Three Fields Entertainment is still working their asses off on their Burnout crash-mode-styled-smash-em-up, Danger Zone. It’s been available for the Xbox One and was just updated for the Xbox One X in preparation of it’s launch on November 7.
Crash mode was the original Burnout series’ slightly puzzling destructo mode where you attempted to drive through various intersections and airports and other places to cause as much monetary damage as possible while collecting dollar multipliers and crashbreakers that gave you an extra explosion and ridiculous air control of your vehicle to plow into more cars and trucks and buses for more collateral damage. This wasn’t a beautiful story-driven narrative, but it was glorious at easing a long day at my old day job of unracking, repairing, and shipping, servers for Akamai.
This mode was disappointingly lacking in the final Burnout, Paradise on the 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows.
The ex-Criterion Games’ers at Three Fields originally attempted to recapture this magic with Dangerous Golf and didn’t quite hit the mark, but did keep working on the game after it was released.
I’ve spent a little time with Danger Zone and it’s so close to what we had back on the old Burnout games. There’s smashbreakers, score multipliers, and more of what you would expect in crash mode. But what is a bit disappointing is that it’s 2017 and the game still has long load times before retrying levels. Which is something you end up doing often since Danger Zone added new ways to prematurely lose a level.
Let me explain why.
In Burnout every crash mode level took place in a realistic (or at least as realistic as the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox could render) modern environment. A city, an airport as I mentioned earlier, a mountain pass. Wherever they picked, it was a realistic-enough vista to make the game that much more ridiculous when you decided to race and crash through those environments. It made you enjoy breaking the rules after you sat in traffic for half the day.
Danger Zone has a very different aesthetic. Here you’re in a simulation with a few different environments that feel like a holodeck with a quarter of the power of the one on Star Trek. The original video I saw was an entirely bland series of roads on a grid. Fortunately this version of the game has an outdoor environment. It’s still a pie-in-the-sky virtual test track that the game reinforced whenever you start a level by drawing in the roads and vehicles as if they were being created before your eyes. But it’s a little bit more of what you want from Burnout.
I don’t know why Three Fields decided to go for this virtual environment. It could be because it’s something they could stick to with the resources they have at their smaller indie development studio instead of back when they were working on Burnout and had a larger team and budget.
Maybe they wanted something less realistic for another reason, but it doesn’t really matter, this is the unavoidable comparison you’re left with if you’ve played the old crash mode and miss it.
The virtual environment is just missing the barest hint of realism to make Danger Zone as fun as Burnout. Instead of just failing a level by missing out on a target gold/silver/bronze score, you’re going to fail many times by going off of the edge of a highway and having your simulated car eaten by a Tron-style laser grid. Even in the outdoor environment. It’s a bizarre addition to the game. Why add more failure modes? It made the game more of an unforgiving puzzle and less fun for me.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the game could instantly restart, but that kind of experience seems to be limited to simpler 2D platformers like Super Meat Boy.
That doesn’t mean that Danger Zone isn’t fun, it is, it is just the most pared-down and basic crash mode experience. I still enjoy going through the levels, crashing through cars, trucks, and buses. If I didn’t have responsibilities tomorrow I’d still be up playing it to get a better feel for where the game goes in its later levels.
It could also be that the racing in Burnout was the perfect counterpoint to the crashing, and without racing the crashing will just never feel like enough. I can’t say for sure.
If there’s anything significantly different going on here from what I’ve noted in this write-up, I’ll post a full review of Danger Zone once I’ve spent more time with the game.
My hope is that Three Fields takes this bare-bones simulated 15-dollar crash mode and makes something more ambitious later on. Arcade racers aren’t a big deal right now. This year’s Forza is the boring serious racing iteration and not Horizon. The new Gran Turismo is still Gran Turismo. They’re both pretty racing games but not the glorious ridiculousness of Burnout. The only other arcade smasher I can think of, Bugbear’s Wreckfest, hasn’t been in Steam’s Early Access program (since 2014) as long as the standalone Day-Z (2013) but it is close.
As it is, Three Fields has committed to bringing more levels and other stuff to Danger Zone later on this year. This new Xbox One version also has some extremely temporary exclusive levels and vehicles that will end up back on the PlayStation 4 and Steam for Windows versions in December.