Compared: August 26, 2002
Burnout brings the high-speed racing action of the arcades into your home with a simultaneous release on all three next-gen systems. Normally when a game releases on the same day you can expect a title that has been designed around the lowest common denominator, but Criterion has managed to tweak this game extensively for each system creating one of the first multi-format titles that offers some very clear deciding factors.
Burnout combines intense racing through traffic-filled highways, cities streets, and countryside roads with some of the most intense crashes seen since those scary Driver's Ed movies you saw back in high school.
Round 1: Control
Control is nearly identical across all three systems and that is good because control is amazing in Burnout. Steering is tight and responsive and there aren't a lot of buttons to learn; just the gas, break and turbo. There is excellent use of each system's vibration function to communicate the feel of high speed racing from the onscreen highway to your fingers.
This round is a draw across all three systems, which is good for everyone since control is as close to perfection as you are likely to get.
Round 2: Visuals
Your choice becomes more clear when we analyze the graphics of Burnout. The PS2 version features plenty of that annoying shimmering effect and some distracting and annoying jaggies. There is some moderate pop-up for objects on the horizon and objects become grainy and a bit indistinct the further away they are. These problems magnify when you split the screen for two-player racing. The PS2 comes in last in graphics.
The GameCube version offers plenty of visual enhancements including some improved lighting, anti-aliasing to remove those jaggies, and tri-linear filtering to remove the shimmering. What you get is a very stable, crisp image that maintains a silky smooth framerate allowing you to enjoy the visually enhanced deformable cars that twist and crumple during the frequent wrecks. There is also a Progressive Scan Mode for high-res output to a digital TV. The GameCube version is a remarkable step up from the PS2 and comes in second place.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better the Xbox version takes all the improvements of the GameCube and adds realistic bump mapped textures and "phong" specular lighting, courtesy of the powerful nVidia chip in the Xbox. Per pixel lighting effects means that light is reflected off the pavement creating a realistic glare as the sun bounces off the pavement. Volumetric shadows create shadows that are cast by other cars and track-side objects. All of these effects are then rendered in the 640x480 hi-res mode of the Xbox for one stunning racing game.
The Xbox version clearly leaves the PS2 game in the dust and manages to surpass the GameCube only through sheer brute force of the powerful and feature-rich nVidia graphics chip.
Round 3: Music & Sound
All three games feature excellent and quite shocking sound effects when it comes to the horrific crashes that will frequently interrupt your dash to the finish line. The game does lack a bit in the music department with some forgettable tunes that slip into the background and are generally overwhelmed by the sheer explosive nature of the engine noises and crash effects.
The Xbox does manage to rise above the other two formats only for the simple reason that is supports a true Dolby 5.1 mix. This means you get great spatial effects that use the often-overlooked center speaker and the crashes really hit home with some great low-frequency effects that will rumble your sub-woofer. If you have a 5.1 surround system you are in for a real audio treat.
Round 4: Other Deciding Factors
It's not like the Xbox needs any more features to make it the clear choice, but just in case you are still skeptical the designers have utilized the Xbox hard drive to cache the various tracks making the Xbox version of Burnout the fastest loading of all formats. You'll be zipping through the menus, loading and reloading races almost as fast as you will be driving. Score another round for the Xbox.
With all of the visual features and incredible digital surround effects, the Xbox is the clear winner in this three-system contest. The GameCube comes in a close second with as many video enhancements as the system can deliver while the PS2 version brings up a distant third, falling victim to the limitations of its hardware.
Burnout is a fantastic game no matter which system you play it on, but if you have multiple consoles then your choice is hopefully made clearer after reading this.