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Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Criterion
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:
WARNING: This Game May Prove Hazardous To Your Driving!! Much as I find myself hesitating before corners as I walk through a building in real life after playing too much Metal Gear, I've been having this strange sensation on the interstate driving to work recently. Because of too many late-night Burnout sessions, I'm envisioning my little Toyota Tercel rampaging through busy traffic, cutting off big trucks and buses and driving on the wrong side of the road. No, I'm not the next candidate for ''World's Scariest Police Chases,'' I'm just addicted to Burnout.

Burnout has enough visual panache to be effective, but don't expect it to oust Gran Turismo anytime soon. Most geeks would agree that substance over style is where it's at, and that's why they're geeks. If it looks terrible but works great, they'll still use it. And, if it looks great and plays great it must be the best. I couldn't agree more, but where GT provides us with the best in pure racing, we look to titles like Metropolis Street Racing, Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run to provide new twists on typical racing action. And, since there's probably no better technical achievement than GT, others just focus on how to improve aesthetics and tune physics as best they can while retaining some unique element. The 'street racing' genre is marked by almost equal amounts of success and failure, largely due to poor presentation and shoddy controls. Burnout does as good a job as any game of its kind on PlayStation 2 in getting across the excitement and appeal of racing fast cars through busy traffic in dense urban settings. Starting up a race, you'll find decent car choices, some interesting looking track layouts, and a fairly standard interface. But, once the race begins, you're fast on your way to seeing a new twist to the street racing genre. Most games of this type have incorporated more and more realistic damage, but Burnout will go down as a benchmark for the most stylized and 'cool' crash sequences yet in gaming.

Smashing into a car not only brings up a replay that shows several angles of the crash in slow motion, but you also get to see the dollar figure for what it will take to fix your ride. There are as many ways to crash as you can possibly imagine, and I liked the way that some crashes are more lively than others. Many times, if you hit something at just the right angle and speed, you simply flop up and come down hard. It's disconcerting how real this looks, far and away from the rolls or floaty 360's other games use to animate crashes. I don't think I ever crashed once without wincing and saying, 'Ouch!' The crunch of broken glass and bending metal is also very realistic. The music is a mixed bag, sometimes very nice and in the background and other times too present and distracting. But, taking the entire presentation style of Burnout into consideration, it makes for one engrossing and beautiful racing game. The levels are done very well, modeled on real-life locations in Europe and the U.S.

I have to say, the idea for giving points to people based on reckless driving has been done already and with more depth in Metropolis Street Racing [MSR], and I see now that one could call MSR a combination of Gran Turismo and Burnout. But, since MSR is unlikely to show up on PS2 anytime soon, you can get your fill of controlled reckless driving here. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the trick to winning races in Burnout is to drive like a bat out of hell and still maintain enough focus to avoid those cool crashes. It's almost strange that they make the crashing look so cool and then penalize you so stiffly for it. The first hour you play will be composed of 'Watch me crash into this guy!!' But, once the novelty wears off, you'll see that crashes hurt your progress. You race on a checkpoint system, and crashes take valuable time off the clock. Miss a checkpoint and you have to start all over again. So, you try to do crazy stuff but drive short of crashing. Crazy things are near misses, driving on the wrong side of the road and powersliding. As you do stunts like this mid-race, you'll see a little meter building up in the lower left side of the screen. When this meter is full and glowing red, pushing the R1 shoulder button causes a 'burn' that sends your car into serious turbo mode. This is a cool effect, and although you start going much faster, the music dims down and even skips sometimes with blurring in your field of vision to simulate the intense speed. It's not easy to earn the burn, but nothing could be cooler than rocketing through a tunnel or into dense traffic. Of course, running on turbo for any extended time raises the odds of a scary crash. But, even if you crash at low speed, you lose your accumulated burn points and have to earn them back. So, when in doubt, punch it!

