Reviewed: February 12, 2005
Released: November 16, 2004
As an amateur racecar driver I can assure you the last thing I, or any of my fellow drivers want to do is get involved in a wreck, but there is no denying the lure of the crash, the spectacle of smoke, fire, and debris as cars slam into walls or each other. For every fan cheering for their favorite driver to cross the finish line first there are a dozen others sitting in the stands hoping their chosen seat gives them a view of that “big crash”.
Videogames are the obvious and safest outlet for this fascination, so it’s no wonder that games like Burnout feature spectacular crashes as their primary theme. Climax has created Crash “N” Burn in an attempt to blend explosive wrecks and auto-mayhem with semi-serious circuit racing, and for good measure they’ve even thrown in an impressive upgrade system that allows you to pimp your ride in true street racer style.
Crash “N” Burn has a lot going for it but the scales are equally tipped with plenty of stuff that just doesn’t work. Fortunately, most of the bad stuff really isn’t in the actual gameplay but rather the underlying “mechanics” of the game structure.
First of all the presentation for this game sucks. Once you get through the opening movie you are left with little more than a series of text-only menus dropped over a picture of your car or the track. As expected, when you start the game nearly everything is grayed out and you will need to invest several dozen hours into the title before you have everything unlocked.
As you race and win you will unlock mechanical upgrades that come in two forms, turbo and performance upgrades. Rather than earning money and buying parts you purchase upgrades that give you points, which you can assign to top speed, acceleration, and tire grip. Pretty standard stuff for an arcade racer and Crash “N” Burn pretends to be nothing more. Turbo is an outright purchase that extends the duration of your nitrous during the race.
The rest of the expansive list of upgrades is left for parts that include new hoods, spoilers, skirts, rims, paintjobs, and custom vinyl designs. There are literally thousands of combinations so it is virtually impossible for any two cars to look exactly alike. The only problem here is that there is no “reason” to even care about your appearance. There is no “respect” or “reputation” like in NFSUG, so anything you do to your car is for your benefit only.
That ends the list of disappointing features in Crash “N” Burn leaving us with a solid and entirely fun racing experience. You can try to take this game seriously and race a clean race but the reckless nature of the AI and the sinister track designs will inevitably cause you to exchange some paint with the competition.
Since the game is decisively arcade you won’t be qualifying. Instead, you will start in a randomly assigned position, usually in the back two rows of the field, meaning you get to do a lot of initial passing. The first lap of the race can often be horrendous with half the field being reduced to smoking scrap metal.
The damage model is most impressive and your car will experience several levels of decomposition starting with paint scrapes that reveal the bare metal beneath. Then you start to get dents before the body parts start flying off and littering the track. With 20 cars per race you can only imagine the amount of debris you will need to dodge by the sixth lap. And when cars are totaled their smoking hulks will remain as both an obstacle and a warning of your possible fate.
As the name might imply Crash “N” Burn lights up the track with some of the most realistic fire and smoke I have seen in any game in any genre. Oil will spill out onto the track creating slicks but this oil will also ignite along with cars and create walls of fire and smoke that you must drive through blind. Anyone who has seen those amazing scenes in Days of Thunder will know what I am talking about, but it still can’t prepare you for the exhilaration of speeding through orange flame and black smoke and praying there isn’t a pile of steel on the other side.
Physics are good but admittedly arcade in nature. You have to judge your speed carefully going over ramps or you can actually somersault your car. Likewise, some tracks have these little ramps or piles of sand around the outer edge, perfectly placed to where the centrifugal force will take your car sending it into a barrel roll. Collision physics are solid and cars will crunch and bounce off each other with astounding realism.
Track design is excellent and you have several main locations with a few unique track formations per location. For instance, Las Vegas features a high-speed oval track but the shaded area of the top-down map clearly reveals a sinister figure-eight track that you will eventually get to race. Then they will even add a big ramp later in the series so the intersection is airborne. Other tracks take you to LA, Miami, New York, a dockside warehouse, and through a massive forest with sunlight streaming through the trees just to name a few. As always, track memorization is crucial to winning races.
Crash “N” Burn has an almost stylistic look to it with a unique color palette for the cars that contrasts the realistic colors and imagery of the track designs. The cars themselves have an almost plastic sheen about them rather than metal, even after I tried my best to pain and decorate them.
You can drive from the traditional bumper cam as well as a near and far chase view. Interesting enough, if you choose the bumper cam and flip the car the game will auto-switch to the chase view, at least the first time. When you override back to the bumper cam it will remain there for the rest of the race and offer some of the most vomit-inducing perspectives in racing history.
Lighting is excellent with shadows and beams that stream through the trees. Lens flares blind you on the beaches of Miami and there are ample special effects like particle damage and volumetric smoke and fire. The amount of debris is astounding and the game accounts for every piece of wreckage and skid mark left on the track for the entire race.
As previously mentioned, everything outside of the racing is pretty lame with text-heavy menus and boring backgrounds. Even picking and viewing your new car parts is made more difficulty with poor camera angles.
There is a sampling of licensed music in Crash “N” Burn but unless you like your music to have more speed metal than the cars on the track you will want to head to the options and turn it down or off. If any game every screamed for custom audio tracks it’s this one.
Sound effects are minimal but good with engines noises, squealing tires, crunching metal, and explosive booms when cars explode. There is excellent processing for bouncing sounds and reverbs in tunnels and the Dolby Digital mix allows you to hear cars riding up your tailpipe.
Speech is minimal with a track introduction and some repetitive play-by-play during the race. It’s not the best stuff but it works well enough for this type of game.
After you conquer the 20-30 hours solo career mode you can either try another style of car or head online. Crash “N” Burn allows you to race a variety of cars and trucks and even muscle cars like the powerful GTO. Each type of car has its own unlockables so you can’t get truck parts by racing the compact.
Online racing was a blast the two times I actually found people playing the game on Xbox Live. Unfortunately (and unfairly) this game has gotten a bad rap in the media so a lot of people are shying away from what would otherwise be a great racing experience. Crash “N” Burn is exactly the type of game you want to play online with a full field of up to 16 human drivers.
I’m not going to blow exhaust up your tailpipe. Yes, there are better racing games out there, but that doesn’t stop me from recommending Crash “N” Burn to anyone who is looking for a non-serious racing title that focuses on wrecks. Much in the same vein as Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, this game rewards you for dangerous driving while making it nearly impossible to drive a perfect lap.
If you like to live fast, drive dangerously, and hold your breath while dodging debris and racing through clouds of smoke and fire then Crash “N” Burn is just the game for you.