...and the PS2's library of racing games rapidly increases day by day. It's been said time and time again, but there's really no doubt about it that the PS2 is hands-down the console for motor-heads all around the globe. What other console offers this much diversity in one genre? None of them, aside from the PS2. Among dozens of other racing titles, owners of the PS2 have already been given Ridge Racer V, Midnight Club: Street Racing, Kinetica, Rumble Racing, Test Drive Off Road: Wide Open, ATV: Offroad Fury, MX 2002, Tokyo Xtreme Racer, Extreme G3, the incomparable Gran Turismo 3 and etc. Can it possibly get anymore diverse than this? We've already got general arcade and simulation racing down, both kinds of illegal street racing down, two kinds of futuristic racing down, two different kinds of off-road racing down, and even moto-cross racing, what else is there left to do? What about a game like Burnout? A racing game that prides itself with its intense car crashes, and break neck speed. Doesn't sound very original right? Think twice.
Burnout has been in development for the PS2 since late 1999. It debuted originally as SRC back at E3 2000, and even at its early stage I was very impressed at what I saw. Criterion had only developed a snowboarding game called TrickStyle for the Dreamcast, which wasn't all too popular, but it did showcase some big potential, much like Burnout does. Visually, Burnout is a superb looking title with solid visuals. They are next-generation worthy that's for sure, as they feature excellent vehicular detail and great environmental detail. The cars, while they don't exactly have actual counterparts, are very well detailed. They are made up of great texture work, and feature very nice chroming and lighting reflections in part with the environments. Criterion did a strange thing though; instead of creating completely fictional car models, they took two cars, for every Burnout vehicle, and molded them into one. For instance, the Saloon GT car is actually a Lexus GS300 and a 2000 Ford Mustang. The car has the very same front as the Lexus, and a strikingly similar rear as the Mustang. The molding doesn't end there though; the 'Muscle' car is a sampling of a Dodge Viper and an Aston Martin DB7, and so on and so forth. It's a pretty good concept, and I like the way Criterion pulled off. The environments of Burnout range from American cities (not real ones, just by atmosphere) to European cities. The craftsmanship is done well for every stage in the game, as they do great jobs of resembling their respective countries.
Perhaps what's most interesting in Burnout's visuals is the real-time damage. Crashing the vehicles is really half of the fun, and when looking at a manually controlled replay, you can see that each and every crash's side effect (damage to the car) has various animation strands. In other words, when looking at the direct impact, playing a couple of milliseconds of the replay, and pausing it again, you'll see that the car begins to show its damage. The severe dents just don't flash on the vehicle in one animation, you can actually see the crunching occur in front of your eyes. The frame rate is crisp, and rarely drops from its set point of 60, even with all of those traffic cars on screen at once. The game does suffer from some flickering and a few aliasing issues, but it's nothing overwhelming, but it is there. While they can't compare to what Gran Turismo 3 has set for us (and let's face it, that won't happen for a while), Burnout is a solid looking title with a blistering frame rate to boot.
Burnout manages to cast itself as hybrid of Test Drive and Need for Speed, with a dash of originality. The core of the game revolves around the initially mentioned, but the latter comes in as a little emphasis to the racing. Burnout is a true arcade racer, and there's no doubt about it. Unlike NFS and TD, the game has a counter counting down, and refreshing every time you hit a checkpoint. There are many cars to choose from, 5 being the initially available, with three different styles of handling. The smaller vehicles are easier to control as they are more nimble. The speedier vehicles, while harder to handle, are much quicker but handle loosely. The larger vehicles, like the pickup, are the hardest to maneuver, but the best when it comes down to muscle on the road. The opposition will try to hit you to oncoming traffic by hitting you from the side, although the oncoming traffic will try to swerve out of the way though; key word was "try". If an accident happens you'll see on the screen what the insurance bill would've been, due to the outcome of the crash. Tally up a high insurance bill in one race, and your name will go down in the record books. But on the downside, I did feel that after an hour or two of gameplay, Burnout begins to wear out and slowly become repetitive.
You have to race three laps around one stage, and some stages are reasonably long, as one lap could add up to 3 minutes, turning a three lap race into a 9-10 minute event. What makes it even more grueling are the consequences; let's say you're playing a race and leading it throughout the whole time, until suddenly you crash at the very end and your opponent passes you, and the qualifying position doesn't allow you to settle for second. So now you have to replay those ten minutes of racing on the same track once again, only to have it happen once again! Now you're utterly frustrated and discouraged, and don't want to continue playing the game anymore, but maybe you would, had the tracks been shorter -and this has happened to me once too many. Burnout does retain a great sense of speed, especially because it runs at 60 frames per second. To define the sense of speed even more, Burnout has a little adrenaline gauge that fills up every time you are doing some risky as you drive. If you pass between two vehicles cleanly, the meter will go up heavily, if you closely pass by a car the meter will increase as well, if you drive towards (and passed) oncoming traffic the speed meter will increase dramatically. My pet peeve with Burnout is that you can't explore the game's stages, nor can you just cruise around and not have to worry about the clock. I feel the game is claustrophobic in terms of offering me any deeming extras; hopefully a sequel will improve upon that. Altogether, Burnout is a fun game that can be even more fun when playing with a friend.
Supporting Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital for you audio geeks out there (ok... so I'm one too), Burnout is a pretty good sounding title that'll surely get you excited. Plug it into a good piece of audio technology, set the game audio options to Dolby Digital or Surround and hit gas. The crashes of the game will come alive, the atmosphere will encompass you as cars whoosh passed you, while you're burning fuel at over 120MPH. As far the soundtrack goes, it would've been wiser to implement a talent list and not an original soundtrack done by the developers. An alternative rock soundtrack would've certainly boosted the audio score to around 9.5, but I guess the techno-ish beats will have to serve their purpose for the time being.
Burnout's controls range from slippery to stable, mostly because of the different controls the cars have depending on their class. Some cars can take quite some time to get used to, while others are like gloves and grip the road wonderfully. The analog sticks work great with the game. You can get a good feel for the vehicles using the analog, instead of the touchy digital. When crashing, the Dual Shock does a great job at making you feel the impact because of the rumble's power. Adjusting to the control's layout should take no time, everything is as general as it could possibly get for a racing game, that and the right analog stick is compatible for acceleration and braking. Perhaps the best feature is the use of the GT Force/Driving Force Logitech wheel. The game is fully compatible to work with the wheel, so those of you who purchased it have yet another game to use it on.
In the end, while not groundbreaking by any means, Burnout is a fast arcade racer with pretty visuals, great speed, somewhat frustrating but solid gameplay, superb controls and great Dolby compatible audio. Burnout is a title that could've been more, had it been a bit deeper and not as frustrating at times. There's big potential in the game, and some of it clearly stands out, but the rest is buried underneath. If Criterion decided to spin Burnout into a sequel, they should allow the gamer to free-roam the environments or just have a free ride option so that the gamer could cruise around on the set course, one or the other would do great, but it would be nice to see both. Fans of arcade titles such as Need for Speed and Test Drive should really check out Burnout. It may come off as a very entertaining title for you folk, I'm sure it'll be enjoyed.
12/5/2001 Arnold Katayev