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Danger Zone 2 (PlayStation 4) artwork

Danger Zone 2 (PlayStation 4) review


"Like the first image of a black hole, Danger Zone 2 is a blurry echo of something grander from an irretrievable past."


It was all good just a decade ago: the final stretch of the 360 and PS3 era also coincided with the final flurry for the arcade racing game before the genre all but went extinct, with the seminal Burnout franchise acting as the paradoxical leader of the pack. Despite the timeless quality of games like Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Paradise, the series never found the mainstream success the work deserved. Maybe it was the lack of licensed cars, maybe it was EA’s prioritization of the latest underwhelming Need for Speed title. Either way, there hasn't been a new Burnout game since 2010 - although there was a great PS4 remaster of Paradise released last year - and no one else has bothered to take up the mantle.

Three Fields Entertainment has spent most of its short existence attempting to invoke nostalgia for those types of games on a smaller scale. The studio was founded by former Burnout designers who left after their former home was subsumed into the Electronic Arts machine and after releasing a souped-up tech demo (Dangerous Golf) and a VR game, they have attempted to relive the glory days through the Danger Zone series, which is basically crash mode from previous Burnout games under a different name. The mode was an ingenious remix of the game’s central ideas, turning the mass carnage you could create with your car into a tool for puzzle-solving; your score going up as the pile of metal bodies grew and multiplied. Crash mode was a staple of the franchise until it was left out of Burnout Paradise, to the chagrin of many fans, and Three Fields are the first developer to try to replicate the magic. The first Danger Zone was a misfire, but the developer’s track record is good enough to warrant a second chance. The formula is the same as it ever was: Cause big car wrecks to get a high score. After bringing enough vehicles to a halt, you can activate a Smashbreaker (originally known as a crashbreaker in the Burnout games) which will detonate your car and cause a seismic explosion that engulfs the area surrounding you. Along the way, you can collect point multipliers, cash bonuses, and additional Smashbreakers that send your total score into the stratosphere and transform an intersection into a gleeful zone of chaos. Both the developer and the player knows what the fully realized version of this game looks like. Unfortunately, Danger Zone 2 is still miles away from hitting that mark.

It’s clear from the jump that Danger Zone 2 is a game lacking basic presentation skills. So much of the UI feels like the first draft of an unrealized idea. Every time you boot up the game, you are greeted by a static shot of an empty highway, the silence soon broken by the arrival of the game’s logo bursting onto the splash page, captioned by a sample of a car wreck so familiar that it must’ve been used in dozens of other games and tv shows in the past, before returning right back to the silence as you're introduced to the weirdly undercooked menu screen. All three of the listings are inexplicably written in a small font and positioned in the top left corner atop the previously described highway scene. Simply figuring out how to start the game properly is more difficult than it should be.

But the most glaring example of this shoddy approach lies in Danger Zone 2's sound design. Namely, there isn't much of it. The game doesn’t have a soundtrack, so the only noises Danger Zone 2 makes are via the diegetic tones of whirring engines and metal bodies smashing together. I get that Three Fields is a small developer and that licensing music is an overly expensive endeavor for a game of this scale. Expecting or even wanting a soundtrack with similar standards to the bigger budget games the studio’s founders previously made is unrealistic. But the choice to not to have any in-game music whatsoever has a debilitating effect on the rest of the game. The atmosphere around the game becomes sterile to an oppressive degree, as if the whole game was was the creation of some computer simulation that was tasked with making a Burnout game via a rudimentary algorithm. The level design does little to make up for the lack of personality. The wackiest thing the game has are the levels where you drive a long-haul truck instead of a normal car - the best levels in the game by far - but aside from that, there is very little effort into giving Danger Zone 2 its own pulse. Burnout was many things over the years; a lack of spirit was never an issue. You could always tell they were made by people who were super into the idea of fast cars barreling into other cars. There were never people on screen in Burnout games, but they still managed to find ways to make the spaces feel lived in and deeply alive despite their disembodied nature. The first Danger Zone had the exact same problem and little has been done to improve things. Maybe DJ Atomica was more important than anyone realized.

