Reviewed: November 18, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: October 2, 2002
When Acclaim released Burnout 2: Point of Impact not more than six months after the original Burnout several warning bells went off. Normally, sequels are spaced at least a year apart, and when one comes out this close to the original’s release I suspect the designers are trying to fix shortcomings or patch up things they didn’t have time to fix in the first game.
The original Burnout released back in April for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and the Xbox and each version played to the strengths of its respective system, but shared a common weakness; overall content. The game was fun but it was also over just when you were starting to have fun.
Criterion Studios listened to the cries of the gaming community and addressed each and every issue people had with the original game. These changes, improvements, and refinements now make their way to your PS2 in one of the finest, most polished racing titles of the year, and easily the best example of how to do a sequel right.
When my review copy of Burnout 2 arrived I was just finishing up a five-day marathon session of EA’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 on the Xbox. This latest NFS game featured some of the most comprehensive content I’ve ever seen in a racing title with two massive racing ladders. When I stuck Burnout 2 into my PS2 I admittedly had flashbacks of the first game and figured this game would be a one or two day experience at best. Not so.
The first thing Criterion did was address people’s concerns with the shortness and lack of overall content of the first game. You now get to race in six spectacular environments based on actual locations such as New Mexico, LA, Palm Beach, the Rocky Mountains and more. There are 32 stages including new challenge modes, pursuit modes, and a new crashing game that emphasizes what the Burnout games have always been about – crashes!
The car selection has been increased to more than 20 cars that can now be customized (color only) and feature great classic rides like the Hot Rod, Police Car, and even a NASCAR stockcar fully decked out with paint and decals. Despite the diverse selection of cars you can choose from, they all pretty much handle and perform the same. I was especially disappointed that the specialty cars such as the NASCAR racer, which have performance bars doubling those of other cars, are not even competitive in the regular races. Perhaps this was intentional to keep things “fair”.
Criterion didn’t bother with the hassles of licensing actual cars but you will have no trouble recognizing many of your favorite cars and trucks. Many cars have to be unlocked by competing in various Face Off challenges – one on one races against the bonus car to be unlocked, and you can even earn a high-performance student driver vehicle by completing the Drivers’ Ed section aptly titled “Offensive Driving 101”.
As with the first game, Point of Impact is all about winning races through fast and reckless driving. This ultimately leads to amazing spectacles of multi-car collisions that will have you viewing the replays longer than the races. Just about every aspect of Burnout 2 has been improved upon from the original game. Here is the laundry list of new and improved features:
For those of you who played the original, not much as changed in the basic premise of the game. You are still racing against three other opponents on some amazing tracks populated with intelligent and often overwhelming traffic. There have been a few subtle additions made to the basics and these are covered in the tutorial that is not only educational, but rewards you with a speedy little car once you have completed it.
Covered in the tutorial are lessons on all the ways to earn and use your boost. Boost is critical to winning races because no matter how fast a car you choose, the computer AI is always going to be faster. While this may cause many of you to cry, “foul”, rest assured that it only encourages you to drive more cautiously and skillfully. Riding the turbo might get you into the lead but smacking the back of a semi-truck at 140mph will send you to the back of the pack just as fast.
The tutorial will be a good refresher course for veterans of the original, but hidden within the lessons are a few new tricks like the ability to jump your car and get boost power for doing so. You also have your old favorites like drifting, driving in the oncoming lane, and passing other cars at dangerously close distances. By the time you have completed the six lessons you will be ready for the challenges that await in the main game.
The core of the game is the Championship mode that lets you progress through a series of races. As you win races you will unlock additional cars, tracks, and racing challenges. This ladder is presented in a linear fashion allowing you access to only a few new modes at a time. For instance, you start off with a simple three-race challenge that unlocks a face-off and pursuit mode when you take first place in all the original races.
