Full Review: Despite their psychotic driving, they at least have the courtesy to use turn signals.
Burnout first made its appearance a little over a year ago, using the temporary name of Shiny Red Car. That name was given due to the small video of a car (shiny, and red, of course) racing and weaving through busy traffic in an attempt to win a race. Built off Criterion's Renderware PS2 middleware platform (that was behind a particular Grand Theft Auto 3), the game was showing off what the PS2 could do. Eventually the game was renamed to Burnout, and I've been keeping my eye on the game ever since.
And now that it's in my hands, I have to say; while the game is fun, with a lot of cool stuff along with the old-school arcade gameplay it exemplifies, there's way too many disappointing nags to put it with the PlayStation 2's elite games. It's definitely got a lot of thrills, but it's share of cheap ?thrills? to go along with it.
Five to ten years ago, when arcades were arcades and not the abomination that they've become nowadays, Burnout would have been eaten up by the patrons; especially those who loved a good fast-paced arcade racer, with a great sense of speed and thrilling action. Because at the core, Burnout is just that ? an arcade racer in the vein of the classics, complete with checkpoints and unrealistic physics.
However, as a console game, Burnout does offer a bit more than a basic racer. There's a handful of different modes of play that allow for some variety; basic single race and time attack modes, a face-off game, a 2 player split-screen mode for multiplayer, and the ?meat? of the game, Championship, where in you unlock more tracks and championship modes. Fact is though, none of these modes are particularly deep, and can grow tiring quickly. The face-off is a head-to-head challenge against a single hidden car, and winning unlocks more face-offs against different vehicles.
Difficulty level is not decided by computer AI (though it should, considering..), but by the handling of the different vehicles. The easiest level gives you access to some little cars like the SuperMini (not a skirt, sorry), which is a little hatchback that has a little kick to it. Moving upwards you get more mid-range sports cars, up to the true muscle cars and even a pickup truck. And besides the initial set of cars, there are many of them to unlock by beating things, making multiple plays more likely.
Burnout's gameplay is simple ? be the fastest driver in the field and win. However, this is not a closed-road type racer; instead you're placed on busy freeways and roads with tons of traffic to weave and navigate through. This is quite an interesting spin, and the sense of speed causes cars to just pop out of nowhere at times because you don't see them coming. And when you make good contact?well let's say State Farm won't be a good neighbor to you after seeing all the damage.
Obviously then, the game rewards you for staying out of harms way and escaping unscathed. There's a minor nag that bugs me about that, but since it is an arcade game, I let it pass. If you get into a bad accident, right away your car is restored to perfect condition. Too bad you can't just try to race around after bashing it up and try to beat the clock that way! But then again, when you wiped out on Pole Position, you got a new car anyway. Still, you're encouraged to not get into accidents (as cool as they look), because getting into too many will not only put you on the ?worst drivers? list, it will help you deplete the time on the clock and make you rush to complete the laps.
Despite that warning, Burnout still rewards you for driving as close to a homicidal maniac as possible. The more insane you drive, like by weaving through traffic, cutting off other cars, slipping between a pair of semi-trucks, etc. Doing that builds up the little boost meter on the bottom of the screen. Once full (barring you staying out of accidents) you can press the trigger button and get a speed boost that can make or break your chances of winning. And when that meter fully expires, it's called a burnout, hence the name of the game.
This is all tied up nicely by responsive controls ? while each car handles differently, the cars still do exactly what you want, when you want it to be done. Everything uses the basic racing controls that games like GT3 would use, so getting adjusted is simple. And despite the arcade feel to the game, it still feels like you're in total control of the car, without a lot of exaggerated movements.
All sounds great, right? If I could stop rating the game here it would get much higher scores; instead, I have to talk about the AI. Simply put, the AI sucks. Burnout employs a semi-rubberband AI that most arcade games use. If you don't know, Rubberband AI is a type of AI that when you're winning a race, the computer manages to get right back in, no matter what, and when you're behind, the computer stops and slows down for you to catch up. Burnout has the former?but not the latter. If you're racing a perfect race, with no mistakes, and you are all on your own and no other racers around, but then get into one teeny accident, you're almost nearly screwed every time. Somehow you'll get passed and never see the 1st place car again, because the AI doesn't really allow you to catch up to them, even racing error-free. This was very poorly planned and executed, and really drags the game down. On more subsequent challenges it gets worse, and makes playing through the game exceptionally frustrating in points. It actually gets to the point where I will just play a time attack and race the oncoming traffic instead.
That's another thing ? the traffic AI is always the same, every time. Each lap the traffic increases, with bigger vehicles along with it. This is fine, but it's always the same patterns, which makes the game dull once you really learn the tracks.
However there is more good here ? the track designs are really nice, and the sense of thrill and danger is very high. Each track is really well laid out and long ? most are 2-minute lappers, instead of boring 45-second circles. There are tons of really scary turns where you can't see around the corner, and really creative crossing sections where traffic is coming at ALL angles, and it can get really ugly if you get into a mess. But that ties in with the sense of danger and the fast reactions to it. When you have to big rigs coming from both sides, you'll do anything to not get hit! This really can be a true heart-pounding experience, especially on the tracks you don't know. Problem is, once you learn them, because of the substandard AI, it isn't quite as freaky.
As for the graphics, Burnout is pretty nice to look at. For one, the sense of speed is really well done, because of the fast 60-FPS frame-rate. When you're hitting over the 100's, you'll feel the speed better than most racing games out there. Everything is very well detailed; the surroundings of the tracks are varied and plentiful, with zero pop-up or draw-in to ruin the fun. You can almost get messed up when you stop and look at the roadside buildings and such, because they all look really good. Each car, even the ones you don't race, are designed realistically and detailed well. And the lighting effects for light and dark are great, especially when the sun is setting and getting into your eyes. And yes, you even use turn signals when turning. How sweet.
The star of the graphics is the crashes however. In a few words, they are incredibly realistic. In a few more, Burnout's crashes are the most realistic I've seen, and varied. Depending on what you hit, a different animation pops up. Sometimes you'll flip 10 times, others you'll just collide and do some more minor damage. Other times you'll just spin around into other lanes and causing a major pileup. All are cool to look at and are viewed multiple times. If you want, you can review the crashes and save your best to the memory card, to show your pathetic driving skills to your friends.
The sound effects are a mixed bag. The crash noises are great and realistic; crunching harder when you hit different cars and objects. Sadly, that's just about the only sound effect you can notice; besides the pedestrian engine noises that you've heard many times over.
The music has its high and low points too. The first track, Interstate, is the most horrifying ? it's like racing to Green Acres' theme song with that barnyard music. I was waiting for Farmer Joe and his John Deere to hop on the road and try to race me, poking me in the face with a cattle prod. Didn't happen though. The rest of the music is pretty decent, with some nice techno vibes. The music changes into something more pulse-pounding after so many accidents, because you're now racing against the clock instead of your opponents.
And if you have the means, the game is available to play in Dolby Surround. Very nice indeed.