When Criterion Games creative director Alex Ward and studio director Fiona Sperry left the studio in 2014 to form Three Fields Entertainment, everyone hoped they'd get back to the classic Burnout action that EA seemingly wouldn't let the studio touch. The studio took its time, doing Dangerous Golf and Lethal VR first, but everyone was waiting for cars and crashing. With the announcement of Danger Zone, a spiritual successor to Burnout's Crash Mode, fans were full of hype and life.
Our time is now, with Three Fields launching Danger Zone on PC and PlayStation 4 on May 30. To celebrate the announcement, the studio let us take a spin with a preview build of the game on PC.
The preview build offered a few tutorial levels and the first test course, comprised of eight separate levels. Unlike Burnout's city and highway-based levels, Danger Zone takes place in a crash test facility that's simulating highway encounters. Warning lights shine over your single car adorned with the black-and-yellow crash test pattern. The facility digitally renders full traffic situations for you to cause havoc in.
Just like Burnout's Crash Mode, you're offered varying courses. You start at Point A and have to do your best to destroy every other vehicle on the road by time you touch down at an indeterminate Point B. You're multi-ton domino causing faceless drivers to careen into each other or off into the digital abyss.
Every car you destroy has a cash total and you have to destroy as many as possible to net a Gold, Silver, or Bronze medal in each course. To help you in out in your quest, there cash medal pick-ups on the courses. These medals give you score bonuses. There are six in each course: three Bronze, two Silver, and a Gold that appears when you pick up all the Bronze and Silver. You can also collect them in order for an additional bonus. (Good luck with that one. You'd be a better player than I.)
There are also Smashbreaker pickups. You may remember this mechanic as the "Crashbreaker" in the Burnout games: crash into a certain number of cars depending on the course, and you'll unlock the Smashbreaker. You can then activate the Smashbreaker to explode, scattering debris and vehicles everywhere. Grabbing a Smashbreaker pickup on the course gives you another chance to explode. Generally, the strategy is to figure out how to crash and explode in the directions that allow you to pick up further Smashbreakers.
As an added challenge, Danger Zone doesn't have off road sections. There's the highway and the abyss. You get points for sending vehicles off into the abyss, but your run is cut short immediately if you happen to fall off yourself. So, you have to navigate your way to destruction, but not careen out into the middle of nowhere at the same time. One time I had a fairly great run, only to have a random truck tip me right off the edge. There were tears cried.
Like Burnout's Crash Mode, Danger Zone is really an elaborate puzzle game. You're given a course, with various bridges, intersections, and on ramps. Vehicles spawn from glowing gates at specific times, making the entire thing a timed affair though there's no actual timer in the game. The pick-ups give you guidance and funnel you through the level, with Cash medals usually sitting next to Smashbreaker power-ups. The later levels of the first test course rely on grabbing Smashbreakers for a chain of explosions that push you through each level.
Danger Zone mostly works. I enjoy it and I kept coming back to take one more shot at a level. It's easy to pick up and in no time, you'll figure out where you need to hit oncoming traffic, where you need to slide, which power-ups you want to pick up, and where you need to blow up. It's about finding the perfect path of destruction to boost your destruction total. In my time with the game, I eventually worked out when a run wouldn't work, leading to multiple, swift retries. I'd miss a hit and whisper "Again" to myself, and start over. I found it getting under my skin, like Burnout used to.
Every course has a Gold, Silver, or Bronze destruction total. You need Bronze in order to unlock the next course in line. There's online leaderboards, so you can see your standing in comparison to other players. The leaderboards also include how many attempts it took to reach a final total, so even if you don't beat someone, you can feel like you're better because you got so close in fewer attempts.
Let me pull back your expectations for a bit though. Danger Zone is the work of a small team, done fairly quickly when it comes to game development standards, with a price tag of $12.99.
As such, the game isn't all that robust. The massive melee of destruction when you crash cars is great, but the car deformation is nowhere near where it was in the later Burnout titles. Your car - there's only one - will lose its wheels, doors will fly open, and the textures and bump maps will change to look damaged, but this isn't the full-on crumpling of Burnout 3: Takedown and later games. Vehicles clearly retain their original shape, though tankers will spill barrels and pipes everywhere. It feels like we've gone back to Burnout 2: Point of Impact in terms of overall vehicle deformation.
In addition, car handling is just okay, as Danger Zone isn't really a racing game per se. You have a boat on wheels that you're trying to use as a missile, not a sports car you're trying to use to gain pole position in a pitched race.
If you played Three Fields' Dangerous Golf, you'll have some inkling of the production values here. It's a fun, small game based largely on Burnout's Crash Mode, hoping to fulfill that urge in the gaming community. It feels like the base or starting point for something bigger, but for now, if you want Crash Mode, this is all you got. If you want a full Burnout sequel though, this isn't necessarily the game you're looking for.