Crash 'n Burn, a racing title from EIDOS, puts the gamer in a world where anything goes on the track. Unlike some other popular titles, the emphasis is not on accurate car model reproduction or giving the end user the opportunity to drive their dream car. Instead, in the spirit of NASCAR, the gamer gets to tweak a few cars, changing paint jobs, and performing mechanical upgrades on the car as money and experience allows.
Crash 'n Burn single player provides three different types of tracks and gameplay is the standard finish first after several laps. Crash 'n Burn builds on these tracks by including a ‘XGP’ series, which introduces berms, ramps and other obstacles to the standard course. The best mode, in my opinion is the ‘KGP’ mode where half the cars run the race forward and the other half run the race in the opposite direction. All cars can be destroyed, so KGP mode is all about survival while hurtling headlong towards other cars at breakneck speeds.
In ‘Championship’ or career mode, you start with both a compact car and a pickup. The compact car is more maneuverable, but the pickup has more mass which can help on some of the tighter tracks where nudging other cars is a required to win. Every race finishes with a summary of the cash and experienced earned based both on performance in the race (fastest lap, laps in the lead, final placing) and on how many cars you wreck. While winning the races is the fastest way to advance in the game as experience unlocks new levels, there were often times when I had wiped out and decided to do a little ‘Kamikaze’ run. That way the race was not a total waste of time as a couple of written off opponents could equal a high placing in some races. One thing that might upset the ‘purists’ is the fact that you basically write off your car every race with no financial penalty.
An element of the gameplay that really can throw a curve at the player are the oil slicks and fires on the road from previous crashes. The oil slicks affect handling in a big way, and driving through a fire on the track does damage to your vehicle. Also, the fire and smoke obscure what is further on the track, and running blind through a fire often results in a crash on a smoking wreck on the other side.
One of the more difficult parts of the career mode are the ‘Series’. The series are a sequence of races that you have to play through without being able to tweak the car or choose a different model between races. The series is based on cumulative position, so one bad race in the series will affect your final placing. The series do provide massive experience if you are able to win the event, leapfrogging you forward in the game.
The graphics are quite well done in the game, with emphasis on the cars and the debris as a result of damage. In fact, the debris and vehicle damage are very incredible. Over time, as you slam into barriers, both the body of the car and the handling characteristics to a lesser degree degrade. The ability to decorate the car in various colors and ‘decals’ is nearly endless, and as the game progresses the quality and appearance of the vehicles is really diversified. The graphics in the game focus on the dynamic elements as opposed to the static track and surroundings. When you rub a wall, chunks of the car will fly off and end up on the track, while the side panels will have some noticeable scratching. The debris fields and parts over the track are a testament to the physics engine, as when you run over someone else’s bumper it crunches with a satisfying sound and moves in a realistic manner. The fires and smoke, one of the more difficult particle effects, are very realistic as plumes of black smoke cook off the various wrecks and burning oil slicks on the tracks.
The audio in the game is, like most other racing games, somewhat monotonous. The sound effects are decent, with a background soundtrack of metal music pounding away as you drive around the track. The music is appropriate for the style of game, and not blaringly loud by default so I left it on. When you DO smack into someone head on, the sound effects are quite enjoyable to the ears. One gripe I have about the audio was that it seemed the “queued” announcements came out in whatever order regardless of relevancy. Where this was particularly annoying is upon completion of the first lap, you get some nitrous to give you some extra boost where you want it. If a couple of cars were wrecked around the time you completed the lap, you might be a quarter of the way through the next lap before the announcer lets you know that nitrous has been enabled. While you know you are getting nitrous, it is disconcerting on some tracks to have completely used up your nitrous in a furious blast and then have the announcer merrily proclaim that nitrous is available. As this is a preview build, perhaps this is something that they will be addressing in the coming weeks.
I am not the biggest racing fan, but I found this game excellent in that you could get satisfaction in playing 15 minutes and walking away. The only really time consuming parts are the series, but it is possible to play through a series in 10 minutes. The fact that there is a bonus for wrecking cars means that if you are frustrated with a race, you can take out some aggression by waiting for the starting group to take off, then you can run the race backwards taking out vehicles here and there until you feel like trying your hand at winning again. For the racing snobs, this probably is not your cup of tea but for ‘Joe Six-Pack’ the various modes and rampant destruction will have appeal, and certainly replay value with friends.