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Burnout

Developer: Criterion Games | Publisher: Acclaim
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 04/29/02 | Genre: Driving

Ah... the hustle and bustle of everyday traffic that keeps today's economy going: people on their way to work, trucks full of products to ship, and carpool vans full of kids going to school. Bored riders stare out of their bus windows as A CRAZY MANIAC drives head on towards them, demolishing the minivans of soccer moms and running red lights!

This is Burnout. Thankfully, this is no simulation racer like GT, or it would be just as boring. This game is not about how nice the skid marks look, or how many licensed cars you can pack onto a disc. This game has a perfect blend of arcade-type gameplay and realism. The basic concept of this game is to race normal types of cars in everyday traffic. Another main concept of the game is giving players incentives to be as dangerous as possible. This game will show you why you should follow driving laws in real life! The crashes are so spectacular and pretty realistic, that even crashing is fun.

As usual, let's start out with the aesthetics before we jump into the meat of the game. Burnout is a port from the PS2 version to both the GameCube and Xbox. All three versions have the same amount of tracks, cars, secrets, and other features. The GameCube and Xbox versions, however, have been graphically improved. First of all, the sky textures have been completely replaced and they look a lot better than the PS2 ones. The texture quality of the rest of the objects has been improved over the PS2 version as well. The difference is easily noticeable, and the Xbox version sports slightly sharper textures than the GameCube version. The polygon counts aren't anything amazing for the Xbox or GameCube, but the whole package looks nice. There are decent particle effects and skid marks. When cars crash, bits of glass and other debris fly everywhere, and it looks very good. The cars also feature real-time shadows and reflection mapping. The cars only reflect the background though. They do not reflect other cars or certain objects. Burnout is a very nice looking game. I would have loved to see what they could have done with the power of the Xbox or GameCube if it wasn't a PS2 port.

One thing I must thank Criterion for is the anamorphic widescreen. Combined with progressive scan on an HDTV, it looks stunning. It's a real treat to be able to play this game on a large, widescreen TV in progressive scan. The GameCube version also offers 4.1 Dolby Surround Sound. It's very satisfying to be able to hear the crunch of a rival car crashing into something behind you. The sound effects are pretty convincing. There's a good mix of engine noises, screeches, crunching metal, shattering glass and more to bring the races to life. The sights and sounds together may actually make you cringe when you pile into a semi-truck head on; it's a beautiful thing. The original music is nothing to complain about either. Some tracks are better than others, but they all create a nice mood for the race, and they don't become annoying.

As I said before, Burnout is an arcade racer. It is also a very fun racer and probably the best one available for GameCube right now. Although, that isn't really saying much, so let me try to convince you. Each race is three laps. Like most arcade racers, you must make it to check points in a limited amount of time, or you will automatically lose. Each time you pass a check point, you are awarded more time to reach the next check point until you have completed three laps.

There are initially five vehicles to choose from, and an additional four must be unlocked. The vehicles are meant to look like certain real-life vehicles without actually using the real manufacturers' names, somewhat like the Rush series. The vehicles fall into four classes: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Special. The Easy cars stick to the road better. They don't skid too easily, but they also don't go as fast. The Hard cars accelerate faster and have higher top speeds, but they are harder to control and they go into a drift more easily. The cars within each class behave differently as well. They all have different attributes. Once you're good, how well a car can drift will become important. Drifting is when the car goes into a controlled skid. Drifting is used to turn corners without losing much speed. Two secret vehicles fall into the Special class: the Tow Truck, and the Bus. As you can imagine, they are large, accelerate slowly, and turn like elephants.

Another element that makes this game an arcade racer and not a simulation is the boost meter, and it definitely makes this game fun. It's part of what makes this game unique too. Your boost meter will increase when every you perform a drift, drive through oncoming traffic, or do a "near miss." A "near miss" is when you drive as close as possible to another car without touching, and you have to get very close with not even the slightest scrape. Once your boost meter is full, you can use it to zoom away. The AI racers can earn a full boost meter too.

Driving through everyday traffic is the fun part. You must avoid people turning on and off of roads, be careful at intersections, and you must avoid other car crashes. You will have to do dangerous things like driving through oncoming traffic to earn a boost. If you use your boost while driving in oncoming traffic, then your boost meter is automatically refilled. Let me assure you though, driving 150 mph at oncoming traffic is very nerve-racking. There are also scripted events that take place. As you pull around the corner, you may notice that there is a red light at the upcoming intersection. As you near the intersection, a small fleet of semi-trucks crosses your path. Things like this really keep you on your toes.

As I stated, this game has the right blend of realism and arcade elements. The realism comes from the physics. You may remember that in other arcade racing games such as the Rush series, your car can easily fly through the air, and other games allow your car to take a huge beating. Well in Burnout, the cars really feel like the hulking piles of metal that they are. It takes a lot to send one of the cars even a few inches into the air, and it feels right. Also, the crashes are fairly realistic. Your car won't survive anything that it wouldn't in real life. So, you really have to watch out. When you crash, you see a short replay and then you are respawned a little ahead of where you crashed. You will have lost time and speed. The crash physics are awesome. Cars crumple and glass shatters in a way you would expect them to.

