Platform: PC (reviewed) | PS3 & Xbox 360 versions "coming soon"
Videogames teach us that things are generally better when they're on fire.
A sword, for example, is a tad mundane. But a flaming sword? That's not getting junked any time soon. A zombie is just a shambling inconvenience to be summarily executed... but when wreathed in flames, they definitely deserve a screenshot. Plus, plain old regular hell pales in comparison to Diablo's Burning Hells. Though this logic should never be applied to real life (unless you're a pyrotechnician, stunt artist or are really bored), it stands to reason that adding copious amounts of fire to an arcade racing game should result in a superior experience.
And it does, unsurprisingly. Fireburst has been in development for several years now, and thanks to IndiePub, this flame-gouting arcade racer has finally hit the PC on its way to consoles.
As an unapologetically formulaic arcade racer, Fireburst is quick to tick off all the requisite boxes. A selection of cliched, 'wacky' characters? Check. A selection of vehicles with unique handling characteristics? Check. Native gamepad support? Check. Some twisting tracks packed with jumps and multiple routes? That's a big check. You'll hare around these aforementioned courses, hit apexes, jostle for position against the decent (and fair) AI and get plenty of airtime while doing so. The formula is visceral, accessible and undeniably good fun - just like every arcade racer should be - but Fireburst's major unique feature is its use of, well, bursts of fire.
On a basic level, players have access to an infinite amount of boost that packs a nifty offensive effect depending on their vehicle of choice. Some cars, for example, can project an expanding sphere of flames that destroys foes in its radius. Others can lay down damaging flaming tyre treads (think Back To The Future), or fearsome burning walls to immolate overtaking competitors. However, your car can only withstand a certain amount of heat before it explodes, so you'll therefore need to carefully ration your boost to avoid spontaneous combustion. Tracks are littered with water barrels, puddles and jets to cool you down, but other players and napalm barrels can tip you over the edge. It's a sweet little setup that sets Fireburst apart from the competition.
Coupled with the capable racing mechanics, this fiery focus makes Fireburst a seriously visceral and incredibly satisfying proposition.
Track design is good, at least on the whole. While it's often too easy to get stuck on some of the corners or protruding scenery elements, the majority of the twelve courses are well designed, featuring plenty of alternate routes, chicanes, jumps and wide, open spaces. We frequently see racing games (especially those from smaller independent companies) falling down on their course design, and Fireburst manages to avoid this potential pitfall. As well as pure racing tracks, Fireburst also features a number of destruction derby-style arenas, but without powerups and weapons, this mode will be quickly forgotten as a briefly fun and ultimately pointless endeavour.
Fireburst happens to look fantastic for the price point. The ever-reliable Unreal Engine has been used to deliver some detailed textures, motion blur, fluid modelling (there's plenty of water) and colourful backdrops. Not to mention great fire effects. It's also alt-tab stable even on the highest graphics settings, a key point that several Unreal-powered indie games sometimes fail to deliver.
Impressively, characters actually pack their own stats (including acceleration, handling and ever-important heat resistance), that directly factor into the racing. There's a fair amount of variety on offer, so despite the roster being entirely populated by embarrassingly clichéd goons, you'll soon find one that complements your play style. Eventually, though, you'll want to unlock the eight hidden characters and cars to broaden the experience, meaning that you'll need to enter the singleplayer campaign.
Which, sadly, is where Fireburst hits its first major hurdle. Instead of providing balls-out fun and making the most of the premise, each character has to grind through a number of incredibly gruelling objectives, many of which feature limited lives or insta-fail criteria. When you've got an amazing foundation for fun, why make players crawl slowly through a track and fail them instantly if they hit a barrel? It's plain that exDream were determined to provide some gameplay variety and technical challenges, but they simply forgot to make it enjoyable. Gallingly, this is your only way to unlock content, which should have probably been dished out using a points or achievement system instead in order to keep the challenges as optional extras.
Without a consistently fun singleplayer campaign, Fireburst starts to look slightly sparse in terms of content. Since the destruction gametype is a distraction rather than a particularly compelling mode in and of itself, you've only got a selection of straight races to enjoy - with a 'quick race' option throwing you right into the action. Multiplayer is fun and the netcode holds up fairly well, but once you've mastered the tracks, there's not a huge amount to it. At least there are twelve of them - not bad for £6.99.
Fireburst also displays a few rough edges that could have been ironed out. The physics engine is a little on the inconsistent side, occasionally spinning you around or causing your car to instantly blow up when hitting a wall at extremely low speeds. Worse, however, is the sound design, which hinges around a painfully weak and limited selection of unfunny taunts that will soon drive you to distraction - along with a couple of terrible shouty metal tracks skulking within an otherwise raunchy rock soundtrack. Thankfully they can be muted before you consider prising out either your speakers or eardrums with a blunt instrument, but it's a shame that exDream actually included such a terrible selection of characters in the first place. Adrenaline-soaked races full of fast cars... on fire... has personality enough without needing to shoehorn in some hooting 'too cool for school' twats in the first place. Just ask Trials.
Finally, graphics options can only be modified before starting a game - you'll need to quit out before even attempting to alter them. Key bindings also can't be changed without editing .ini files, so thank goodness for the effortless native Xbox 360 gamepad support. Fireburst is clearly designed for consoles over PC, and while it isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, it definitely shows.
- Sweet and visceral arcade racing, both on and offline
- Capable track design
- Impressive Unreal graphics considering indie roots and price point
- Gruelling singleplayer campaign, forgettable combat mode
- Poor sound design, some physics and handling mishaps
- Needlessly hateful characters
The Short Version: Fireburst is a fun, visceral and incredibly satisfying arcade racer. A few flaws hold it back from true greatness, but its excellent visuals and uncompromising, insane thrills are fantastic value for the price.