Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
You'd think that that the action-battle-racer sub-genre would actually be pretty healthy. After all, it used to be! But one wonders what it's come to when even Twisted Metal attempts to reboot itself and ends up as pale imitation of, well, Twisted Metal. We've had some abjectly miserable attempts to provide an arcade-style, aggressive racer... perhaps that's why so many seem eager to step up to the plate: people love pick-up-and-play games, and its not as if the situation could get any worse.
Or could it.
Fireburst released on PC over a year ago, where it arrived to mixed reviews, touting a simple premise at its heart that took a feature from F-Zero, poured petrol on it, and then set it on fire. And now it's come to XBLA.
The core mechanism at the heart of the game, as you might have guessed, involves flames. Essentially, no matter what car you choose, you have an unlimited amount of boost at your disposal. However, there's a catch. Using the boost will rather swiftly overheat your vehicle, and so you have to measure it out against a rapidly rising gauge, being careful not to blow yourself up for a little acceleration.
The tracks in the game -- prettily rendered, but then seemingly overlaid with a fuzzy grime -- are littered with red and blue barrels: the red ones will cause your heat gauge to leap up a chunk, whereas smashing through the blue ones will help cool your car down. It creates a nice risk-vs-reward system at the heart of the game, and tactical racing is determined by the type of car you choose. Fireball cars become missiles of hot fury that can detonate other cars; Fireblast cars project a ring fire that expands the more you you boost and serves up a fiery area-based attack when you stop squeezing the trigger; Firewall cars blast pesky flames from their sides as they boost and Firewheels vehicles leave blazing hazards in their wakes.
The tracks themselves look great (in singleplayer) and have enough to them to be worthy of some consideration. There are plenty of alternative routes, natural obstacles, and good use of the vertical, but the cars handle horribly, and the framing for the singleplayer part of the game is non-existent. Now, admittedly, for a game such as this, you ideally want to be sat there on the couch with four friends, but there are two problems with this approach: 1. You have to unlock much of the content by slogging through the offline modes, and 2. You can never get a game online.
Let's start with the first point: it's just not fun to play. There are eight characters to begin with, all with swiftly-irritating, limited vocal taunt loops, who dish out challenges and special objectives such as avoiding barrels in a race, or keeping a car that's constantly overheating from exploding, or taking out a certain number of opponents. But the dodgy AI, the pinballing, floaty physics, the fact that the cars move about like amphetamine-stuffed exploding elephants, the degree of cheap difficulty to some of the challenges, all of this serves to create a singleplayer component predicated on incessant trial and error using tools seemingly designed to combat the enjoyment that should be at the heart of a game like this. Everything looks very nice (but not in split-screen), and the game certainly creates an explosive spectacle, but it's just not terribly fun.
I was ready to give up on the game after waiting for the best part of half an hour to try and get a game. Once in a race, there came a moment where I found myself screaming 'Whyyyyy?!' very loudly at the TV as I glitched into a rock and got stuck. Horrendous lag threw me to my death at one point, which may have been my fault, but the cripplingly awful hit detection that scuppered my final lap certainly wasn't. On some levels we found we could drive up walls, on others we found invisible obstacles seemingly sticking out of them. Beyond the heat mechanics there's nothing else but racing, and the explosions get tired pretty damn quick. After a few races with friends, and dipping my toes into the rather lamentable single player, I was ready to write Fireburst off as another attempt at arcade racing gone hideously wrong.
I'd like to say that four of us then got drunk, dived into a Custom Destruction game and had the time of our lives, but we didn't. After three rounds we stuck Blur in the disc tray and had ourselves a different kind of blast. It's unfair perhaps to compare the two games -- after all, one was a retail release, and this is cheap arcade fun -- but they most cost around the same price at this point in time, and that's kind of all that matters.
The reality is that this game is up against the likes of SplitSecond and Blur in bargain bins, not to mention games such as Skydrift, OutRun, and Hydro Thunder Hurricane for your arcade XBLA fix. Fireburst feels like an idea for a racing game mode stretched out too thinly to create an entire game, and whatever fun you might have with it, the chances are you won't get a game online and the shallowness of the gameplay offline will make you wish you'd spent your virtual currency on something else.
- It's looks really pretty
- The track layout is pretty good
- There's a bit of fun to be had in local multiplayer
- Quickly becomes repetitive and boring
- Good luck finding a game online
- Splitscreen turns everything into a visual mess
- The "Heat" mechanics aren't strong or interesting enough to support an entire game
The Short Version: It looks nice and the boost mechanic is a good idea, but Fireburst fails to deliver in both execution and any sort of appeal beyond the first race or two, and when there are so many alternatives around it makes it difficult to recommend this game to anyone.
For balance's sake, it's perhaps worth noting that Jon previously reviewed the PC version and clearly had much more fun with it than I did here. I found it to be a buggy, shallow mess.