Review: Danger Zone 2

Danger Zone 2
Released 7/13/2018
Three Fields Entertainment

Danger Zone 2 is a follow-up to Three Fields Entertainment’s 2017 arcade crash-em-up, Danger Zone, which itself was a spiritual successor to Criterion’s iconic Burnout series of arcade racing games. DZ2 promised to continue bringing back the magic of Burnout’s Crash Mode, and build on everything DZ1 got right. For fans of the original series, this new series, or fans of detonating a 20-car pile-up in slow motion, this should have been a gimme.

Danger Zone 2 continues in the tradition of driving at top speed into a busy intersection and maneuvering the resulting flaming wreckage of a cart through the air into other vehicles, making sure not to let anyone else on the road feel left out. Every dollar of property damage you do counts toward your final score, earning Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum ranking if you cross their damage threshold.

While the first Danger Zone took place in a kind of parking garage meets computer simulation environment with more compact level design, Danger Zone 2 takes things back to the Burnout roots and brings the carnage out into the fresh air. Intersections take inspiration from real world locations in the US, UK, and Spain and the larger environments give each stage a bit more character, and give players some scenery to gawk at during one of DZ2’s best new features: the Run Up.

The Run Up is basically the highway drive that gets you from the place your car spawned to the place your car will become engulfed in flames. Little jaunts among other commuters not only gives you time to get used to whatever vehicle you’ve been assigned, but gives you an opportunity to earn a score bonus by completing optional Run Up objectives. From hitting every stunt jump to “traffic-checking” enough sedans into camper vans and everything in between, nailing these Run Up goals is necessary if you’re planning on ranking Platinum for every stage, and seeing your name rise up the built-in leaderboard for each level.

Crashing anywhere along the Run Up will end your run immediately. But as Kenny Loggins foretold, surviving the highway brings you right to the final intersection; the titular Danger Zone. This is where the game really should shine. Gently nudging your flaming ball of twisted metal in slow motion as it careens through the air toward the next unfortunate Sunday driver is the peak of Danger Zone 2’s excitement. Break enough stuff and you’ll charge up your “SmashBreaker” (legally distinct from Burnout’s “Crashbreaker”) and detonate your car again, hopefully picking up a few more cars in the blast and a bit more inertia to keep you moving around the intersection. You’ll need that inertia to grab pickups for additional score and additional SmashBreakers, adding a bit of tactics to the chaos you’re navigating.

Danger Zone 2 takes the road of sequel-design where you’ve already got something good, and you just add more. And in a lot of cases a good first game with a bit more added to it becomes a better sequel. But for Danger Zone 2, the additional features and larger environments lead to some clunkier intersections and haphazard crashes.

Danger Zone 1’s smaller levels, lack of a Run Up, and minimal abilities beyond crash and boom made it almost a puzzle game in Burnout clothing. You’d find yourself replaying the levels over and over to perfectly orchestrate your crash, propelling yourself precisely through every pickup, in the right order, so you could claim the huge Grand Slam Bonus and shoot up the leaderboard. Danger Zone 2’s larger levels mean less focus is on that final moment of impact. And the Run Up means there’s more to trip you up as you try to make a minor adjustment to your last attempt; completely at the mercy of the RNG-Gods.

That’s not to say every new addition takes away from the experience. Danger Zone 2 has 8 drivable cars, up from the 6 in Danger Zone 1. And unlike DZ1, these 8 feel unique in how they handle and how they crash.

But even two dozen new cars wouldn’t have distracted from the game’s biggest issue: lack of style. Launching the game for the first time you’re greeted with a main menu that wouldn’t look out of place in a budget Steam Greenlight release. Plain white text on an in-game static shot with a logo in the corner. Loading screen is more of the same white text with no flare or attempt at looking visually distinct. Nowhere in the HUD or UI is there any hint at the style and theming that Danger Zone 1 had, with its nicely animated menus and consistent design throughout.

On first loading a level in Danger Zone 1, the camera does a flyby of the entire track, with cars and roads materializing stylishly, in keeping with the theme of this all being a simulation. Danger Zone 2 just drops you at the starting point and asks if you want to start yet.

Jumping back and forth between DZ1 and DZ2 while writing this, the lack of flair and polish in DZ2 became harder and harder to look past. Even though the floaty driving from the first game has been greatly improved, the more crucial flying-scrap-heap-on-fire driving has somehow downgraded. Somehow, no matter how many times I replay a level, I simply cannot get a consistent feel for how much air and distance detonating my SmashBreaker will get me. If there’s something reliable affecting it, I sure couldn’t see it.

There’s the basis of a really good sequel in here. And the improve driving mechanics give me hope for the other spiritual successor to Burnout that Three Fields Entertainment have announced, Dangerous Driving. And sure, Menu and UI choices aren’t gameplay critical, and can always be patched later. But as it stands now there are not many people to recommend this game to. Newcomers to the Danger Zone series are better off playing the first, and fans of the first are going to have a hard time putting it out of their mind while playing the sequel.

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