This leads to my one major complaint with Burnout 2. You earn points for each race in a series so it is possible to win the overall series even if you lost a race or two, but in order to unlock new modes further down the ladder you are required to earn gold cups (first place finishes) on all races within a series. The first Burnout gave you “credits” that you could spend to retry races and try to do better. Burnout 2 offers no such option, and when the series becomes five races long and you happen to finish in 2nd on the final race you will cringe when you realize you must replay the entire series again if you want to unlock those other modes, or do you?
I’ll let you in on a little trick I discovered after playing Series #3 (which is five races long) after losing the fifth race for my third time. The game auto-saves after each race keeping an ongoing record of your successes. If it ever appears that you are not going to win one of the races in a series simply reset your PS2 before the race is over and you will magically be taken back to the beginning of that race when you reload. While I hate “cheating” the game this way, replaying a single race is much less frustrating that replaying an entire series, which can often take 30-50 minutes of your time.
Burnout 2 features a new Pursuit mode that is challenging and fun, although there really wasn’t enough of it. These missions put you in a cop car and send you after a speeder. You have to smash into these cars about 10 times within a predetermined distance that slowly counts down as you speed after your quarry. It’s a nice diversion from the more traditional racing modes, but if you really want a fleshed out pursuit game then Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 offers a more fulfilling experience.
The biggest, baddest, and most addicting new mode in Burnout 2 has to be the Crash game, which will keep you glued to your screen longer than the Championship mode. I didn’t even stumble onto this mode until my third day of play. Sure, it’s listed right there in the main menu along with Time Attack, but I figured it was just one of those mini-game modes that were stuck in to pad the content. Once I started playing Crash I was hopelessly addicted, logging seven straight hours on my first session. Fortunately, one of my other reviewers was on hand to pass the controller to when the blisters started to form.
Crash mode is amazing in its simplicity. You pick a car and are put into a small section of one of the courses. You then race at breakneck speeds into an intersection, crash into a freeway traffic jam, or one of many other scenarios – your goal – to do as much damage as possible. The more dollars you rack up the better you do and each of the cups have set dollar amounts attached to them. While earning a bronze or silver cup is often attainable on your first attempt, earning that gold cup can literally take your hours per scenario.
The best thing about the Crash mode is that each crash attempt only takes a minute or less. This makes it a great party game where you can hand-off the controller to a room of friends (or reviewers) and cheer each other’s attempt at total carnage. The crashes themselves are quite spectacular and do not end with your initial impact. Chaos ensues as car after car will add itself to the mayhem creating a chain of events that is worthy of those spectacular crashes in CHiP’s. And while much of your score is based on random events, there is a bit of strategy involved when you learn that busses and trucks are worth more than cars, and that your initial car/truck selection plays a major part in the overall potential destruction.
PS2 gamers will be treated to some of the fastest load time in gaming history. You will be lucky if you see the load bar scroll by more than twice (less than 10sec) each time you load or restart a race. In fact, the only deficiency in the entire reloading scheme is just how hard it is to restart a failed series. You have to retire the current race then wait through about 3-4 screens of stats before you can return to the main menu and force a restart of the series.
The traffic AI has been increased and now features complex intelligent behavior and advanced humanistic spatial awareness. Translation: Cars are aware of your present and react accordingly. This becomes crucial in the Crash mode, as vehicles further from the “point of impact” will have time to break and/or avoid the pile-up reducing your score.
Up until now I’ve been praising Point of Impact, so let’s talk about what’s missing or still lacking. As previously mentioned, the Pursuit mode is a fun diversion but there simply weren’t enough of those police chases. The new ability to catch air and earn boost is nearly wasted on track designs that simply don’t offer you the opportunity to actually jump your car. There just seem to be a lot of missed opportunities for greatness.
The previous Burnout featured some average graphics that suffered from the PS2’s infamous shimmering and jaggy side effects. Graphics were also a bit fuzzy and low-res. Burnout 2 ups the ante with significant increases in polygon count and texture sizes as well as incredible specular lighting effects and reflections. Bump-mapped textures make the grain of the pavement literally pop off the screen, and filters have been put in place to remove virtually all of the shimmering and jaggies of the original.
