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The first Burnout game I played was Revenge on 360 and I was immediately impressed. The speed, the action, the crashes – it was beautiful. It’s addictive, too. Burnout is an arcade-style racing series that centers on crashing and it all started with the original Burnout. Developed by Criterion Games and published by Acclaim Entertainment, Burnout was released for the PlayStation 2 in November, 2001 and the GameCube and Xbox in April, 2002. For this review, I played the Xbox version.
Burnout is not a simulation racer of any kind. In fact, this game shows you exactly how not to drive. You can accelerate, brake, turn, and drift. There are multiple game modes to play through and the Championship mode is the big one. Completing championships or events unlocks more content. A Championship can consists of one or multiple races. You need to complete each race and finish in a certain position to advance to the next race. Furthermore, you’re given a limited amount of credits which can be spent to restart races.
A standard race consists of three of laps and the tracks are quite long. It can take up to fifteen minutes to complete a marathon track. There is a small selection of vehicles to choose from and you can select their color and the transmission. You can race sporty vehicles, a truck, even a bus. There are no licensed vehicles in the game. Each vehicle is ranked by how difficult they are to control which isn’t exactly clear in-game since you can’t view their stats. Each track is filled with a series of checkpoints and you have a limited amount of time to get through each one. Taking your time isn’t really an option and adds a layer of difficulty to the racing and that’s in addition to the biggest challenge; avoiding all the traffic vehicles.
Burnout can be a stress-inducing game. My friends were watching me play one day and I was telling them how turning corners is one of the most terrifying things in the game. Traffic vehicles are everywhere and it’s very easy to turn a corner and crash into a vehicle you didn’t see coming. Oncoming traffic vehicles will attempt to swerve out of the way which I thought was a nice touch. You earn points during races and will build up a boost by driving dangerously. Dangerous driving includes doing things like driving on the wrong side of the road, drifting, and near missing other vehicles. Once the boost meter is full, you can activate the boost which can be helpful. If you crash into anything, you’ll get to watch your vehicle crash and roll from different camera angles and you’ll earn money based on how much damage was caused during the crash. Causing additional vehicles to crash results in more money.
While the crashing is exciting and is basically the core mechanic of the series, it’s something you want to avoid in the original Burnout. Crashing results in losing your boost and grants the opportunity for opponents to pass you. Constant crashing is a great way to lose a race. After a race is completed, you have the option to watch replays of your crashes at different speeds and you can even save your favorites to watch later. It’s a neat feature and it would have been cooler if there was more than two preset camera angles or the option to rotate the camera.
Intersections are another terrifying aspect of the game. Traffic vehicles will come driving into the middle of an intersection and they always seem to drive into them at exact the wrong time resulting in a crash. I replayed several Championship races and it’s clear the game spawns certain traffic vehicles at certain times and in certain places and some of the placements can make the races infuriating. Still, the races are exciting, the crashes are cool to watch, and it’s always satisfying when an opponent crashes. Weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds can be exhilarating. You’ll have to slam on your brakes and swerve often to avoid crashing and practice and memorization of the tracks will be a big help. And because the game basically forces you to speed from checkpoint to checkpoint, the races can get intense. You must always be aware of your surroundings.
Burnout definitely contains rubberbanding and while I’m not a fan of that, I don’t think the game would be as exciting without it. No matter how well you drive, it seems like the AI opponents are always up your ass. You can ram into them and cause them to crash into things and listening to them crash into something behind you is often relieving. They can be tough and I often found myself shouting with joy at my TV whenever they crashed into something only for me to crash a few moments later bringing me right back down again. Road rage to the extreme. Despite how exciting the races can be, the rubberbanding can be aggravating because no matter how well you drive, one crash or mistake can result in the AI opponents speeding passed you. And it really sucks when it happens on the last lap. Burnout is a racing game that will keep you at the edge of your seat constantly.
Completing Championships will unlock Face Offs. This is a mode is where you race against a single opponent and winning results in you unlocking the opponent’s vehicle. Other modes include Single Race, Time Attack, Survival, Free Run, and some multiplayer modes. Single Race is a great mode for practicing and in Time Attack the goal is to try to set a record time. The goal of Survival mode is to complete laps without crashing. Crash once and you lose. Finally, there’s the Free Run mode which needs to be unlocked. There’s no traffic vehicles in this mode.
All of the tracks in Burnout are based on real-world locations in the United States and Europe. There’s a small selection with a mix of countryside and urban locations and the marathon tracks are just combinations of others. Ultimately, I wish there was more tracks and more variety in terms of locations. You’ll race through tunnels, roundabouts, up and down winding roads, on city streets, dirt roads, and on stretches of highways. You’ll have to be careful when taking sharp turns, when you approach intersections, and when driving on the wrong side of the road. The tracks contain arrows and barriers that guide you so you know when and where to turn.
Visually, Burnout doesn’t look terrible and is colorful. The vehicle models look okay (basic by today’s standards) and you’ll see them reflect their surroundings. Some tracks are set at night and on the rainy tracks wet roads will reflect lights which looks pretty cool. Whenever a vehicle drives off-road, it kicks up dirt and dust and if you’re behind an opponent, the dust clouds can make it hard to see. Believe it or not one of my favorite details in the game is that your vehicle will actually signal before turning. Specifically the turns that the game warns you about. Crashing results in vehicle models appearing deformed, you’ll see the windows and windshields shatter, glass breaks, and vehicles involved in the crash will emit smoke. The racing is accompanied by some funky and catchy tunes and there’s a music player in the menu if you want to check out the soundtrack. The vehicles will roar as they speed along the tracks and crashes result in the sounds of glass shattering and metal breaking and crunching. On the technical side, the game ran smooth most of the time. The only bug I encountered was my vehicle disappearing and reappearing at certain points.
I enjoyed my time with Burnout but I do think the sequels are better. They improve everything. But this is where it all started and it’s a pretty good arcade-styled racing game. I do wish there was more vehicles and tracks and it shouldn’t take long to unlock everything. You can probably do it in a few hours. Burnout can be a challenging game and it pushes you to drive fast but also carefully. I think Burnout is one of the rare cases where rubberbanding is actually beneficial. But only because the racing wouldn’t be as exciting without it. Don’t get me wrong, it still comes with it’s typical share of frustration but if you were able to just speed passed AI opponents or even lap them, there would be no challenge which would bring down the excitement. Being neck and neck with an opponent, hoping they crash while weaving in and out of traffic is all part of the fun. You can’t really slow down or you might not make it to the checkpoint in time and the opponents behind you will creep closer every time you tap the brake. The crashing is Burnout’s standout feature but the game does focus more on racing. The crashes look cool and add to the excitement but, ultimately, you want to avoid them.
I would recommend Burnout to fans of arcade racing games but if you don’t care about playing games in order or how the series got started, I would say check out one of the sequels instead. I would recommend any of them over this. Burnout isn’t a bad game but if you’ve played any of the others, this is going to feel very tame in comparison. I think Burnout was great for its time and was a good alternative to others in the genre but I also think it doesn’t reach its full potential. Regardless, it’s a fun racing game that should provide hours of enjoyment. Check it out if you’re interested.