A question: Do you reckon any kid in the world has ever played with toy cars and not played at crashing them together? I seriously doubt it. When we were kids we used to play at making the toughest Lego cars possible, run them along the ground until they reached a decent speed and crash them into your opponent's car.
The cars were tough but, unfortunately, only as tough as the lego they were made out of. The playground used to look the road to Basra on a bad day. It's a fascination, a sicko morbid fascination that almost everybody shares (do you reckon hundreds of years ago people had fascinations with crashing horses together? It makes you wonder).
Burnout, Vulcan's impressive high spec arcade game is another example of the simple pleasure people gain from crashing cars. Like Destruction Derby, it actually elevates the pastime into a sport. Set in a future where media corporations will do anything to retain their hegemony of the airwaves, and people are so fatigued by constant death and destruction that their taste in sport has changed somewhat.
No longer satisfied with Wolf making scary faces at the audience when Rupert from Richmond yanks him off the rings on Hang Tough, these future Sky subscribers want death destruction and blood, preferably by the skip load. As in films like Rollerball and The Running Man, the contestant's eagerly sought prize is their lives. In this apocalyptic future, to try and pull in as many viewers as possible, the corporations show what the public want - Burning - a nightmare meld of a destruction derby, dodgems and monster truck shows.
At first glance Burnout is visually very impressive, the fully rendered graphics give the game a high quality feel - it looks more like a game you might find in an arcade. The sound is also pretty well done and, in general, the game strikes you as being very highly polished.
Burnout stuck me as being a pretty amusing and entertaining arcade game. Another name for it could have been Battle Dodgems, because that is the basic aim of the game - bounce other cars onto the vicious looking spikes on the perimeter of the play area or shove them over the edge of giant precipices.
How you choose to do this depends on whether you go for brute force or manoeuvrability. You can drive a three tonne monster car and just shunt other players until they're flatter than a month old pint of lager or pick a zippy little trike and rush around like a demented mouse attacking the other players on their unprotected flanks.
Burnout can either be played as a tournament, where you have to complete eight rounds on the four different arenas, or as a deathmatch, which can include up to four players. Cars can be upgraded, weapons attached, brakes improved and shields added.
Like many of Vulcan's releases, this is deceptively addictive. The game totally surprised me, it looked like a fairly simple arcade game, interesting in a brainless way for a few hours but ultimately boring after that.
My perception was shattered after spending most of one Monday afternoon in the office trying to be Burnout champion 2045. The four tracks are different enough to warrant you souping your car up in a number of ways to stand you in good stead for winning. The donut shaped tracks require good brakes, the circular tracks good shields, and so on.
However, there is something you should be aware of if you buy Burnout. When you buy the game you are basically buying the shell of the game. I expect that Burnout will become very popular because of the endless possibilities the game affords; Worms with only four levels would be, lets face it, fairly crap. That is the problem Burnout faces at the present moment. With only four battle arenas available at the moment, completing eight rounds in each does not take that long.
Another basic problem is that the gameplay area just feels too small. You have four cars on one screen and they're meant to butt each other out, Sumu style. This is good fun, but rarely takes longer than about 30 seconds to do and there is not a vast deal of skill involved.
If there were a selection of maybe 10 or 15 screens included with the game, this might have been alright, because the amount of time required to master each screen would have given the game some extra depth.
The problem is that you only get four screens and in most simple circular arenas, you either get bounced onto explosive sprites or fall off the edge. The game would have been infinitely better if only the arenas had been much larger - say four screens that scrolled. I think this problem could well be cleared up however, when the future arena disks become available and the arena editor program allows you to create more challenging and ingenious arenas.
Reviewing Burnout at the moment seems to be quite difficult because, as Vulcan has made clear, the gam is so expandable that reviewing the bog standard version seems almost unfair. This very limited number of levels just doesn't provide enough depth to the game, 10 levels would have you playing the game constantly. Four just ensures you play it until you've mastered those four tracks and then you've got to wait for the data disks. However, when the future car and data disks are brought out, there will be little to stop this game from becoming a runaway success.