From the opening movie you know what Crash 'n' Burn is going to give you. Saloons and muscle cars scream towards each other in a blasted desert, two banks of them, like Romans against the Goths. College hardcore wails in the background. They meet, crumpling each other in slow motion before compressing at full speed into a near-nuclear crash. The camera hovers in a helicopter. "What the hell is going on down there?" shouts a commentator and the Crash 'n' Burn logo flips forward. Crash 'n' Burn is about driving as fast as possible and crashing. Nothing else. Apart from the burning, obviously.
You probably noticed similarities in the make-up of Climax's racer to another, more famous offering from the last few months. Burnout is a different beast, to be honest, focusing on big budgets, big tracks and massive features to lift it away from the competition, and Crash 'n' Burn does nothing to directly compete. This is far more along the lines of Empire's excellent FlatOut, a halfway house between the two. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Cover your tracks
Crash 'n' Burn's formula never deviates. It's you against 15 other cars, all completely destructible. The tracks (San Francisco, LA, Miami, and so on) are small but neatly designed, so you quickly get used to their foibles, their corners, bridges and hazards. This flatly deadens frustration, lacing the overall impression with a crack-like fun. Even the marathon races feel challenging as opposed to annoying. There's the GP Series, the XP Series, the KGP Series and the XKGP Series, each of which consists of three races, each containing at least three tracks over which you accumulate points for a hopeful win. The GP Series also contains championships for each class of car. Just in case, like.
Cars on offer are compacts and pick-ups, with muscle cars and sports cars unlocked as you progress. All of them have different attributes and all are upgradeable with hoods, fronts, side skirts, rear spoilers, rims, decals, turbos, and so on. The customisation of the appearance of the cars is hilarious in its depth. That's funny in a good way. You can change paint jobs for all sections of your cars by picking from a colour spectrum, changing colour saturation, etc, etc. These features go easily far enough to keep most people happy, but lack the official parts from modding manufacturers in titles such as Burnout and Need for Speed.
Engine tuning is limited to engine, gearbox and tyres. We like that. Upgrade points accumulated during races are spent on each. It may as well just say, "Do you want to go really fast?" on the upgrade screen. The obvious answer is "yes".
Calling Mr Burns
Play, as said previously, never deviates from a central tenet of driving round in circles really quickly like a 19 year-old in his first Ford Cossie, although there are variations on all the general themes. You start a race, you drive like a stock car driver, smashing opponents into walls and oil slicks, you complete a lap, you get a turbo bar filled up, you hit R1 with ridiculous results, you hopefully stay ahead for usually six laps and you win. Cars somersault, explode, pieces fly into the air and there's hardly a drop of slowdown despite an eyebrow-raising level of detail on the cars themselves. Some of the modes have cars driving the other way, just to make you crash more, the harder tracks have ramps of dirt barrels put on at exactly where you're trying to find a line, and it goes on and on and on. Debris litters the track (the developer describes this as "emergent tracks") and oil slicks can be set on fire by nitrous and crash sparks (the "burning" part). It's all frantic enough, but does generally boil down to hoping you get into the lead either right at the start or with the use of the boost in the second lap. After that you're only going to win by holding a perfect line and hoping the cars ahead crash, preferably not in front of you. There's none of the track furniture that shined FlatOut or the general gloss and roundness of Burnout. This shallowness in gameplay is honestly the only thing that lets the game down.
Crash 'n' Burn lacks the feeling of solidity and completeness of FlatOut, but it's still highly commendable: it just feels overly transparent. We're not going to mark down for the fact it doesn't use all the official upgrade gubbins you find in the EA games of a similar ilk, and we didn't for FlatOut, either. Crash 'n' Burn is great fun but becomes a little too predictable. It doesn't have the brilliant physics model of FlatOut, instead relying on smashing cars and burning oil to maintain interest. It works for a good while, and there's online racing for 16 players on both PS2 and Xbox when you really get bored. You could do far worse. Vroom.