Review by Gruel

"No relation to the James Spader box-office smash."

It's tragic, it really is, if Burnout 3 (BO3) wasn't released a few months earlier, than nearly everyone would have been proclaiming how great the new arcade/demolition derby racer Crash ‘n Burn (CnB) is. Unfortunately, BO3 is the arcade racer to beat on the market, and this new value priced title from Eidos has a lot to live up to. While it is not the caliber of racer that EA's blockbuster is, the developers at Climax have delivered a fairly good game to people looking for a lower priced alternative in the genre.

I really shouldn't be comparing CnB to BO3, but when I first saw the cover art for it, that was the first game that came to mind. BO3 is about the spectacular crashes, and avoiding all the traffic as you race through cluttered cities with up to only five other opponents. CnB has no other oncoming traffic or moving obstacles to avoid other than the field of competitors, which is tripled that of BO3 to 15. The other main difference between these two titles is that unlike BO3, once your vehicle's health bar is depleted, it is eliminated for from the race for good.

It is that aspect alone that makes CnB more of a demolition derby type racer like Atari's recent Eve of Destruction (EoD) than an arcade racer in the same vein as BO3. CnB is a terrific fit in the genre; it has that sense of speed that EoD was missing. The races themselves aren't all that bad, though they do have their drawbacks. Climax borrows a page out of F-Zero by making a turbo meter accessible after the first lap is completed, it also is fully restored as a bonus when you wreck one of your rivals.

The neat thing about the wrecks is that their path of destruction still lies all over the track throughout the duration of the race. Wrecked vehicles will leave a trail of oil as they casually come to a stop against a wall, or (in rarer situations) viciously blow up into two halves after a devastating t-bone. Said oil slicks turn into impressive walls of fire by using a turbo boost over them. The racing does get quite intense thanks to the combative AI that loves to duke it out early in the race, so don't be surprised to see several competitors eliminated in the first lap. It is common to finish certain tracks with only a handful of vehicles surviving. However, there are tracks that have narrow paths that are common for wrecked vehicles to end up retiring in, and in many cases there happens to be several walls of fire blocking their view. So imagine the frustration when a first place lead is blown by having a wrecked vehicle completely blindside you.

Thankfully this annoying facet of gameplay mostly occurs only in the Kamikaze game mode, where the 16 vehicles are split up into two fields and drive in the opposite direction of each other. At times it can get a bit congested in regular races, but at far more less frequent occasions than in Kamikaze races. CnB could have really benefited from some kind of power-up system much like how the one in the old Demolition Racer game on Dreamcast was where there were pickups for health, invincibility, etc. Instead, I sometimes find myself running low on health early on in races which forces me to race very conservatively in a racer that rewards for the exact opposite.

I wished the developers could have spent more work into the main single player mode of CnB. It's about as basic as a Championship mode can get. The only extra thing you can do is customize your own ride. From the get go you can only deck out compact cars and pickups (with the ability to modify sports and muscle cars later on when they're unlocked). Winning races rewards you with cash and experience points. Every time your profile levels up more car accessories such as rims, decals, bumpers, exhausts, and other parts (sorry, no hydraulics) will be available to be purchased from the garage. It's not as complex and in-depth of a modification system as in other racers like Midnight Club and Need for Speed Underground, but it is a fair enough amount of customization considering there is only four vehicle types and this is just a $20 game.

There are nine tracks, with each one having several different variants increasing in difficulty that contain shaper turns and more obstacles. Each circuit has several races; every time a circuit is completed there are naturally more courses unlocked. All you need to do to fully complete the championship mode is get gold medals in every race variant in each circuit. No fancy storylines or free-roaming map branching everything together, just an old-school Mario Kart-esque “here's a bunch of courses, place first in all of them” feel. Just the bare bones, but then it only helps confirm the budget status of CnB.

There are a lot of extra gameplay modes in CnB. Aside from the straight-up racing and the aforementioned Kamikaze mode; there are several types of events that take place in demolition derby-like arenas. Last Man Standing is CnB's version of a good old fashioned demolition derby event I admittedly have a sweet tooth for, so bonus points to Climax for adding that mode of play in the game. There are also team versions of regular and Kamikaze races, as well as team Last Man Standing. The game type I found the most addicting aside from Last Man Standing was The Running Man game mode. No, Schwarzy doesn't make a cameo in it, but instead a vehicle is randomly labeled “The Running Man” and it must avoid contact from all other vehicles so it can sustain this status for a specific period of time. I prefer this game type because you get this thrill of accomplishment by dodging up to 15 vehicles in one small arena while they're trying to gun you down the whole time. As the old cliché goes, now the hunter becomes the hunted.

A nice perk is all these game modes are compatible online with Xbox Live support for up to 16 players. All the standard Live options like Quick Match, OptiMatch, voice support, Live Aware, and scoreboards are available. Playing Halo 2 so much online has me spoiled as CnB has none of the awesome clan features or recent players lists. Another thing is there aren't a lot of people playing online at the moment. This isn't a surprise of course since recently released sequels to Halo, Ghost Recon,& MechAssault are grabbing all the attention on Xbox Live lately. During nighttime on the weekends I was only able to get up to 7 other people playing with me, while computer players made up the rest of the field. I haven't run into any serious occurrences of lag as of yet, as almost all of my online time has ran at a silky smooth rate.

One thing my mind cannot process is why the developers left out offline multiplayer support. I think this is the first racer I played in God knows how long that doesn't have split-screen capabilities. This is simply not justifiable. Especially considering Climax has done split-screen multiplayer in their previous MotoGP racing games for the Xbox.

At least Climax did a decent job visually on the game. The vehicle models aren't anything earth-shattering. Even though there are just four car models, they don't look all that bad, and all the different parts and paintjobs you can customize them with add a little bit of variety. Just keep in mind this is a budget game and the vehicles are nowhere in the same league as the superb vehicles in titles like Project Gotham, and Apex. However, the damage modeling is remarkable and is what stands out for the graphics; it is actually some of the best I've seen on the Xbox right behind Rallisport Challenge. That isn't to say the excellent damage modeling covers up the shortcomings from the visuals either. The environments don't really stand out that much, like in the LA and Vegas tracks I was expecting a little bit more of the ocean scenery and dazzling neon lights in the background, but I barely noticed any of that at all in the sectioned off courses. The frame rate also randomly stutters every so often too. There isn't too much to say aurally about CnB, all the sound effects are what you expect out of any racing title. The 16 song soundtrack is comprised mostly of no-name rock and alternative bands that don't do anything for the gameplay, but Climax decided to skimp out on custom soundtrack support for no real reason why to my disapproval.

Ultimately, Crash ‘n Burn is the definition of a true $20 game, or at least what a $20 game's standards should be set at. It doesn't have the most in-depth customization or online options, but at least they are there in some form. The gameplay does have its flaws, but I still manage to have a lot of fun in the many types of game modes available. If you dig arcade/demolition derby racers and have a spare $20 to spend, then you can't go wrong with this value-priced gem Eidos has produced.

RATINGS

Graphics: 7.2
Sound: 6.8
Gameplay: 7.9
Replay Value: 7.5

Overall: 7.3


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/14/05


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