'We've drawn influences from a wide ranges of sources,' Criterion's Richard Franke tells me. 'Pinball, destruction derbies, gameshows, disaster movies, they're all in here. But really we just wanted to distill the essence of Crash Mode and release it as a massively OTT arcade game.' There have been those who've taken one look at Burnout Crash! and lamented the notion that, to them, it doesn't seem like a Burnout game.
They're wrong, of course. Burnout has always been about engaging in exaggerated car-based shenangians, empowering the player with powerful machines, and foregoing realism in favour of fast-paced fun. Crash Mode was a logical evolution of the 'sod it' mentality brought about by fluffed driving: once you lose control, you might as well see how much damage you can rack up. There will be those disheartened by the bright colours and Rockstar-esque radio offered up in this game, but, if anything, Burnout Crash! takes the Crash experience of the franchise deeper than it has ever gone before. In so many ways, this is a quintessential Burnout game.
Taking place from a top down, 2D perspective, the aim of the game is still to blow up as much as you possibly can around some traffic-heavy junctions. Buildings dot the surrounding areas, waiting to be obliterated, their garages occasionally hiding classic golden cars that will net you a lot of money if you can send them on their way too. each round kicks off with you sending your car careering into an otherwise perfectly happy nest of traffic and blowing uop everything in the near vicinity. Over time your 'Crashbreaker' bar will reload, allowing you to explode time and time again, using the gamepad (or Kinect) to manoeuvre about each time the blast sends you flying into the air.
There are a wide selection of vehicles from which to choose, each varying in terms of blast radius and post-explosion drift control. Some, for example, like the 4x4 will have a relatively large blast area, ensnaring more vehicles in the initial explosion, but not offering much by way of movement afterwards. Other, more sporty cars, will do less widespread damage to begin with, but then you'll be able to hop your car's carcass into the neighbouring lanes and take out traffic on the other side of the junctions.
Crash! takes places across 16 different intersections, each of which offer three different game modes that, broadly speaking, see the player trying to cause the biggest pile-ups possible. The first, 'Rush Hour', is pretty straightforward: cause as much carnage as you possibly can within ninety seconds. Anyone familiar with previous crash Modes will be right at home here. Chain explosions together for combos and make sure you nail those buses!
'Road Trip' is slightly more strategic, incorporating elements of tower defence titles into the game. 'The idea with Road Trip is to basically stop the traffic escaping,' says Franke. 'If five escape, the Crash is over, but there are bonuses to surviving longer and longer. The Features you can deploy get bigger and bigger.' As you crash in this mode, you'll fill up a bar in the top left hand corner, that can be built up threefold. As we progressed, unique vehicles and frak weather conditions appeared to augment the gameplay. The ambulance - accompanied by some Gloria Estefan - will reduce your 'Escaped' meter should it pass through the intersection unharmed, and a tropical storm kicked off to 'It's Raining Men', dishing out score bonuses alongside lightning strikes.
Fill the Feature Bar up three times and you'll be able to deploy a Super Feature, all of which are unique to the various locales found in Crash!. 'The Super Feature will end the round,' explains Franke, 'but it'll do so in spectacular style. It's essentially a big reward for surviving so long and its strength is determined by how many cars you've let escape.' Right on cue a massive tidal wave arrives and engulfed everything on the screen, dishing out millions of dollars in damage in the process. There may have been a slightly gleeful cackle of destructive delight. Maybe.
And that's what Burnout Crash! brings to the party: accessible, cartoonish road rage, it's a lot of fun - clearly offering up a certain amount of immediacy but, in all honesty, if we hadn't had a bunch of other appointments we were in danger of missing, we could have sad there and played for hours.
Franke acknowledges the pick up and play appeal of the game but there's much more to it than that, and just a handful of leaderboards. As he explains, Autolog has been incorporated into the game from the start, with a particular emphasis on social interaction, challenges and recommendations. 'There were a few aspects of Autolog that I never really used in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit,' says Franke, 'but in overseeing this game, I really wanted to push the recommendations and personal battles between friends. So we have this new feature called Autolog Challenges where I can send challenges out to individual friends, and then we can scrap it out over a series of games to determine who gets to hold onto a trophy. It'll track challenge history and winning streaks as well.'
And then of course there's Kinect. before some of you get your knickers in a twist, it's purely optional; but it's also really good fun. After mime-steering the initial approach, Crashbreakers are deployed by jumping (or tossing 'fireballs', clapping, kicking an imaginary football), with aftertouch movement achieved by stepping left, right, back and forward...and it works surprisingly well with a pleasing degree of accuracy. Games such as this and twisted Pixel's The Gunstringer are beginning to set a bar for Kinect accuracy - a bar that still surprises but that, hopefully, in the near future will just become the norm. The Kinect-exclusive Party Mode looks to be cracking fun too, which'll allow up to 14 players to get stuck in, taking it turns.
Burnout Crash! comes out on the 20th of this month on XBLA and PSN and, to be frank, if you've got Kinect there's only one version you're going to want to go for. There'll probably still be sceptics out there, sneering down their noses at the presentation. But we rather predict that they'll be in the minority, siting alone and grumbling to themselves. Because everyone else we know wil lalmost certainly be blowing stuff up and giggling with glee at what's shaping up to be the pick-up-and-play fun fest of this autumn.