This Danger Zone review will not reference Top Gun or even Kenny Loggins
From the screenshots, you might expect Danger Zone will inherit the mantle Criterion shrugged off as they made their crashing games less about crashing and more about racing. If I recall correctly, that was somewhere around Burnout 2. But it was great while it lasted. Now, at last, someone appreciates what Burnout could have — should have! — been.
Danger Zone might have crashes in it, but it’s really about figuring out a puzzle. Wreck a car to collect tokens in a certain order, bouncing it around like a pinball that you control with the left stick instead of an actual pinball, which bounces around according to the laws of physics. First get the bronze tokens. Then figure out how to get the silver tokens in addition to the bronze tokens. Then the gold token will appear. Now figure out how to get it after having gotten the bronze and silver tokens. There. You beat the level. How’d you do on the high score list? Want to get higher? Okay, do it all over trying to hit as many cars as you can.
It’s an egregious misunderstanding of the appeal of Burnout to make a game about collecting tokens in fixed positions. Burnout understood how to emphasize havoc by assigning a dollar value to the wreck, and making that your score. Danger Zone also fixes a dollar value to the wreck, but scoring is mostly a matter of collecting tokens. The actual wrecking just happens along the way.
At its best, Burnout understood that you want to admire what you’ve created. Just as you want to admire something you’ve built in Minecraft, you want to admire the havoc you’ve caused with your wreck. See how the police car skids into the school bus, and the flatbed truck jackknifes into the other lane trying to avoid them, which causes the station wagon to veer into a concrete abutment and flip end over end! This stuff happens in Danger Zone, but you’ll only see it if the camera angle somehow decides to show it to you. And even then, you’re only going to see it when it’s actually happening. Danger Zone has no replay mode, no rewind, no slo-mo, not even direct camera control. Just a once-and-done wreck where you might or might not see the really cool stuff.
Yeah, sure, it’s pretty nifty physics that lets a shipment of toilets fall off the back of a truck. It’s a shame the physics can’t be applied to car bodies. The wheels fall off and the paint gets scratched, but the actual shape of the car is inviolable. Part of what’s horrifying about a car wreck is what’s horrifying about a city being razed: the once familiar lines are rendered unrecognizable. The response to the most horrifying car wrecks is, “That was a car?”
The graphics budget must have been tapped out by the modest car damage and the overblown explosion effects (these cars use seriously high octane fuel), leaving only enough processing power for a Tronnish cyber-zone around the edges of the road. Don’t fall off or you’ll de-rezz (their term!) and have to start over. You have to bounce your car towards the tokens anyway, so it’s not really an issue. But chaos in an abstract space is never as chaotic as chaos in the real world.
But at least it’s chaos. Danger Zone is good for a couple of fancy crashes, and not much else, before an uninstall. It’s like a mild hit-and-run where it was never really worth taking the other driver’s insurance information anyway.