Burnout Dominator Review
Burnout is one of the most hectic, blistering, and mind-blowing racing franchises in history, due mostly to the ridiculous sense of speed and diversity of the gameplay. Everything from Crashbreakers to drifting to Takedowns to - of course - Burnouts make these games both engrossing and addictive. The highly anticipated Burnout 5 is on the way for next-gen consoles, but in the meantime, EA UK has worked to deliver one last unique installment for the PS2 and PSP. In taking a look at the PS2 version, we see a game that doesn't quite live up to the greatness of Revenge, but maintains the distinct Burnout sense of style. If there's one thing you can always expect from this series, it's pure adrenaline-based entertainment.
The graphics include a few of those dastardly jaggies so often found in PS2 titles, but at the same time, the developers have included a high glossy sheen to enhance the overall visual presentation. And it works, too. There's a great deal of detail in each and every track, and while the draw distance isn't amazing, it's still acceptable. There's nothing downplayed or muted about these graphics; Burnout Dominator is a vibrant assembly of shiny, metallic cars and densely colored backdrops, which all comes together to give the player a great sense of immersion. The clarity sometimes leaves a little something to be desired, though, and it's often noticeable on certain tracks, and at certain times. Still, the game looks quite good and even great at times, which is always a definite plus.
These racers have always excelled when it comes to the sound category, as each installment has thundered with mega-huge impact crashes and resonated with top-notch soundtracks. The metallic scraping of a shunt is as crisp as ever, and the effects are as good as you'll find in any racing game, anywhere. The soundtrack seems to take a chance at a bit more variety in comparison to Revenge, and that's both good and bad, considering you're more likely to find a few songs you really don't like. But even so, most tracks fit the atmosphere nicely, and when combined with the stellar effects, you get a very complete-sounding racing experience. Yeah, the effects can often drown out the music, but you can alter the sliders if you wish, and it's not really a critical flaw.
If you want an example of a series going back to its roots, you need to play this game. Burnout Dominator, rather than acting as a sequel to Revenge plays a lot more like the original title. Burnouts have returned in all their speedy glory, shunting traffic from behind with no consequence has disappeared, and all in all, there's a heftier emphasis on racing. This may or may not appeal to fans of the franchise, depending on which installments you liked better; the first few or the last few. If you're expecting something like Revenge, you're probably going to be disappointed, because EA does away with that game's free-wheeling persona and settles down into a more stable format. Unfortunately, by doing this, they have also created a Burnout that feels more dated than anything else; more bare-bones than progressive. But again, perhaps that's what you're looking for...
One of the first things you'll probably notice is that this game is a bit more linear than Revenge. You can only tackle one Series (ranging from Classic all the way up through Dominator) at first, and you really have to complete most of the challenges in it to open the next Series. And within each Series, you'll have to move down a line of pre-set challenges, passing each one to unlock the next, and while the process is fairly standard, it grows tiresome. We don't always open up multiple events like we did in the last couple Burnouts, and we can't select from more than one type of challenge until we've played for a while. Of course, once you spend five hours or so, you'll be able to bounce around a bit, but for the most part, you're led down a particular path.
But here's some good news for those gamers who might be somewhat impatient: Dominator features a Race Challenge mode that lets you get behind the wheel of any car, and tackle any event style on any track. All you're doing is setting records and attempting to break your own records, which is a relaxing, freedom-oriented option that greatly complements the regular campaign-style Tour mode. Here, you can practice your Burnouts, drifting, Takedowns, and general race reflexes, all at your own leisure. When you start feeling the pressure of the next wicked challenging event, and you're tired of killing yourself trying to unlock new cars, you can always head over to the Challenges and have some fun. More racing games should have this feature; being able to hop into any car on any track at any time...? Yeah, that's a good thing.
As we mentioned before, this Burnout returns more to its racing roots. Gone are the rear shunting of traffic at no penalty, and instead of Traffic Rage, we get the new Maniac event. Instead of focusing on outrageous crashes, you have to avoid them in Maniac; concentrating on near misses, drifting, and basically, just driving like a nut without getting into a wreck. To emphasize the more race-oriented style, they've also added Burnout, Drift, and Near Miss challenges, all of which are designed to increase your skills as a driver, not as a suicide bomber. And again, this is more of a subjective thing, but we really don't understand why they got rid of the Crash mode, which was a wildly popular feature of the last two installments. While that whole "returning to its roots" thing is fine, we consider the Crash mode just way too much fun to erase.
One other change centers firmly on the Burnouts. It's back, and you'll soon realize you have no choice but to take advantage at every given opportunity. If you build up your Burnout meter until it fills and becomes blue, you can start a Burnout chain that you can continue indefinitely...provided you don't crash or take your finger off the Boost button. That's a whole lot tougher than it sounds, but the later events are impossible to complete without at least one or two successful Burnout chains. In all honesty, we liked the way Boost was done in the last couple games, simply because it wasn't such a huge priority. It also makes certain challenges much too difficult, even though the difficulty in all Burnouts has kinda been a touch erratic. For example, it might be easy as pie to hit that Takedown gold medal number of 8 Takedowns (heck, you might get 15 without much trouble), but that Burning Lap gold medal time might seem nigh-on impossible.
And then there's one last feature: the Signature Takedowns have been replaced with Signature Shortcuts. At certain points on a racetrack, there may be a clear path, but some sort of obstacle blocks the way. You'll want to fling an unsuspecting opponent into that obstacle, thereby permanently releasing the shortcut and giving yourself an advantage on that track. But while the shortcuts aren't too hard to find, timing it just right so you perform a Takedown in exactly that area is super frustrating. Of course, it was almost equally frustrating to perform certain Signature Takedowns, but even so, this is supposed to influence the race as it opens shortcuts. We just wish they had tackled this option in another way, that's all. Perhaps we could only bust through it with a full Boost meter, or something...?
But despite all its flaws, we have to give Burnout Dominator props for being...well, classic Burnout material. It feels a little stripped-down, yes, but at the same time, it maintains every last bit of the appeal and entertainment we've come to expect from this series. The Crash mode is gone, the Signature Shortcuts aren't quite as cool as the concept implies, there's some serious difficulty spiking, and the linearity is more apparent than ever. But that doesn't stop the game from being almost entirely satisfying from top to bottom, as the control is still wonderfully solid, the speed is still off the wall, and you still get that ol' familiar feeling of "domination" upon performing an ultra-sweet Takedown. In the end, it may not be Burnout 5, but it's a fine way for the franchise to go out on the PS2.
3/22/2007 Ben Dutka