Racing games are ten a penny, especially on the XBLA market with many game developers taking the simple concept of “I can get there first!” and attempting to add something fresh and exciting to the mix. At one time, boosting was that big change, it was exciting and cool. Just as you’re about to be trounced by a friend BOOM! Off you go and tip the scales, winning by a nose (or a mile depending on your skill and patience). This became the norm and pretty much an obligatory trope amongst all racers but today ExDream are looking to take the boost concept and flip it on its head with Fireburst.
In Fireburst boosting is very much a part of the system, the heat generated by your sudden surge of speed fuels blazing flames that can fry your competitors, or blow you up if you’re not careful. If you boost for even a moment longer than your car can take, then it’s lights out for you. It sounds like such a simple take on a simple idea but surprisingly works wonders, as maintaining that balance and toeing the line is actually extremely tricky which often left me on the edge of my seat every time I avoided imminent death.
However, Fireburst is unfortunately plagued with some frustrating issues that really drag the whole experience down. The cars themselves feel slightly clunky and unnatural to control which is tagged with some rather frustrating psychics that deliver an unnecessary headache. While happily cruising at high speeds, any small collision can sometimes send your car flying through the air like the latest hot wheels that a child has grown tired of. On occasion I was even brought to a dead stop through grazing an odd piece of scenery here and there.
Visually Fireburst is simply gorgeous, with a huge variation of tracks that show some spectacular design. Each course is chockfull of vibrant colours and great lighting with some beautiful environmental details. Even while boosting, you’ll be impressed with the clarity delivered. Looking like the Motorstorm title that never came to the Xbox 360 (damn you PS3 exclusives) it’s simply a joy to stare at the screen until your eyes are sore. No, I mean it, its gorgeous.
Fireburst offers you a choice of vehicles, each of which uses the flames created from your boosting efforts in a different way. All weaponised of course. Each hot rod has a different ability, which can be anything from the Fireball cars which cover themselves with flame while breaking the sound barrier, to becoming a physical barrier. Attacks from other puny vehicles do nothing to these beasts and if you choose to drive head first into them, well then they simply explode. Fireblast cars are another good choice, they surround themselves in a ring of fire while boosting that gets bigger and bigger as you hold down the boost button. When you release the button, the ring flares up and disappears, destroying any cars within the circle. Whichever type of racer you choose, the controls are identical, as you hold down the boost button your heat meter quickly fills up. Once it reaches a certain level, your car exudes flames and enters into its attack form. Keep an eye on the meter though as you can blink and miss the mark causing your car to explode. Initially it can be tricky to get a hang of the system, meaning you’ll be destroying your car over and over again for sometime (you’ve played Dark Souls by now, so I’m sure you don’t mind the challenge) but in time you’ll get the hang of it, and that’s when the love for living dangerously kicks in. Constantly tip toeing on the edge between high-speed and death.
If you’re after a decent story or at least some explanation as to what’s going on, then you’ll be quite disappointed. While there are a handful of different characters to choose from, they hold no back story and are reminiscent of characters in arcade racers from years ago (think Gus from Crazy Taxi and you’re on the right track) each one is a typical stereotype, nothing more than a cartoon character to hold the steering wheel ranging from Hanako, an Asian schoolgirl who flits between speaking in broken english or giggling her head off, to Hightower, an overly happy dwarf who likes to flash his riches and uber-masculinity. In all honesty these characters aren’t very funny and often make the time spent somewhat annoying, but you can choose to mute them if it gets too much.
While single player is enjoyable, it’s fairly slim pickings in terms of actual content. As there isn’t any real story, the team at ExDream have opted to leave out any form of campaign or tournaments meaning you’re left to simply create individual races or destruction events which play like a typical destruction derby, smash into as many cars as you can and hope you’re the last vehicle standing. It’s not all bad however as each of the eight characters you can choose from has a set of challenges for you to check for the chance to unlock a wider range of cars and oddball drivers. The challenges really push you to play in a multitude of different ways such as winning races while causing as much destruction as humanly possible, or clocking up a huge amount of time in the air.
I personally enjoyed the challenges, my completionist side is always happy for a check list to complete (just check my gamer score) but it can sometimes feel as though ExDream threw any change they could muster into the bucket without any quality control, so this could be a downside for the easily bored or distracted.
Online holds the most promise but at the moment is marred by the empty lobbies. Searching for games takes a really long time and often plonked me into lobbies with one other player who would quickly back out, leaving me back at square one waiting for more to join. Inviting friends is the only way to get any joy at the moment, but unless you have a bustling friends list, expect some rather empty race tracks as Fireburst offers nothing in the way of AI competition. Local multiplayer was where I had the most fun, enjoying some destruction in four player split screen with some friends and family was truly perfect.
Overall Fireburst is a decent experience which could have been something great but just misses the mark by a step. It looks simply stunning and is great fun with some friends, just don’t expect a deep experience or a thriving online community anytime soon.