If you're aren't a connoisseur of German television (and after all, who isn't these days), it's likely you've never heard of Alarm Für Cobra 11, the immensely popular episodic action show that the Crash Time series is based on. The show follows two autobahn cops, the series veteran Semir Gerkhan and his partner in crime-fighting (and in-real-life pop star
) Ben Jäger, as they take on the criminal underworld of Cologne. Typically, most episodes start off with some kind of chase on the Autobahn, which gives the show's stunt team the perfect excuse to fling an ungodly number of cars around like confetti. Buses smash through houses, boats launch themselves through the air, and planes explode through petrol stations. It's amazing to watch. These crashes tend to be so impressive, fans of the show have taken to compiling them into an anthology of YouTube videos.
Let's pause for a moment and take in one of these videos, to get a feel for what Crash Time is all about:
And surprisingly, that video also highlights one of the main problems Crash Time 4 has. In a series that places such a focus on enormous, explosive, expensive accidents, it, sadly, doesn't make enough of the crashes. Previous Crash Time games featured an instant replay function, where you could press a button and leap into a viewing mode, where you could rewind time and position the camera, letting you point it at interesting subjects before playing back the crash you'd just accidentally caused, often with hilarious results. But what always let the viewing mode down was that there was no way of saving replays, no way of immortalising what a terrible driver you were, and sharing it with the world. We were hoping the game's developers, Synetic, would build on the viewing mode for Crash Time 4, and add the ability to save replays, and position the cameras with more accuracy and more ease - but instead, it's disappeared entirely. It's disappointing to have to start this review on a sour note, as the Crash Time games are one of our favourite franchises here at Everybody Plays, so let's move swiftly on.
Crash Time 4: The Syndicate sees you taking control of Ben and Semir as they patrol the streets of Cologne trying to take down every member of a criminal organisation known as The Syndicate. This fraternity of scoundrels hide out in the dark alleyways of the city, plotting vile deeds that will ruin the city's reputation, and it's up to you to stop them before it's too late.
The Syndicate hang out in all the nooks and crannies of Cologne, and with 100km of accurately mapped streets you've got your work cut out finding them all. The cathedral really does look like that, too, only with a bit more scaffolding in real life.
Taking on something of a free form approach, you're free to explore the streets of Cologne as you see fit - but sadly, the game tends to not offer much in the way of pointers as to what you're actually meant to be doing. As an example, as you drive around the streets, you'll occasionally spot members of the Syndicate on their way to perform some nefarious deed. Before you can arrest them, the game prompts you to use the "Action Button" to officially confirm that you're about to engage the suspect. Unfortunately, it forgets to mention which button "the action button" is, and the on-screen icon isn't colour co-ordinated to indicate which button you need to press (the action button prompt on screen is blue, although the actual action button is the yellow Y button). But once you've figured out which button it is, the chase is on.
With the roughneck engaged, you've got two choices. You can either take down the criminal as quickly as possible, getting him off the street for the time being, or you can tail him to find out where he's off to. The Syndicate have a vast number of hide-outs around the city, where they all meet up to scheme, plot, and generally do bad things. If you find one of these locations, the Syndicate will "abandon" that hideout - which is good for you, as it chips away at the syndicate's power - although we're not actually sure if it has any effect on where the Syndicate members appear in Cologne.
You're nicked, sunshine.
When it comes to making the arrest, the adrenaline really starts to kick in, as you narrowly dodge cars, weave your way through traffic, and generally act like you're taking part in one of the great car chases. When you have to bring things to an end, though, there are three different tactics you can take: You can nudge the opponent's rear end, and spin it round, knocking the car off the road using the popular pit manoeuvre, and then block their escape by parking your vehicle in front of theirs, or, if you're unsuccessful (or just a bit violent), you can trash your opponents vehicle by crashing into it repeatedly like some kind of street-based demolition derby. The third choice is both the quickest and most awkward way of taking them out, and involves shooting your opponents car a number of times until they yield. If you can deal with the rather haphazard aiming you can finish the chase in a matter of seconds, although it's one of the more boring ways of dealing with the suspect. More often than not, in real life, the take down will be a mixture of the first two, as you ram your enemy as hard as you possibly can, sending them barrel rolling down the road, before ending up lodged on their side against a wall.
