Review: Survival Driving?TO THE EXTREME!!! ?ahem.
After Burnout Revenge, it was expected that the next time we'd get a taste of Criterion's battle racing would be Burnout 5 on PS3 and Xbox 360. Yet here we are, with a so-called ?last generation' PlayStation 2 (and PSP) entry, dubbed Burnout Dominator. Criterion's presence is minimal, as they're busy with next-gen stuff, but a capable team at EA UK has crafted something of a throwback title with Dominator, and in its own way has returned the game to its Acclaim-era roots, roots that were tossed aside with Revenge and to a lesser extent, Burnout 3. As such, Dominator is a unique game ? it's got the same white-knuckled action from before, just in a more concentrated form, and without some of the things prior games have hung their hats on. It's another nice send-off for PS2, and a decent enough precursor to what should be a wild Burnout 5 (or whatever it will be called). And that's good enough.
Dominator's main gameplay hook is the return of the namesake of the game ? Burnouts. Those who played the original two games published by Acclaim will recall that in those days, you couldn't just hit boost anytime; you had to fill up the Burnout meter for a boost, and if you were good enough it could be chained into multiple Burnouts ? in many cases it was totally necessary to win the harder races. While it's still possible to boost whenever, it's advantageous to fill the Burnout meter and try for as many chains as possible, by driving on the wrong side of the road, dodging traffic, drifting around corners, and generally acting like an idiot. As a matter of fact, most of the courses in the game are designed with high speeds in mind, with long straightaways or dozens of sharp curves to powerslide around. It's the core of the game, and something you'll rely on, switching the game up and making it feel more like Burnout 2 with the ability to Takedown opponents than anything else.
While the original Burnout system has returned, two things have been taken away ? one good, one bad. Since Burnout 2, the Crash events have been the staple of the franchise, going from the basic junctions in Point of Impact to the huge, multi-tiered streets in Revenge. But in Dominator, Crash events are nonexistent, with EA UK focusing on making the racing itself the star of the show (a noble cause if you spin it the right way given the emphasis on Crash stuff). It seems weird to not have it around, but it won't take long to get used to it. Also taken away is traffic checking, a love/hate inclusion from Revenge that in some ways took away from the typical fear of taking a corner at high speed and ramming into something. Once again, all traffic is dangerous, and hitting them results in bad things happening. With the added emphasis of weaving through traffic for near-misses, it can be more dangerous than ever.
The World Tour mode functions like past Burnout titles, with a combination of straight up races and unusual ?quest' style events. There are races of both standard and knockout types (Eliminators function like Revenge with a car eliminated every 30 seconds), and Burning Lap time trials. These you know. The always welcome Road Rage is here, which is consistently an addictive, fun event. New to Dominator though, are challenges which revolve around driving like a psycho. Near-miss challenges are exactly what you'd imagine, as are Burnout challenges (basically the game wants you to chain as many Burnouts together as possible), and Drift challenges. The focal point of all this though is Maniac mode, which requires all of these crazy traits to get as high a score as possible. Basically, drive like a fool, don't crash, and you win. For many of these events you get an added goal ? do the task asked and a new car for whatever class you're competing in will unlock.
Along with the World Tour, Dominator brings back single events and a wealth of multiplayer modes?but no online this time. The return of single events is an excellent thing, after having them removed from Revenge, so it's possible to practice and learn the courses without having it affect your World Tour status. But the elimination of any sort of Online setup is a real downer, especially since all the offline multiplayer games would be great via the PS2 network. Alas it's a sign of the times with the PS2 on its way out ? no reason to bother when hardly anyone will be using it for too long. Still even a few months of online would have been okay.
Though Criterion was not heavily involved with the development of Burnout Dominator, the game looks and feels like a Burnout game. It's still extremely fast with a slick framerate that never stops, and the cars handle well at high speeds, as well as they can at 200 MPH with stuff flying by faster than your brain can process. The redesigned tracks that are more about speed than cornering mean less finesse is required (except for navigating the frequently lengthy curves) aren't full of shortcuts or any alternate paths, but this time around there are Dominator shortcuts, where if you pull a takedown in a certain area, it will destroy a barrier that contains a quicker path around, which is pretty cool ? there's one for each track, and it's a far more useful version of a signature takedown.
At the same time, the game seems to lack some of the goofy charm that Criterion is known for making Dominator somewhat generic in atmosphere. The track design and environments aren't as varied, interesting, or memorable, without any real signatures to remember. Most of the cars are generic and not as creative as what Burnout used to have, though a few of them are great ? such as the return of the Custom Coupe from Burnout 2. The AI is pretty much same as always, and thus the game isn't totally challenging, long as you use Burnouts properly, and without Crash events, it's a shorter game than either Takedown or Revenge and seems to be over quickly. The soundtrack has the same effects from Revenge, and a very uninspired music set that makes us suffer with two
versions of a song from Avril Lavigne. Thankfully there's some cool trophies to earn and collecting all the cars (by earning them, rather than by getting them simply by playing the game) adds some depth. And hey, it's Burnout, and a merely good Burnout game is better than most efforts in the genre.