There’s a theme emerging with the handful of games that Three Fields Entertainment have created since Fiona Sperry and Alex Ward formed a new independent studio outside the strictures of Criterion Games and EA. Lethal VR is the outlier here, but between Dangerous Golf and Danger Zone, this is a return to their roots, in a way, as they revive the Crash Mode from the classic Burnout games.
While Dangerous Golf dressed this up as a wacky sports game, Danger Zone is a more literal take on Crash Mode, popping you into a car and sending you at make believe road junctions to wreak all sorts of chaos. Thankfully, Three Fields take us back to the heights of this minigame, with bespoke and contained levels and the need to use your explosive Smashbreaker sparingly, more in the vein of Burnout 3: Takedown than Burnout Paradise.
However, where Crash Mode in those games took us to actual roads and junctions in the game world, here they’re simulations in a vast crash testing facility, right down to all the vehicles having the little black and yellow circles on them. That does give the game an air of sterility, despite the twenty scenarios – each with a pun-tastic name – being spread across three ostensibly distinct test stages. You might have expected a change of scenery or a clear divide in difficulty, but you can easily move from one test stage to the next without realising a difference.
However, there is a difference. The early scenarios replicate particular types of junction, such as a motorway on ramp, with a stream of cars being spawned in motion for you to crash into, but they gradually become more and more elaborate, the number of moving parts to consider increases, the potential for destruction amplifies. Scenarios evolve to have you driving in the same direction as the spawning traffic, letting you gently bump them and keep your car in control instead of having head on or side on crashes all the time, they gain multiple layers as well, shifting from fairly straight forward layouts to fantastical creations of leaps, jumps, barricades, and more within the abstraction of this testing facility.
You get many bites of the apple in each of these scenarios, as you have more than just a single dive into the traffic, but can earn a Smashbreaker for causing a certain number of crashes. Triggering the Smashbreaker sets off an explosion from your car and propels you through the air, letting you cause even more damage. However, you’ll also be able to grab further Smashbreaker pickups, whether it’s one or two on earlier levels, or chains of dozens later on.
It can be agony at times, as the physics work against you. They’re rather unusual by design, giving you aftertouch for your car during jumps and unruly, skid-happy handling for anything more than minor course corrections at speed. When you’re crashing, getting clipped by a truck or car at just the wrong angle will have you heading the wrong way or suddenly trapped in the pile up you wanted to soar over the top of. All too often, the larger flat sides on the top or bottom of the car sap away your momentum when you touch the ground, preventing you from getting to that next Smashbreaker, or leaving you painfully close to monetary pickups and a juicy $5 million that comes with collecting them all in a level.
Almost to its detriment is the scoring system in the game, taking into account the value of the destruction you’ve caused. Naturally, you want to crash into as many vehicles as possible, but doing so and keeping up your momentum is difficult to say the least. The butterfly effect of each crash can spread destruction through the level’s staged waves of vehicles, but you need to be bouncing around from car to car to cause them to explode, which is worth more. However, on top of this you have a string of bronze and silver pickups that, if you collect them all, unlock a final gold pickup worth $400,000 and the aforementioned $5 million.
It took a while for me to really get into the game, as I learned once more the structure of a scenario and how best to get a high score. When it clicked, however, I was now looking for the chain of bronze, silver and gold pickups, instead of for the ideal moment or vehicle group to aim for to generate the most collateral damage. It turns it into a very different kind of puzzle to the one I expected early on, to the extent that it’s sometimes better to miss out an entire crash junction and focus instead on the pickups. One or two scenarios were all too easily completed with this mindset.
What it gets absolutely right is that “one more go” sensibility, first as you learn the layout and the pattern of traffic, search for secret collections of cars, spot the pickups and then try to piece it all together in a single cohesive run. Getting over the hurdle of a Bronze ranking isn’t too hard, but Gold can be tricky at times, while a Platinum rank and a charge up toward the top of the online leaderboards will often need you to get everything just right.
It takes a little while to reach its best, but Danger Zone takes the classic Crash Mode from the Burnout series, distils it and then finds ways to push it to new, even more ridiculous heights. Crash Mode is back, and despite a few flaws, it ends up being as morbidly compelling as ever.
Version tested: PlayStation 4