Arcade racing games are tough to get right. For many years, they’ve been viewed as being something of a safe bet. Put some crazy characters in some even crazier vehicles, throw in some sort of apparently unique selling point, and the job is done. Or so you’d think, given the amount of titles that fit that description. However, without a certain level of polish in terms of gameplay, there’s very little chance that the game will be any good.
Unfortunately, Fireburst checks all of the boxes in terms of content, but really drops the ball when it comes to that polish. The unique selling point is the ability to use fire as a nitrous boost. The engine gets too hot and explodes if you use it for too long, so you have to drive through water barrels, waterfalls, and great big puddles of water in order to cool things down so that you can use it again. The system is absolutely identical to the one used in Sony’s excellent MotorStorm series, so maybe it isn’t such a unique selling point after all. The ever so slight twist here is that your boost can be used as a weapon. If an opponent who's already got a "hot" engine drives through your fire-trail or barges into you while you're boosting, they explode. This is an interesting idea, not that it matters, as FireBurst only gives you about three seconds of boost before your car blows up, and that boost is horrible to control. It takes a good second or two to fire after you’ve pressed the button, and when you let go of the button the delay in registering that you’ve done exactly that, means that the car will probably blow up anyway.
In addition to that, the external camera sometimes randomly decides to twist to the left, making it incredibly annoying to use. Switching to the one other camera – an internal view - means that you can’t use boost, as the fire effect that comes into play when you do, completely obscures your view and will have you slamming into a wall within seconds. In either camera mode, driving through water throws water spots onto the screen, again obscuring your view far too much.
Fireburst provides a variety of different challenges in single-player mode. One will have you trying to boost for five seconds without blowing up, whilst another will see you trying to destroy four opponents during a race, for example. There’s enough variety here, but bugs rear their ugly heads again and you’ll often find yourself credited for a win when you didn’t complete all the tasks, or denied a victory when you did. Some will be confused by the menu system too. When you complete a challenge, you’re returned to a screen that shows the first challenge in the set, with no ability to navigate to the next one. You’ll need to back out of that screen, then go back in again in order to proceed. Small bug, sure. Annoying bug, absolutely. A bug that would have been seen by anyone who played a race as a part of the QA process? Definitely.
On the track, the action is almost passable, until you hit anything (even a slight bump in the road) and your vehicle spins and flips wildly out of control, almost devoid of any representation of any real-world physics, or you drive down a hole that you couldn’t see because the game is ridiculously dark, even on the highest brightness setting and with the TV setting cranked up to the max. Other than that, the visuals are actually pretty sharp in places, and you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate them if you’re into drifting, as every time you try to pop the brakes in order to send the back end out, your vehicle will all but stop dead, removing any chance of any feeling of real speed.
The killer comes when you realise that when your car does get flipped out randomly or explodes for whatever reason, more often than not the checkpoint that you’re returned to is so close to the next jump or obstacle, that you won’t be able to clear it without reversing for a couple of hundred yards first. Of course, this means that the other racers all just barrel past you or pull further ahead if they were already in front and in turn, this means that your only real option is to quit the race and start again. That’s just a distinct lack of QA again, which is something that would explain an awful lot of Fireburst’s downers.
We should mention that you can play Fireburst against 7 other players online, or against three others offline. Good luck finding an online game though, as nobody appears to be playing it - with good reason. Offline multiplayer is about all you'll have to play (if you can put up with the ridiculous drops in framerate) once you've completed the chore-like character challenges in an couple of hours, as Fireburst gives you absolutely nothing to do once they're complete, other than allowing you to race in single events.
Fireburst is rough. There’s no point in sugar-coating it. Xbox Live Arcade currently plays host to Trials Evolution, Crazy Taxi, Hydro Thunder, Daytona USA, Joy Ride Turbo, TNT Racers, SEGA Rally Arcade, GripShift, and another 20 or 30 arcade racers, all of which make a better fist of things than this. Given that the game was released on PC back in April 2012, you’d have thought that the developers would have had some time to apply a bit of polish. Apparently not.