There are all sorts of eye-popping special effects like specular bloom effects for realistic day and night lighting for sunlight, headlights, and streetlamps that cast lens flares and halos. Particle effects send showers of sparks off the cars as they sideswipe a guardrail or another car or truck. There are dynamic weather effects like rain and snow that not only affect your visibility but also your traction. Driving the airport circuit under heavy rainfall creates a reflective road surface that severely hampers your ability to discern the road ahead – just like in real life.
Physics are amazing even if they are a bit exaggerated. The resulting wrecks rival anything you would see in a big budget special effects Hollywood production. Cars tumble and break apart with doors, hoods, and tires flying off and bouncing in all directions. Pieces of wreckage will litter the track and you will find yourself smashing into a fender or detached bumper lying in the middle of the road. Trucks will jackknife and spin out of control and windows in busses will literally blow outward on impact. No two crashes are alike, which gives this game a high replay value and an almost addictive quality as you play and replay trying to best your previous wreck.
After playing Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 I found the car designs in Burnout 2 to be a bit simplistic and flat despite the reflections. They looked more like high-gloss plastic rather than shiny metal, but considering the potential for hundreds of cars populating highly detailed levels, all at an unwavering 60fps, I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of visual realism.
The racing environments are some of the best I have ever seen in a driving game. Cities and landscapes are gorgeous with draw distances that reach to infinity and with nary a pop-up in sight. The city courses are some of my favorite. There is so much going on that you dare not take time to enjoy the train cruising by the overhead tracks or brightly colored neon of the casino, at least until you are viewing the replays.
Camera angles are excellent allowing you to drive from a bumper cam or from a rear chase view. The replay camera is excellent and captures the action from all the best possible views. There are plenty of slow motion and freeze-frame effects during the actual impact that allow you to see individual shards of glass flying through the air. Of course the best camera effect in the game is when you engage the boost and the world around you distorts into a blur and the horizon appears to get sucked right into your windshield.
Bottom line - Criterion has managed to create a visual tour de’ force that rivals anything even the more powerful Xbox would be capable of. When I first learned that Burnout 2 was a PS2-exclusive I was more than a bit disappointed, but after playing it and seeing what can be done with optimized code I realize that the “true power” lies in the programmers and not the hardware.
The music in Burnout 2 is your typical racing guitar-rock, nothing too obvious, yet it blends comfortably into the background and manages to change tempo and increases in volume based on your frequent use of the boost button. This simple musical ploy along with the “whoosh” sound effect as you activate the turbo enhances an already frantic and high-speed racing experience.
Sound effects range from decent (yet remarkably similar) sounding engines to some of the most horrific crash sounds you will ever hear. These crashes are the highlight of the audio experience, which comes as no surprise since crashes are the focus of Burnout 2. The combined sound of crunching metal, shattering glass, flying auto parts, and squealing tires are all mixed and separated into unique channels, and if you are fortunate enough to have a Dolby Surround system you will find yourself right smack in the middle of the carnage.
Those who complained about the shortness of the first Burnout will be pleased to know that Point of Impact offers nearly four times the gameplay of the original. The Championship mode alone took me nearly 12 hours to complete and the Crash mode took over 20 hours to earn gold cups in all the scenarios. The Time Attack mode is pretty much racing against the clock for high scores and bragging rights.
There is plenty to unlock but all these bonuses are integrated into the standard game so gameplay is not artificially extended to find and unlock the cars and bonus modes. Perhaps the best un-lockable feature is the Custom Series Championship, which will ultimately prove to be the most difficult and challenging mode in the game.
Admittedly, people who play Burnout 2 will say this is the game that the original should have been, and while Point of Impact may seem like a deluxe version of that original, there is plenty of new content and game modes to make this game stand on its own merit.
Despite the few (very few) missed opportunities, Burnout 2: Point of Impact is without a doubt one of the finest examples of auto racing you can play on your PS2. The audio-visual presentation combines with a nearly perfect game model that is guaranteed to please everyone and have you cringing, yet secretly smiling with each and every bone-jarring crash.