Burnout is the latest in a line of games based on illegal street racing, and sees drivers going through red lights, dodging on-coming traffic and driving like a madman, all at a pretty alarmingly fast speed thanks to Criterion's Renderware system.
Gameplay is based around the tried and tested checkpoint style racing, and some of the time limits are fairly tight, especially on the first couple of attempts. Racing is available in single race, time attack, head-to-head, championship, plus two special modes which offer a bit extra to the gameplay.
Controls are simple but very effective, and the car handling is also very good. You also get a real sensation of going extremely fast, and the heart monitor gives you the extra speed boost, and you find yourself blurring past traffic like there's no stopping you - until you crash of course.
And it's the crashes which are one of the major selling points of the game, with car physics that are said to fully mimic real life crashing - the trouble is that they soon become very annoying, and there's no way to skip them. This breaks up the flow of the game, and totally removes you from the "must go faster, and faster, and faster.." feel to the game.
However, these crashes don't seem quite as stunning as I remember - maybe it's just my driving style, but so far I've not caused a really spectacular crash, apart from when it's turned in to a multiple pile-up with the other computer cars adding to the carnage. There's also a lot of motion blur used in the after-race replay, blurring the whole screen when just blurring certain objects may have been a better method of representing the high speed action.
Cars also stay shiny, right through the game, even after some off-road driving. I can understand the repairing of any damaged caused by a crash, as you'd often be too badly damaged after the first crash, but having a totally new shiny "just from the dealership" car, is a bit odd - it's not even got any scratches on the paintwork after a side-swipe.
Another real annoyance is the huge green arrows which show you which route to take, they simply look out of place, and can't be switched off, which spoils the realistic looking graphics. Quite why there isn't an option to either turn them off, or better still have none at all and only have the big arrow which shows to the side of the screen as your route indication - I'd have also liked to be able to explore off-route and take short cuts.
Draw distance is really impressive, and I've seen no pop-up - it really does go all the way to the horizon, and there's also loads of road-side buildings, bridges, signs and bollards.
There are however quite a few jaggies, which is a shame - numerous times I'd be speeding along, simply to find that what I thought was a distant road marking, was actually a silvery grey car - of course, you can't see that until you're right behind it, at which point it's all too late - you've crashed, and are yet again forced to watch the crash from three angles before being allowed to continue.
The courses are fairly varied and well though out - I particularly like the long wide motorways (freeways), and the cross roads in the urban areas, where you can all too easily get t-boned by another vehicle, or run in to a que of traffic waiting at the lights.
Other traffic on the roads is billed as being "intelligent", and it does seem that way, although you can't help but notice that there are still the pre-defined traffic patterns which are the same every single time you play the game - busses in the same place, the same cars pulling out of the same junctions - there's just not that random real life traffic feel to it when you know what's going to be stopped at the lights.
The music in Burnout will either be loved or hated, depending on what you want in a driving game - some of the tunes seem as though they'd be more at home in a Bond secret agent style game at a really tense moment in the gameplay, but after hearing it several times, it's actually grown on me. However, the music doesn't blend in between each track, and really Criterion could have made use of an MSR style car radio, with the DJ announcing the next track.
There's been several graphics changes since the early screens that we saw - the "oncoming traffic" text is now green, so are the checkpoints, and the arrows are now larger but not solid. The lap and position indicators have also swapped sides on the screen, and the heartmonitor is now simply a rectangle which fills up - it makes me wonder if there's been a number of changes made to the (pre-release review) code which is why the game doesn't seem quite the same as when it was on show at ECTS back in September.
Burnout is a bit of a mixed bag, with some of the best features you'll have ever seen in an arcade racer and really nice touches which makes the game stand out from the crowd as being that bit different. However there's some small presentation problems and annoyances such as the un-skippable replays, traffic which is always the same, and the fact that you can't explore further than the pre-defined tracks which lets the game down.
Despite the gripes, it is still a very enjoyable arcade racer, and once you get used to what Burnout is trying to achieve, it starts to grow on you more and more. The feel of driving at high speed in on-coming traffic is simply exhilarating.Overall score: 7 out of 10
Recommended Price: £39.99
Available: November 16th 2001Buy Burnout for the PS2 from Amazon