I’d never heard of the German TV series that spawned this game, Alarm für Cobra 11 – Die Autobahnpolizei – from the RTL network. According to Wikipedia it’s a long running German Cop series that packs as many stunts, cheesy lines of dialogue and speedy thrills as possible into its timeslot. Naturally if you’re going to base a game on such a show, it’s got to feature the same hooks. Crash Time (prefixed Cobra 11: Crash Time in some regions) may not be a triple-A title with a gigantic budget and a development team that would have trouble squeezing into Wembley Stadium but it has a nice cocktail of ingredients that a complete driving game nut like me looks forward to.
In the game’s story mode you take control of Semir / Chris’s supercharged pursuit car and gradually work your way through various mission-based cases in order to complete chapters. Each of the cases is like a piece of a linear jigsaw puzzle and solving each case will begin to build up a bigger picture.
The game kicks off with a slight front-end design annoyance – It’s not always obvious what you’ve highlighted from the menus so a bit more contrast on selections would’ve been nice. The game’s main case mode is divided up into three difficulty levels, Easy, Medium or Hard with achievements unlocked at each (naturally the higher the level, the more points you’ll nab if you solve particular cases).
Action in Crash time is what first drew me to the game. It’s never going to win any beauty contests, and does at times feel distinctly last-gen but make no bones about it, the game engine does an absolutely top notch job of dishing up a driving experience that’s as fast and smooth as the likes of Burnout Revenge. In fact to keep the Burnout analogy a little longer, the game feels very much as speedy and risk-laden as the very first Burnout game, back when the series was more concerned with speed and crashing rather than mucking around in sandboxes.
The first mission involves chasing down a speeding motorist, who streaks past Semir and Chris at blistering speed. Your job is to pull over and apprehend the speeder in your unmarked squad car so jab on the blues and twos and off you go.
The handling in Crash Time feels a lot like the handling in something like Test Drive Unlimited – fast, responsive and unapologetically arcade-based. Jamming your thumb down on the throttle you’ll soon catch up with the speeder. I tried the game with the MS Force Feedback wheel and to be honest, things were a heck of a lot easier with the joypad but it’s nice to see support there all the same.
If you crash at any time, the game shows you a satisfyingly crunch-laden clip of your collision, a rather nice touch which happens quickly enough not to break the game action up too much. The game’s radar system is a work of genius, presenting a top-down scrolling mini road showing your vehicle’s position, the route you should be taking, and the car you’re pursuing – but the nice touch is that it also shows all the other traffic on the road (even trams and trains in some of the urban levels) which gives you a good heads up to what’s coming round the corner and allows you to balance risky overtaking manoeuvres against playing it safe and hanging back.
Despite my earlier comments about the graphics, there’s really nothing massive to complain about here. The car models (loosely based on the sort of vehicles you’d fully expect to be tooling around on German roads) are nicely done, and even though some of the story mode missions tend to be based around similar-looking and slightly sterile German Autobahn locations, you’ll be too busy trying to stay on the road and avoiding taking out innocent members of the public to worry too much about sightseeing.
Things improve no end once you start moving into some of the game’s urban areas, in fact the cities in the game are very nicely modelled indeed.
With 70 missions in story mode though, there are some standout classics (I particularly loved the off-roady bits) that should please just about everyone.
If the story mode isn’t your thing, you can set up a quick single player race and blast round any of the 30 circuits
One area that just has to be mentioned is the voice acting. Put it this way, if Westwood ever produced his own cop series and wrote all the dialogue, and did all the voiceovers himself the lines couldn’t be delivered more cheesily – but again this is strangely part of the game’s appeal. It shows that even small-time developers can take a well-worn genre and produce a game for PC and Xbox 360 that is playable and enjoyable, and dare I say completely addictive, and doesn’t carry the pretension of a lot of bigger budget big studio titles.
Difficulty wise, I found that even on the easiest mode, some of Crash Time’s missions were a little on the unforgiving side and frustration could set in if you find yourself having to repeat missions again and again. One minus point is that stories can only be saved in chunks, so more often than not if a mission branches across several cases, when you quit and come back to it if you don’t finish it off, you’ll be unceremoniously dropped back at an earlier mission because the game doesn’t autosave after each success. A minor niggle but one that could’ve done with a little tweaking.
Sadly, Crash Time doesn’t allow you to play out your cop-chase fantasies online on Live, but it does at least allow you to line up some split-screen multiplayer action in a similar way to the game’s single-race mode. Basically one player sets up the race how they’d like it and each player competes with the other to be first to the finishing line. In this mode you can at least choose any of the 30 vehicles in the game you’ve already unlocked, everything from sleek sports saloons to Formula 1 style racers, to massive six-wheeled armoured personnel carriers.
Half the time you may end up wondering whether this title is so bad it’s brilliant, or so brilliant that it has to be bad but Crash Time is the very epitome of a sleeper hit, and if it wasn’t for the Xbox Live Marketplace demo, it might’ve passed me by completely – but it does deserve a lot more recognition nonetheless. If you like driving games you’ll probably be sold from the word go, but if you’ve ever enjoyed games like Burnout, Test Drive Unlimited or even some of the Need for Speed Hot Pursuit games, and you fancy a whole parcel of low-budget arcade action then this could be right up your alley.