There can only be up to four racers at a time. That means in single player, you can only have three AI rivals. Now that is less than most racing games, but it's okay because this is some of the best AI I've ever seen. The reason it's so great is because it's very human. Many racing games seem to have the "drone" problem where all of the AI racers seem to behave like "drones." They all behave the same way. In other games, you often see cars following the same path around every lap and even forming lines of cars. Another thing people complain about is that in most games, AI racers are unrealistically good and they are cheap. Well, that's not how it is in Burnout. They can't make turns that you can't make, and they are not perfect. They crash quite often and they do not seem to follow a set path. Although driving on the right side of the road is the safest thing to do, they will often drive into oncoming traffic. The AI racers have their own boost meter that they can fill and use, so they have incentives to drive dangerously just like you. Also, there are tons of what I call "normal" AI drivers. These are the cars of the normal traffic. Each one of these has their own simpler AI. For instance, if they see you coming head on, or if you try to do a "near miss" to one of them, they will try to swerve out of the way. Criterion did an excellent job with the AI, and it comes off as very human.

The main game mode is Championship, in which a single player races on a series of courses and tries to get first place. By completing championships, you can earn new tracks and special modes. There are four championships that consist of three races each, and two additional championships that consist of a single marathon race. A marathon race is a large course built out of pieces of several other courses. The track designs are good. They are modeled after European or American locations. There are no replications of real-world cities, but it's about the style. The European tracks feature small roads and turn-abouts. American tacks have lots of wide roads and highway systems. The track variation is somewhat disappointing. There are 16 tracks total, but there are only 5 unique tracks each with two or three variations. The variation is going backwards on a previous track and/or maybe having one small new part. Then there are also two unique marathon tracks, each with an additional variation. A marathon track is basically one very long course built out of several other courses. Again, the variation is just going backwards on that track. Well, there is another difference in the variations. Though the courses may be the same, the different variations have differing amounts of traffic to contend with.

You can also do a single race or time trial to get practice on any unlocked track. The Head-to-Head is a blast. Now that you're racing against a friend, you are under more pressure to decide: should you drive in the opposite lane to get a boost and win the race, or should you play it safe and hope that you can beat him anyways? Crashing can cost you a lot of time. Other modes must be unlocked by completing championships. There are four Face Offs to be unlocked. Each Face Off is a race against a single secret vehicle. If you win the race, you've unlocked that vehicle. Then there is the Survival mode. In Survival, if you crash once, the race is over. Finally, there's Free Run. Free Run is just like a normal race, only there is no traffic to deal with.

The control for Burnout is tight. It works very well. There are only two control schemes though. The braking and accelerating is analog, but that's actually hard to notice. It would have been nicer if it were more pronounced. However, Burnout is easy to control, and not frustrating at all. There are only two camera views that can be used however. One is behind the vehicle, and the other places the camera near the front bumper of the vehicle. There is no zooming capability to adjust the camera just how you like it.

The crashes are spectacular. This game has the coolest car crashes I've ever seen. You can save crash replays to a memory card, but it costs a hefty 15 blocks of memory. After each single player race, it shows up to nine of your crashes. You can then choose which ones to save. When viewing the crashes, you can rotate the camera and play the crash at different speeds, even in reverse! The replay camera did have some problems though. It would not always go where you wanted it to go and it had some clipping problems. More options with the crash replays would have been nice.

I ran into several programming glitches when playing Burnout. I've had the game freeze about three times. Also, another strange thing has happened several times. After I respawned after a crash, a large, thin, black triangle would appear in the sky. It didn't interfere with the game, but it was very distracting. Lastly, one car in particular, the Saloon GT, did not behave properly. When it touched a wall, it would stick to the wall and completely stop or almost stop. These problems aren't that big of a deal, but they are something that should have been worked on.

All in all, Burnout is a very fun game. The concept and execution is fantastic. It's just that there were several programming glitches and the game could have used more features and options. Criterion should have included more unique tracks, a few more cars, perhaps a four-player mode, and more camera and control options. However, what they did, they did well. The glitches haven't happened very often, and the gameplay is great. Driving through everyday traffic and giving players an incentive to drive dangerously is a fresh idea. The AI is great, and the game is pretty. There is definite value in this game. You could probably unlock everything in the course of one rental, but this game is a blast with a friend. This is also the type of game that's just fun to pick up and play once in a while. Even though I unlocked everything in Burnout the first week and a half that I got it, I still play this game almost every time I play GameCube. Before or after I play another longer GameCube game, I usually do one are two races in Burnout. This game won't get boring quickly. It's certainly fun to do a single race or championship once in a while. The game gives you lots of thrills for your dollar. Criterion is developing Burnout 2 right now, and if they can promise everything this game had with even more tracks, cars, and features, then they've already sold me a copy.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 06/17/02
ESRB Details: Mild Violence
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Screenshots for Burnout

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