Now that the criminal is tied up at the station, your next task is to transfer him from temporary accommodation at police HQ to a more permanent room at the nearby prison. This mission doesn't happen automatically after you make the arrest, so you'll need to remember to occasionally drive back to the police station to transport any prisoners. Spend too long exploring Cologne after arresting someone and their lawyer will sweet-talk them out of your jurisdiction and back onto the streets, meaning you'll have to arrest them all over again. Transporting the criminals from headquarters to prison sees you escorting a Police Minibus driven by someone with either no regard for other vehicles on the road, or no eyes. It blazes down the wrong side of the road, runs every red traffic light it can find, and doesn't even bother trying to avoid oncoming traffic, choosing instead to simply plough through everything (cars, buses, 18-wheelers), as if it hadn't seen them. And as if it wasn't enough of a mission keeping the minibus driver from ruining himself, occasionally other syndicate members turn up to try and rescue their buddies. These baddies can be taken out and arrested in the same way as villains encountered out on patrol, but remember that getting the already-arrested syndicate member in the van to prison safely is the main priority. Spend too long arresting one of the ambushers, and the transport might end up getting attacked and destroyed by another group before you can catch up with it. There's no retry option when you fail in these missions, either. If the van gets destroyed you'll have to arrest whoever it was carrying again at a later date.
You can take part in a number of "championship" races when you get bored of the story mode to unlock new vehicles
Unfortunately, though, while the earlier games have offered a long, story driven single player mode, with varied objectives, that's pretty much all there is to Crash Time 4's single player. With the exception of the dozen or so initial missions introducing you to the Syndicate and your informers, and the final mission that ties the story up, the vast majority of your time is spent chasing and arresting villains who just pop up on the street - an activity that, in the previous game, was an aside to the rest of the story. When you're not taking down baddies, most of the extra-curricular activities you can take part in actually appear to have been designed to encourage you to explore their accurately modelled Cologne (even if most of it isn't all that accurate) - (to make your job easier, you can enlist the help of a number of
informants (who you have to seek out around the town), and set up hundreds of CCTV cameras is designated spots along the streets, that
will highlight Syndicate members on your map when they pass by.
Surprisingly, the area where Crash Time 4 really excels is in it's multiplayer, which allows four people to race against each other in split-screen (a feature you'll be hard pressed to find in most other recent racing games on anything bar the Wii - We're looking at you, Forza), or up to 8 players online in both races and a number of "death match" modes. In the race mode you can chose a vehicle from the wide array of vehicles on offer, from sports cars, to police minibuses (just make sure you race in a safer way than the others), and post vans, and tear up the streets of Cologne. Unfortunately you don't appear to be able to race in the 18 wheelers in Crash Time 4, but being able to drive a highly unstable golf buggy (which only so much as has to look at a pebble to make it flip) the wrong way down a rush hour autobahn more than makes up for it. We've lost count of how many hours we've spent gambolling around the streets.
We spend about 90% of our time on the track like this.
The death match modes are a series of online-only demolition derby style events, where the main aim is to trash your opponents cars before they can do the same to yours. The main event here is the Sumo, which sees you and a number of other players dropped on top of a tall building. Much like a real-life Sumo contest, your mission here is to shove your opponents off the side of the building while not falling off, or being pushed off it yourself. It's one of the more imaginative multiplayer modes we've encountered in a driving game (just don't pick the golf buggy for this one), and it's a great laugh.
And that's exactly what Crash Time is. The voice-acting may well be awful, and the game itself might not be the smoothest thing ever, but it's still brilliant fun to play. Which is exactly what a game should be. While the single player mode is a bit of a disappointment, we can see Crash Time 4 becoming a staple of our multiplayer nights here at Everybody Plays, it's just a shame that the deathmatch modes can't be played locally.