Reviewed: August 23, 2002
Reviewed by: Josh Lamb
Released: April 30, 2002
Burnout uses the term "racing" as a guise for what it really is. It's about swerving into the oncoming lane leaving nothing but wrecked cars and tread marks in your rearview mirror. It's really nice like that.
Ok, so you actually do race in the game. Four cars, timed races with checkpoints that add to your time limit, and traffic that's more congested than your great-aunt's blackened lung. Even if you're dead set on not crashing, you will.
You can try not to, but you just can't stop the inevitable. Fly down the highway, swerve in and out of the lanes of slow traffic, implant yourself in the opposite lane for a few seconds, and you're still unscathed. Eventually you top out at around a hundred and thirty miles per hour, and you get into more than a fender bender with a semi-truck right before you overtake the number one position and nail your final checkpoint on your final lap and you lose.
Burnout has an old school arcade-racer feel to it. A pretty decent nostalgia trip for an hour or two, but it gets a little monotonous watching Matrix-camera-effect crashes over and over and over again. Just to show you the game is really about the wrecks, the developers tossed in the option to watch replays of your crashes after your race is over - sorted in order of “this-wreck-cost-the-most-to-fix” lists. It's really nice for a short while - really, really nice.
There are several different modes of play in this game: you got your championship mode you play to unlock new cars, tracks, and special prizes. Single races, good for practice and quick fixes. Head to head: the truly fun part of this game - roll up to the finish line right beside your buddy, slam into him to send him flying into the oncoming traffic, and take first place. Good times.
Next you got your time attack game. Race against the clock, beat your own best times; standard fare. You can unlock two special modes of play in Championship mode. Face off, where in you race a hidden vehicle - beat it and you unlock the hidden vehicle for any mode of play. Nice. Second, you got Survival mode: this one tells you not to crash. One huge wreck and it's all over, but still sort of fun in a morbid Home Shopping Network kind of way. Maybe it's the high quality gemstones at unbelievable prices.
Here's where the game severely lacks: options. What can we do? We can change the vibration and steering force feedback. What can we do with audio options? Change the volume - just the volume. This means you still have to hear "Checkpoint!!!" over your engine. Display options: change screen size, two camera angles, and you can alter the display/position text. Woo-hoo!.
Aside from the horrible options, Burnout is a pretty solid game. You don't have much freedom over where you drive, though. Huge green arrow barriers prevent you from taking alternate routes, you can't drive in the opposite direction, and the arcade-style indestructible freeway barriers are present.
Menus are quick and easy, proving once again this game is about quick, cheap thrills. Speed through the selections of your car and which transmission you prefer. Pick a track, and you're off. Now, the lack of an in-game save option just almost made me cry. You have to finish three races, with three chances to replay any failed races. This means Burnout can demand up to a straight hour of your time. Unfortunately, that's usually all the time you want to spend with this title. Now, an in-between race save feature would undermine the arcade aspects a little, but it would make things so much less stressful that I might have enjoyed it more than the crashes.
Now, the crashes are, in fact, just like the box says, "the most realistic crashes you have seen in a vehicular racing game". The only problem with crashes is that they're a little inconsistent at times. Sometimes what should have been a mild scrape is a four-car pile up, and vice versa. You leave every accident scene with an unscathed car, however.
Camera angles and speed can only be switched in crash replays, not the in-race recaps. This was a little depressing for me, because sometimes the game captures your wreck from an awkward angle that just doesn't depict the true horror of the crash.
Traffic can be a bit repetitive as well, with the same models of cars around you all the time, and never changing. They're spread out a little, but when you see nine of the same eighteen-wheelers during a race you begin to wonder if your speedometer is actually working.
Distant objects look a little grainy and indistinct, but there is a complete absence of pop-up. And we all know that pop-up is an absolute sin in a racing game. We covered it last semester. There just aren't a lot of sharp, crystal clear details like on Gran Turismo 3. This becomes a chronic, terrible problem in the multiplayer area of the game because of the split, smaller screen. Think back to Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast.
A really neat aspect of the graphics department is still in the realism: driving the small, frail Minicar is a completely different experience than the muscle car, which is seemingly styled after the driving mechanics of a Viper. Unlock something like the semi truck and you can just plow through traffic mowing cars down like dandelions with, well, with a mower. It's really that much fun.
Still with the realism, distance is pretty awesome. In a coupe car, you can't see too far off in the horizon. Climb up in the cab of, oh say, an eighteen-wheeler, and you can see things really far off, like Spain.
Audio is deliciously crisp, complete with the sickening thuds of head-on crumpling polymer and the shattering of windows. Radiators spew steam in a tasty-to-the-ears bleed off noise, and tires screech across the pavement during a high-speed drift.
Music, though, is a whole other world. Cartoony, Cruisin' USA type background music just add a little irritation, but it's bearable for the most part. I just turned the volume down and played my own music, experimenting with mixing twisted steel with the music a situation like itself should have. I really wish Burnout had taken the Wipeout Fusion path and licensed some tracks. The poor soundtrack choice, however, is completely overshadowed by the aforementioned crash sound effects. Metal on pavement never sounded so good.
This game can get a little boring after an hour or so of gameplay. No matter how awesome the crashes are, after you see about twenty five of them, you're ready for something a little more varied. Multiplayer is a fun retreat from the single player monotony, but once again, you can't push back the inevitable forever - you'll be done with it in about ten hours of play, spread over a few days.
I suggest it as a rental for something different. You have got to see the crashes and play around with the replays; you just won't want to pay more than five dollars for it.
Burnout is a cool game in small doses - fun to play for a while, just not fun enough to add to your permanent library. If you're the hardcore racing game fan who wants to recreate the arcade experiences from way back when, go for it. If you're just in it for the eye candy and to drool over the insanely tasty crashes, just rent it for two days. Save your cash for Wipeout Fusion or something more fulfilling.