Creative burn out.
A starving half-zombie with a well-budgeted $1.38 jingling in your pocket, you follow your keen gamer survival instincts by heading to the supermarket before your stomach eats itself. You're looking to get a good deal buying in bulk. Pulling a quick system scan over the Frozen Food aisle, you filter for the key parameters "cheap" and "tasty." You target a box-shot with a high "tasty" probability, which reads "Hot Pockets," and yesiree Bob, the price is right!
You get home, rip the guts from your cardboard prey, and feel as if you've been duped. "This isn't tasty at all! And the roof of my mouth is melting!" you tell yourself. Looking at the box-shot again, you realize the truth has been staring you in the face the whole time. Regardless of what's inside the pocket, what you're eating is exactly a Hot Pocket, no more, no less. It is a pocket of hot and you shouldn't have expected it to taste good.
This is precisely what Crash N' Burn tries to tell you about its gameplay - pay no mind to the tasty speed implied on the cover art, because the title says it all. You crash, you burn, and you do it again.
Crash N' Burn's straightforward, arcadey control scheme mirrors that of its far better rival, Burnout 3: Takedown, which naturally leads you to focus on its sense of speed. However, this is more of a Sunday afternoon compared to Burnout's Monday morning rush, since it relies upon evading field hazards and survival to propel its gameplay rather than the intense, high-speed racing of its kin.
The courses include the occasional ramp and thruway, with traffic blasting by to sideswipe you, but are otherwise quite basic. Drifting through hairpin turns is assisted, though you will be responsible for braking, accelerating, and evading objects intelligently. Assisted drifts add to the arcade appeal of Crash N' Burn, but ultimately softens the dynamic, competitive edge that is the basis for any good racing game.
The gameplay variation is caused exclusively by the chaos of wrecked cars and flammable fuel slicks littering the course, which alter the way in which you navigate through each small track. Theoretically, every race will be a different one, and while this is true, the gameplay experience changes very little due to Crash N' Burn's hesitation to let you break the speed limit. Throw a million ping-pong balls in the air and they will never collide the same way twice, but do this a hundred times, and you're still just throwing balls in the air. Such is playing Crash N' Burn.
Your car has a 'life' meter that decreases as you crash into walls and other cars or by running through burning fuel slicks. Certain courses have narrow two-lane roads that naturally clog up with more wreckages than wider ones. These will oftentimes get so hampered with debris that you won't be able to squeeze through, let alone blast through due to your car's slow nature.
So during Crash N' Burn's lesser moments, you'll be banging into a pile of debris over and over again like a dog trying to head-butt through a wall, all while taking damage from the flames. Your Lame Alarm will sound, since when you eventually do break through, the front runners will have gained a lot of track and be nearly impossible to catch. This doesn't break the game, however, since those front runners may very well bang into debris themselves.
Crash N' Burn shares Burnout 3's love of gameplay modes. Championship Mode fuels the single-player, taking place across about ten real city-inspired environments, ranging from The Bronx to Los Angeles, with about three tracks per location. You'll be awarded cash in order to pimp your ride and experience points to gain minor performance upgrades based on where you place.
Crash N' Burn's shop is intuitively designed and it's easy to see how each change will affect the look of your car. It has a passable amount of options, including rims, hoods, spoilers, paint jobs, and so on. Unfortunately, you can only choose from four models - Compact, Truck, and the unlockable Muscle and Sport - which are themselves basic designs and handle virtually the same on the track. There are loads of unlockables to gain through your progression, but none of these make any difference in how the cars drive, detracting heavily from the game's depth.
There are many other modes here. "Kamikaze" makes 8 of the 16 cars race forward while the others race in the opposite direction. "Last Man Standing" is a destruction derby race with everyone bashing each other to atoms. "Bomb Tag" is essentially a game of hot potato as players pass a bomb back and forth, while "Running Man" is the opposite in that you get a clock and rack up points as long as you are untouched. "Assassination" pits 8-on-8, with one King on each side and the other 7 trying to destroy the other team's King while protecting their own.
There is certainly a good amount of fun to be had here, and many of these modes can be played online as well. If there aren't enough human players to ensure a complete experience, the game will fill up the races with intelligent A.I. bots.
Crash N' Burn's graphics both accentuate and hinder the experience. The detail is good - car fragments splinter off and bounce along the road; sparks fly off the steel grinding on steel. When your car catches on fire, the flames react to and get extinguished by the wind convincingly, even causing a minor disturbance to the road visibility. The vehicles themselves are brightly colored and rendered in a strange, chrome-dipped Play-Doh manner.
Despite all the flash, there is some noticeable chopping when there are too many cars, flames, and smoke clouds filling the screen. The physics and collision detection are adequate for minor collisions, but are cartoony and simply laughable in major ones. This makes sense since there is more than a hint of Crazy Taxi in Crash N' Burn. In a head-on collision, both cars will flip straight up into the air and almost always land right back on their wheels. Though the camera zooms back giving a sense of fitting disorientation and metal explodes in every direction, the golden, spectacular effects seen in Burnout 3 clearly dwarf these relative trinkets.
The soundtrack features a good amount of punk, which brings out the obnoxious urge to just destroy and have fun doing it. The sound effects are decent; there's a hint of an aluminum-can effect to them, but they don't ruin the game. On the other hand, the announcer is Mean Gene at a Monster Truck Rally, just a lot less classic and with an annoying twang in his voice. Thankfully, his irritating "Holy Wow!" is infrequent.
Crash N' Burn borrows liberally from Burnout 3, but there is very little wonder as to which is the better game. This younger, less developed brother is kind of cheesy and slow, although for only $19.99, he's pretty cheap, too.