The modes available at first are fairly limited, and opening up further levels is not easy. So, even though 14 levels can be raced eventually, only 3 are open to begin with. Racing Championship rounds opens up new courses, and successfully completing these also opens up some Face Off challenges where new cars can be earned. This game really isn't about the number of cars, and while 14 tracks may sound a little slim, they are big, well designed tracks that have hundreds of cars moving through them. The feeling of being on a busy road has never been conveyed as well before. Single Race or Time Attack lets you jump right in and race on available tracks. Head To Head is the 2-Player mode, unusual only in that it has the option to race with 'Survival' rules on or off. This Survival Mode is something unlocked as you progress, and it means that damage doesn't just slow you down, it takes you out. The 1-Player Survival Mode is just you and traffic, and when you blow it you're done. In Head To Head, Survival rules can be used to make the competition very stiff indeed. In any mode, racers aren't subject to the crash rules between one another, so it's perfectly fine to push a car into oncoming traffic. In fact, that's one of the best ways to win!

One of the interesting pieces of Burnout is how car selection relates to difficulty. Within the default models - a small economy that I like to think of as my Tercel, a Mustang clone, a small truck, a sedan and a Viper clone - each car is rated for difficulty. The truck is very fast but not too maneuverable while the Tercel has great acceleration and corners on rails but doesn't get much for top speed. Not to say you can't win races in the 'easy' cars, but at some point you'll find yourself in permanent 2nd place unless you just happen to get lucky. In the beginning, 3rd place is good enough to move ahead, but the AI is relentless. Since there is so much traffic on the road, drafting the leader is never a good idea. For all you know, he could be coming up fast on a big truck, swerve at the last minute and cause you to crash. The crashing really ups the ante, and changes some of the rules we've followed in other racing games. So, even though you may be hell on wheels in GT, expect some uptime before you can really compete here. It's rough and dirty racing for sure, but I love it.

Game Mechanics:
Extensive details are included for setting up Logitech's GT Force Steering-Wheel Controller, but for those on a low budget, the old Dualshock works just fine. The force feedback capability would add a lot to the game, but even the vibration used to represent driving over different surfaces makes playing the standard controller fun. Crashes do involve vibration, but you don't get a chance to experience them interactively since the game takes over in a crash situation. Once the replays are complete and you see the full damage, Burnout puts you right back on the road, wheels rolling. So, unlike other games that ask you to recover from a crash, sometimes backing up and maneuvering in tight places, Burnout doesn't even include a reverse gear in its cars. Maybe you like this, maybe you don't, but it's most definitely the more 'arcade' way to do things. The engine for Burnout feels solid but not exceptional. Cars control smoothly and are anything but floaty, but feeling the difference between each car is sometimes difficult. Really, the idea is that subtle things stay the same but major elements like top speed, acceleration and handling change. This isn't represented by colored bars or graphs or anything, but you get the feel for each car on the track after some practice. When I say the subtle things are the same, I mean how difficult it is to break into a powerslide, the feeling of 'weight' a car has, and the balance in handling at certain speeds. These just aren't things anyone would care much about for an arcade racing experience. The competition is fierce, the tracks are cool, the crashes look phenomenal and what else could you want?

Camera views and sound options can be changed from the main screen, and force feedback for the GT Wheel or vibration for the Dualshock can be turned on or off. The really fun piece of what amounts to non-race special options is Crash Replay. At the end of a race, you have the option to view crashes from the race, sorted by amount of damage, and save crashes to a memory card. During a replay, simple controls let you speed up or slow down the action, and even play the crash in reverse and freeze at any point. Camera angles can be adjusted, but there's not a saved sequence replay, such as we had in Driver. When saved after a level, you can go back from the main screen and access crashes in a Crash Replay Theater option. A nice feature.

Sure, this can't really compete alongside GT or more 'serious' sim-style racers, but it's not even attempting to. At least we've got solid controls and believable (if a bit nasty) AI competition on great looking tracks, which is more than most racers of any genre can say. If you like to sit around and draw comparison power graphs for each of the settings on your F1 racer and compare the density of the material in your spoiler before starting the race, don't go near Burnout. But, if like me, you find yourself wishing you could bypass those early morning traffic jams on the shoulder, somebody's lawn or even the opposite side of the interstate, prepare to fall in love. You'll live vicariously through this little game on many an occasion, wondering what it would be like to own a Viper and really not give a damn if you wrecked it on a city bus!

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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