In an era of remakes, remasters, sequels and spiritual successors, there’s never been a better time to peruse your gaming catalogue and wonder which ageing franchise deserves a return. After playing Danger Zone, I am confident that we need a new Burnout game in the coming years. Unfortunately, I am also confident that Danger Zone simply will not scratch that itch.
Danger Zone serves as a standalone version of the ‘Crash Mode’ feature in the later Burnout games. You drive into traffic and try to cause as much damage as possible. As the pile-up grows higher, so does your score. Eventually you can detonate an explosion and use in-air controls to steer the wreckage into yet more cars.
In theory, DZ has all the necessary parts to make this work. Some former Burnout devs are on board. There are cars. There are busy intersections. There are explosions. There are no drivers, thank god, so you can enjoy all this unadulterated violence without feeling awkward.
But to say these are the only parts you need to recreate the magic of Burnout is to sell the franchise very short indeed. In hindsight, Crash Mode was a fun diversion from what Burnout was really about; racing. It was a clever way to give players a new objective other than racing from A to B, and it also let them maximise the explosions-per-second ratio. It was a wonderful compliment to the whole experience, which was ultimately still about driving fast and ramming other racers off the road – not Average Joe commuting to work.
When the controller is in your hand, Danger Zone feels like Burnout. Purely in terms of second-to-second gameplay, it’s a reasonable approximation. But unlike any Burnout game I ever played, I found my attention waning after 30 minutes. Very quickly, a routine is established in how you get an ideal score on each map; you need to bounce from one ‘smashbreaker’ collectible to another, each offering an additional explosion and bounce. The extra bounce lets you hit more cars and grab more cash bonuses – and the smashbreakers are usually positioned in such way that there is a perfect line through each level. This is similar to the classic Burnout levels, which were often structured in such a way that you had to try and navigate your twisted wreck into as many new lanes of traffic as possible, to ensure the highest level of collateral.
But, again, these were fresh objectives sprinkled in between more traditional races, and thus the formula wasn’t exposed as quickly.
It isn’t just the variety of Burnout that is stripped away, however. DZ has a bafflingly dry presentation, utterly soul-less and quiet. It feels like a proof of concept whipped together to impress investors and secure funding for an actual game. Literally every level takes place in a sterile warehouse environment, with no music, and no vehicle selection options. You drive a white sedan into traffic, to silence, and if you fall off the track, you’re told the ‘simulation’ is terminated – I guess suggesting this is some kind of fake warehouse – a somehow less exciting venue than a regular warehouse.
While the mid-2000s pop-rock of the PS2 games isn’t exactly hip any more, DZ opting to not include music of any variety is simply confusing. The title has a humble price tag, so maybe major-label music rights were a no-go, but anything would have been better than this.
The same can be said for location variety and some unlockable car models. At a budget price, this didn’t need to be Grand Theft Auto proportions — but it needed to be more than this. The graphics are dated, with completely unremarkable destruction modeling and physics, so at a certain point you have to ask what exactly did they spend money on?
The price is an interesting sting in the tale for this game. As you can tell; I didn’t really like it. But it does play ok. There are fleeting moments of Burnout nostalgia. Some levels, especially in the third tier, are actually kind of creative. They use the ‘simulation’ narrative to do away with real life constraints and have some fun with the level design. At just over a tenner (EU), with about 80 minutes of gameplay, there are worse investments. If you are absolutely starved for Burnout-esque content and looking for something cheap – it’s a tentative recommendation. Just don’t expect to be satiated for long. In some ways, Danger Zone has only worsened my pining for the legendary racing series to rise from the ashes (and glass, and rubber, and steel).