The Console racer is a very hit and miss affair, we love them to death though from the first Need for Speed on the 3DO, to the latest and greatest car games on the PS2 - like Gran Turismo 3 for instance. But there always seems to be something lacking most of the time. They seem to suffer from a lack of spark, GT3 was great for realism and Sim mode (Not to mention the GFX and Sound) but it didn't really offer the kind of Adrenaline boosted supercharged high octane thrill ride that we were looking for.
So I was dubious to say the least when I got sent a copy of Burnout to review, ho-hum I thought, here we go again...another boring racing game with little or no originality. Slow as a snail in reverse and clunky to control. I couldn't have been more wrong however...Burnout is actually very addictive.
Acclaim certainly had their heads screwed on right when they picked up Criterion Games new racer, for it does indeed deliver the kind of white-knuckle action that we've been looking for. Even PSM2 magazine loved it and I have to agree with them, since I did like GT3 but always felt it was a little too hyped for my tastes it was nice to sit down, plug in a controller and zoom off down some pretty sick and twisted tracks in some fast and well designed speed machines.
Burnout's not about the simulation of racing, it's about the thrill of blazing down a city location in a turbo charged car, weaving in and out of the traffic and laughing as the other drivers attempt to skew their cars out of your way. That's the kind of thing that gets the blood pumping according to most filmmakers. So Criterion (gods bless them) have given you just what you always wanted - the Adrenaline meter which builds up the more you drive like a hyped up Steve McQueen in 'Bullet'. Go into the oncoming lane and get near misses with other cars and it soon builds up until the word 'Boost' appears. What? Boost? Hold on the framerate's already kicking arse as the car zooms along, if I press the Boost I find that my world accelerates into a motion blur and the sound of my heart racing pumps from the speakers, pedal to the metal, the framerate stays perfect, it doesn't slow down and the traffic is thick, near misses happen all around me and I'm in the clear.
It's one of the First 'Car Racing' games I've actually played where the feeling of speed is actually well modelled, you do feel as though you're blazing around at 150-180mph with the squeal of tyres marking your every motion as you struggle to keep a steady lead from the game's very aggressive AI drivers or your best mate. Burnout's helped greatly by a very smooth graphic's engine and some very simple (yet diabolically evilly designed) tracks that take place in one huge city. The various game levels or tracks are made up of routes that are indicated by glowing arrows and signs throughout the race.
All of the tracks are packed with civilian traffic that obeys the laws of the road, crashing into each other and you if you're not careful. And also providing some pretty hair raising moments as the leader of the race slams into a bus in front of you and you have a few moments to avoid the crash before you become part of it as well. They move out of the way most of the time but they will occasionally do something monumentally stupid (like in real life) and slam into one another - it all adds to the fun and frenetic game play.
Not only are you pitted against other AI drivers but the clock plays an important role in the game as well, slowly ticking down through the race and crashes, until it hits 0. You can add more time by hammering to the next checkpoint and gaining boost to speed your car up. Again this provides the perfect blend of arcade 'seat of the pants' racing as you try to adapt your driving style to squeeze every inch of speed and performance out of your chosen machine.
The game control of Burnout is exceptionally simple and has enough of an intuitive feel that you'll soon learn the strengths and weaknesses of each of the cars. You'll soon be zipping through tight gaps and hand brake turning around corners like a professional. It's could be described (control wise) as a cross between an Arcade feel and Realistic handling - striking a happy medium between both.
Higher performance cars are unlockable as you progress through the game's race mode, you'll unlock face off challenges. Beat these and the various new machines will become available for you to play with in all game modes. There are a few secret modes which can be unlocked adding to the game's replay value and one of the vehicles has something in common with Keanu Reeves but I'll leave you to work out which one when you get the game.
Burnout's graphics are suitably slick with some nice special effects and some gorgeous models on both the racers and the civilian cars/trucks/buses. The tracks themselves are beautifully rendered and designed with some nice features and atmospheric lighting. They have blind turns and devious crossroads which will take all your skill as a driver to master. As I pointed out previously the tracks are also part of the same city, some are backwards and some are different routes through the city - overall however there's enough variety in them to give you a feeling of accomplishment when you finish the race and move on.
Burnout's sound is also very nice, the roar of the engines, the screech of the tyres and the crash of metal and splintering glass as you ram your front end into another car or vehicle after a turn goes wrong, are all wonderfully brought to life in crisp clear sonic excellence. The music's a little samey but overall it doesn't detract from the game. I would have preferred a lot more upbeat rock-style or industrial to compliment the feeling of speed in the game.
Finally Burnout also features some pretty spectacular crashes and bumps as you lose control of your car. The in game camera takes over and shows you in third person as you slam into the obstacle or the other vehicle. Glass flies out of shattered windows and the metal crumples nicely. You often look afterwards - using the game's replay save feature that allows you to view all the crashes and save off the best looking ones, saying...that must have hurt and watching your mates either laugh or wince as you show them scenes of vehicular carnage.
It features a few multiplayer modes and thankfully there's no loss of quality on these game modes where you and a friend can go head to head vs the AI or each other. Just one word of warning, watch the AI in this game they can play dirty and often love nothing more than to lead you into a nasty head on. So really that's all I have to say on it, grab Burnout if you're looking for a good solid racer that will keep you coming back for more speed and thrills.