The Burnout series is gone, and nothing has filled the vacuum it left behind. Forza Horizon 3 is wonderful, but it doesn’t have the same dedication to violent, controlled chaos that Criterion’s defunct racer did. But now, a new game is stepping up to provide the intense automobile carnage you’re looking for, and — surprise — it’s from the people who founded the studio that made Burnout.
Danger Zone is a new game about using a vehicle to destroy as many other cars, trucks, and buses as possible. It is due out May 30 for $13. Three Fields Entertainment, which most recently made the disappointing Dangerous Golf game for Steam, built the game as a clear spiritual successor to the crash mode in Burnout 3: Takedown for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. The founders of Three Fields worked on that game in key roles at Criterion, and now they are trying to recapture that magic.
And Danger Zone — at least so far — is quite magical.
I’ve spent some time with an early version that includes the first eight stages, and I don’t want to stop playing (you can watch me play in the video above). Burnout 3 is something I spent a ton of time with thanks to the crash mode. I remember passing a controller around as my friends and I would take turns trying to get the highest scores in each stage. In Danger Zone, I’m doing the same thing with the online leaderboard, and I find myself replaying the same level dozens of times in a row in an effort to maximize my score.
The secret truth of both Burnout 3 and Danger Zone is that it isn’t about random collisions and automotive violence. These are physics-based puzzle games. They have a lot in common with something like Portal and its challenge rooms.
In each stage, your goal is simple: cause as much damage as possible. Three Fields sets up each of these levels with a series of predetermined cars entering the play area, and you need to figure out how to disrupt and impact them to cause a chain reaction that will wrack up the insurance claims. Once you cause enough crashes or pick up a Smashbreaker bonus item, however, you can explode your car at anytime and then control it in the air to ram it into more oncoming traffic. And destroying a car using a Smashbreaker earns you even more points, so it’s a key mechanic.
Finally, each stage also has three bronze $100,000 damage pickups and two silver $200,000 pickups. If you can fling your car into each of these, which typically requires you to figure out a route through the chaos that will enable you to get each of the Smashbreaker bonuses, you’ll also unlock a gold $400,000 pickup. If you get that one as well, you’ll earn a $5 million Grand Slam bonus.
And the joy of Danger Zone is piecing together how to manipulate the physics in a way that will do as much damage while also maintaining the required momentum to pick up that Grand Slam. This means you’ll probably find yourself restarting each level repeatedly as your skills and understanding improve.
In that way, Danger Zone fits right in with other physics-based score-chasing games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Trials, and Retry.
If you’ve ever fallen in love with a game like Trials or Tony Hawk, you know how crucial it is for the developer to nail all the surrounding presentation elements. For example, you don’t want to wait through a lengthy loading screen every time you want to retry. And I’m thrilled that Danger Zone nails this. Restarting a level rarely ever causes more than one second of loading before you’re right back into the three-second countdown.
Danger Zone already feels quite polished — especially compared to Three Fields’ Dangerous Golf. The company’s golfing game launched in an impaired state. It was hard to understand what you were supposed to do, it didn’t have controller support, and its poor camera system detracted from any of the onscreen action.
But Danger Zone doesn’t have any of these issues.
And it has a training area, but I bet you won’t need it. Danger Zone supports both keyboard and mouse as well as controller even before launch, and you can switch between the two whenever you want. And the keyboard controls feel really great. Finally, the camera is incredible. After you’re done moving your car around, the game swings its perspective around to give you a view on other crashes that are still happening around the play field. And the movement and cadence of the pans and cuts of this are dynamic and add a a kinetic energy that brings the crashes to life.
It’s almost like Three Fields learned something from Dangerous Golf and is putting that knowledge into practice. And I hope this is the game that catches on for them because I want more levels and features as soon as possible.