars that feature generic pings and dings we can all appreciate while rocking out to what feels like a total of five Courtney Love songs on some kind of endless damnation cycle. I don't even think Hitler's burning soul gets subjected to this kind of soundtrack.
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