Once upon a time, a game series by the name of Burnout was the talk of the town. It featured fast action races on roads populated by general traffic that, in order to increase your boost you had to narrowly miss, or in later entries, hit from behind. The sense of speed and on the edge of your seat gameplay was wildly popular, but equally so was Crash Mode. This gave you puzzle like set-ups on a limited section of track, charging you with causing as much chaos as possible in the name of high scores. It was an excellent addition to an already superb racing game, and it’s this that is the inspiration for Danger Zone.
Well, not so much inspiration as much as out rightly copied, save for the setting, this time dressed up as a crash-test computer simulation with cars loading in and out of blue gates for your destructive pleasure. The dev team is made up of some old Criterion devs, and after their first game Dangerous Golf, fans immediately asked for a proper crash mode style game. If you have enjoyed this mode previously, you know exactly what to expect. A flyby shows you where the vehicles are, as well as the bonus pickups, then you are off in a pre-designated car to try for the highest score possible. The same core gameplay loop is still very fun to play, with some nice visual feedback as cars explode, your crashbreaker slowing down time for you to plan your next move and numbers all over the place ticking up towards your goal. Some of the later challenges offer up slightly varied scenarios too, with multiple levels and seemingly impossible score targets and end zones that are beyond reach. The initial sense of being overwhelmed soon makes way for the high of hitting the score for the passing grade and then some, with a final camera pan showing you the destruction you have left in your wake.
Unfortunately, beyond aiming for a new high score, there is no real motivation to play further once you’ve achieved a medal and can move on to the next level. More than once I found myself stuck on a bronze or silver, and after a few retries, just deciding to move on to the next rather than aim for the gold or platinum as there are no unlockables or rewards for doing so. You cannot customize your car at all (you can’t even select from the few that are on offer), there are no bonus levels or challenges and unless you have friends on the leaderboard to go up against, it all feels a bit meaningless. There’s not even a local pass the pad style mode, your only menu choices being single-player or options.
All in, it took me about 3 hours to work my way through the 4 test tiers (each with about 10-15 levels) on offer, hitting mainly golds and a couple of platinum’s, but those were achieved mostly through good luck rather than any real skill or planning. Each level has a very clear optimal route, laid out by the cash bonus and crashbreaker pickups, so simply following these icons generally led me to a high enough score to pass. There’s no room for improvisation or creativity, simply barrel at the cars ahead and boom. Restarting levels also takes longer than a game like this needs. Considering what is happening I can kind of understand why it’s not here, but a quick restart button, ala Super Meat Boy or Trials, would have gone a long way to encourage repeated plays of a level. Going into the pause menu, then through a loading screen and finally the opening 3 count before you can try again takes some of that immediacy out of the experience.
Using the Unreal 4 engine, I’d also expect a bit more of a visual flair to game. Some cars, like the F1 racer, fall apart almost completely, whereas the taxi cab just goes from yellow to streaky black, and loses its tires. All the AI cars tend to stay intact too, with just a few explosions and some wonky physics depicting whether they will fly off or turn into an immovable object. There’s also not really any variation in the aesthetics of the levels, all gray test rooms, with a couple of flashing lights about. If you aren’t going to give players rewards for putting in the effort to cause carnage, at least we could have some Micheal Bay-esque explosions and cars falling apart in cool looking ways! Sound is also lacking, with no music and some rather diluted sound effects making even the biggest of crashes sound like it’s happening miles away rather than right in front of you.
I spent hours back in the day playing crash mode with friends, challenging scores and planning together how to get the best score possible. It’s a shame there isn’t more on offer here, as this game has that same fun element, but is ultimately diluted by the fact that there isn’t anything else here. With Burnout, this was a nice alternative to the racing, which you could always go back to once you’d had enough. Here, once you’ve had your fill of a level there’s not a lot else to keep you playing. I guess it took its old game name to heart too much, only it’s you that’s burnt out in the end.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.