I’ve never been able to adequately articulate my hatred for Crash mode in the Burnout series, and I feel like I am in a minority of folks who consider the new Showtime mode to be a far superior replacement. For the three of you reading this who are unfamiliar with the games, Burnout’s Crash mode consists of events in which an elaborate traffic jam is set up at one end of a road or intersection. You start out in your car, barreling toward the traffic, and try to cause the most damage possible by driving into other cars, bouncing along the road, and ultimately blowing up your vehicle so that everyone within your blast radius is taken out. In Burnout Paradise, Criterion Games was forced to remove Crash mode as they transitioned into an open-world mechanic for the racer. In its place, Showtime mode allows players to hit both bumper buttons and trigger an explosion that sets your car bouncing down whatever street you find yourself on. The object is still the same – cause as much damage as possible by barreling through traffic. The difference is that, at any given road or intersection, the traffic patterns vary so that you never play the same Showtime event twice.
One of the aspects about Crash mode that people cite for its popularity is that it’s essentially a puzzle game within the driving genre. This argument has never really made sense to me, because Crash mode is most certainly not a puzzle game. In terms of video games, the puzzle genre typically consists of various falling blocks that the player must turn, fit into place, and eliminate in order to prevent the remaining bricks from reaching the ceiling. It is the Sisyphean Challenge of video games – regardless of how many blocks you destroy or how far you progress, there will always be more work to do. A traditional puzzle game is impossible to win. You must simply survive as long as possible and attain the highest possible score before you inevitably fail.
Alternatively, an increasingly popular variety of puzzle game includes titles like Freecell, SuDoku, Picross, or the (amazing and seemingly out of nowhere) Professor Layton and the Curious Village. These puzzles are solvable, and all of the information required to reach the conclusion are presented to you from the outset. The only mechanic common to this subset of puzzle game is logic. If you think clearly and trust your judgment, every single puzzle will yield a favorable solution.
Here, I argue that Burnout’s Crash mode does not fall into either category of puzzle game. While each event is “solvable” by reaching a predetermined high score, you are not presented with all of the necessary information before the game starts. Because there is no way to know the traffic patterns until you reach the intersection, you must try one route, see what type of score that route yields, and then retry the same event, altering your chosen path to try earning a higher score. Therefore, there is no logic involved in this “puzzle” at all. You are simply making somewhat educated guesses and checking to see how far those guesses get you.
If anything, the gameplay in Crash mode is more akin to the stealth genre than brainteasers. Games like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell rely on the player’s ability to guess and check. Making the correct decision about which path to take or how to execute a kill is often the result of trial and error rather than skill and deductive reasoning. Of course, if that’s your kind of thing, then more power to you. I’d just rather spend my time on other genres.