Version tested: Xbox 360
Judging from the levels of vitriol online, the staff at Criterion have been personally touring the country, slaughtering the beloved pets and urinating in the milk of every Burnout fan that ever lived. In actual fact, their great crime is nothing more than making a game with Burnout in the title that doesn't look like people expected it to. The monsters.
Of course, this is the internet, where people apparently spend their time looking for things to get furious about, but the irony is that Burnout Crash is a disappointment. It's just not for the reasons the kneejerk detractors have so vocally identified. The problems here are structural rather than conceptual.
In concept, it's fine. Taking the popular Crash mode and turning it into a top-down casual game may raise the blood pressure of the hardcore, but in gameplay terms, it can be a revelation. Criterion has taken the visceral punch of their evergreen driving series and transplanted it into the sort of ruthlessly insidious puzzle game format that PopCap does so well. It's Death Proof crossed with Peggle.
So you speed into one of eighteen junctions and cause mayhem. Every skid, every impact, every explosion nets you more points. Even better is creating a chain, where one detonation triggers the next and so on. Skill shots are also thrown into the mix, awarded when you shunt one vehicle into the path of another, or otherwise send it sailing into an interactive piece of scenery.
This isn't a passive domino effect, as you're able to move around the play area using the Crashbreaker, an area-of-effect explosion that sends your car into the air, where you can use aftertouch to steer it into position for the next collision. Your Crashbreaker recharges slowly by itself, but fills rapidly when fuelled by the destruction you cause.
What it loses in dropping the traditional racing game view, Crash gains in sheer, exuberant validation. Chains are punctuated by cascades of pinball sound effects fighting for ear space with the screen-rattling explosions, bursts of cheesy pop music and soaring Hallelujah choruses. When you're doing well, the game makes sure you know it - and feel great about it.
Where Crash stumbles, badly, is in the way this cathartic gameplay is served up. There are three game modes to be played on each junction, each with five stars to be awarded. Three stars are score-based, two require you to achieve some unique objective in that level. The trouble is, when you first come to a new junction, only one game mode is available - and it's the worst one.
Worst is perhaps too harsh a word, but Road Trip is certainly the least enjoyable way to play Burnout Crash. It's also the only way you'll unlock the stuff that is really good fun, which puts the game at cross-purposes with itself.
Road Trip is essentially tower defence with traffic accidents. You have to keep the mayhem going for as long as possible without letting five cars through unscathed. That's a painfully low threshold to beat, and it demands a level of precision and skill that the game just isn't designed to deliver with any consistency.