Good gameplay can make up for a lot of faults, but Danger Zone 2 is disappointingly lacking here as well. You begin each level with a deficit of information that makes success more difficult than it should be. The only clues you get about each level before you start are the main objective (the score amount you need to hit to unlock the next stage) and the bonus objective (hitting a number of specific vehicles or boost for a certain amount of time). The actual courses that you’ll be driving on are kept a total mystery until you’re speeding through them, which any sort of planning impossible. It turns each level into a short term war of attrition where you have to fail a few times to work out how to earn gold medals on some of the harder levels. The game’s camera is static and always focused on your car, which lead me to being constantly confused by why my score kept going up because there is always some amount of action happening off-screen that the game doesn’t even attempt to show you.

And once you get past that point, the game's initial issues come to the fore yet again. Danger Zone 2 leaves very little room for you to luxuriate in the chaos. The game often stops tracking your score before the explosions and crashes have fully died down, so your score is never as high as it should be. After the game has judged your performance, you’re brought to a screen that shows which medal you’ve received and you’re placed on the global leaderboard. But you’ll never have much time to compare your score, because there is a five-second timer that pushes on to the next level within seconds of finishing the previous level. (You can turn it off, but it's on by default.) It really de-incentivizes replaying levels, which is weird since you can get through all of the game’s content in a couple of hours without much fuss.

So many of the basics in Danger Zone 2 feel off in bewildering ways. The car handling is analogous to running on a kitchen floor with socks on. Regardless of which vehicle you're behind the wheel of, the handling is slightly looser than it should be. The crash logic that is so important to these types of games is inconsistent to the point that it becomes difficult to predict how your car will bounce off other cars or barriers.

Nostalgia can be a deeply disfiguring emotion. You're more likely to remember things the way you want to remember them, not the way they actually were. Perhaps I was judging Danger Zone 2 by a standard it could never reach. So I went back and played some Burnout 3, and was frustrated to see that every quality of life improvement Danger Zone 2 needs is included in a game from a franchise many of the creative leads worked on over a decade ago.

There's a quick preview of the route so you can plan your movements ahead of time. When the wreckage begins to pile up, the camera moves around to show the true scale of the destruction. Once it's time to add up your score, every mangled car is captioned with the amount of money it was worth and given a cash register sound effect that makes your actions more impactful. On their own, these details wouldn’t stand out as being so meaningful, but they all combine together to have a cascading effect on the gameplay. They help the game make a case for itself. Without them, Danger Zone 2 projects as deeply unimpressed with its own existence.

The amount of unexpected fail states also adds to that sentiment. There were multiple instances where I slammed into a vehicle a couple hundred yards from the implicit endpoint for the level and I was sent to the game over “CRASHED” screen while an intersection devolved into the sort of chaos that this game is supposed to celebrate. There was another level where I drove through a destructible barrier and, before I had the chance to get back on course, my car imploded and I was deemed a failure. I'm not sure if these were bugs or how the developers intended for the game to act, but either way, it’s super annoying and drained away what little enthusiasm I had left for this game.

There is some fun to be had with Danger Zone 2, but these moments are all interrupted by the much more common occurrences where the game gets in its own way. Its problems reek of a game that was pushed out before it was ready. But Three Fields doesn't appear to agree with that assessment; their newest game, Dangerous Driving, dropped in April, less than a year after Danger Zone 2’s release. The lack of polish is a signifier that these development processes need to change, or that expectations to be molded more heavily pre-release. I’d be way less critical if this was some Steam Early Access release, but as a finished article Danger Zone 2 leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully, Three Fields will crack the code at some point down the line, but there’s depressingly little evidence that such a reality is possible.

2/5

sam1193's avatar
Community review by sam1193 (June 05, 2019)

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