Electronic Arts came to New York City last week with an army of games, all of them 2011 releases, in tow. One of the titles I was excited to go hands-on (and body-on, it being a Kinect game) with was Burnout Crash, the downloadable release which turns Criterion Games’ collision-heavy racing series into a score-based game that emphasizes building up combos while causing as much destruction as you possibly can. The game is coming to both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but last week’s hands-on was Xbox 360-only, with time allotted to use both Kinect and gamepad controls.
I used the Kinect controls to sample a mode called Road Trip, which is inspired by the original Burnout 3 Crash mode for which this game is named. It’s pretty simple, really: you start off by driving into an intersection and crashing into the traffic there. From that moment, your car is essentially turned into a bouncing bomb that you can trigger when a meter is filled and then control it in mid-air. The idea is to bounce around blowing up any oncoming vehicles, both to build up your score total and to prevent them from escaping. The round ends when the timer reaches zero.
A few quirks add more depth, but that’s the basic setup. You’ll be able to unlock a variety of triggered events that aid you during play by hitting certain point milestones. One involves a police blockade setting up at the end of one of the roads, essentially preventing any cars from escaping in that direction. Another event turns your car into a magnet, automatically attracting surrounding wrecks that serve to turn your bouncing car into an amorphous metal blob of destruction. Each round ends with an apocalyptic event, such as a tornado, which earns you end-of-round bonus points based on how well you did.
The Kinect controls are fairly simple. At the start of the round, you hold your hands out to grip an invisible steering wheel that guides your vehicle into approaching traffic. Miss and you’ll have to start over; once you hit though, the traditional steering controls are no longer what you’ll be using. Instead, you’ll jump when the on-screen meter is full to trigger an explosion. Moving your body around in the space in front of the Kinect adjusts a yellow directional arrow. You can use this before you jump/trigger an explosion to set up which direction your car will travel in. Moving around while the car is in mid-air has the same effect, though it’s hard to be precise with the motion controls.
The Kinect controls overall feel well-implemented and entertaining, but as is often the case with score-based games (see: Child of Eden), you’ll want to use a proper gamepad to maximize your point total. The directional arrow isn’t as easy to control with your body movements. There’s no denying it’s fun to use though. I actually found myself competing for a high score with some reporter friends who were also at the event; there’s obviously lots of appeal to using these motion controls in a party setting.
After fumbling around with the Kinect and looking all sorts of silly in the process, I switched gears and picked up a gamepad to try out the Rush Hour mode. The play is fundamentally the same — you bounce around and cause damage, earning points in the process — but the goal here is to prevent vehicles from escaping the screen; if five get away before you’ve trashed them, the round ends. As expected, the gamepad controls were much easier to manage and do some serious damage with. Nowhere near as ridiculous, but you’ll want a controller handy if leaderboards are your thing.
There’s a third mode as well, Pile-Up Puzzle, which wasn’t being demoed at the event. Once again, destruction is the focus using the basic controls introduced above. As the mode’s name implies, however, there will be puzzles to solve. Simply sending your vehicle in and making it blow things up won’t get you very far; you’ll have to think about the path of destruction you’re laying down, plan it in advance.
Overall, Burnout Crash is looking like a solid digital download contender, especially for content hungry Kinect owners. It’s been compared to pinball by many, and that comparison is an apt one. The difference here is that you’re replacing the ball with an explosive automobile and the bumpers with oncoming traffic and environmental features. Also, you can eventually tear everything down if you’re good enough at the game. That’s not an option in pinball. Look for the game on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network sometime this fall.