There are many die-hard gamers that are worried about a particular trend, having been started by EA with its sports games, spilling over into other game genres. That trend, of course, is that of the yearly update, where a game series receives an annual sequel that has some minor tweaks and updates, graphical facelifts, and is repackaged and sold to us, the consumers, under a slightly different moniker. With Burnout Revenge having come out only a little over a year after its precursor, Burnout 3: Takedown, many gamers have cause to suspect the same thing is happening here. In regards to this concern, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is enough new, fresh content and gameplay here to demonstrate that Burnout Revenge is not a rehash of last year?s masterpiece of motorcade mayhem. Burnout Revenge has enough original elements to make it stand out from other games in the series. The bad news is that while Criterion obviously made an effort to not make the ?yearly update? mistake, in the process they?ve made some brand new ones. Burnout Revenge is still plenty of hilarious, anarchic fun, but just like its predecessor, there are some glaring faults that can mar an otherwise unforgettable gaming experience ? and considering how Burnout Revenge is the fourth in the series, such errors are becoming harder to forgive.
For those who didn?t feel like playing any of the previous installments of the Burnout series, here is the basic premise: the Burnout games are arcade racing games through and through, with simplistic physics, short atomic bursts of gameplay, extremely fast pacing, and other arcade-ish elements. The elements of the Burnout series that have come to define it, thankfully, are not the racing aspects ? far from it, as starting with Burnout 2, crashing has become the series? signature feature. Burnout 2 was the first to introduce a mode specifically designed for crashing cars and wrecking, appropriately called the Crash mode, where the objective is to rack up the highest monetary damages possible. In Burnout 2, though, it seemed more of a novelty than an actual significant part of the game. Burnout 3: Takedown made it a primary focus, not just with a separate Crash mode that truly elevated the crashing from novelty to substance, but with crashing being part of the racing itself. In Burnout 3?s races, part of the game is performing a ?takedown? on your opponents by ramming them into obstacles (walls, rails, traffic, etc.) for a spectacular and painful-looking crash. There?s even an entire mode in Burnout 3 dedicated to this philosophy, called Road Rage, where you compete in a race-like format, but ultimately position is irrelevant ? you are scored entirely on how many of your fellow racers you bash aside. Thus, Burnout 3 propelled the series from being an average arcade racer series, to a truly revolutionary racing game experience that has even more carnage and destruction than most of the automotive action-oriented titles in which guns come standard on car hoods.
This brings us to the present day, where Burnout Revenge promises to bring us an even grander and more volatile ballet of flying auto parts. On that front, it delivers in spades. The graphics have obviously received a facelift since Burnout 3, with better lighting, detailed reflections, higher resolution textures, just the right amount of motion blur, and, for the Xbox version, extra flying debris and object deformation, with things like doors flying off of cars. While the aforementioned standard features we?ve come to associate with Burnout are still here, there are a few additional elements that turn them into different beasts entirely. Probably the biggest addition to the Burnout racing formula is the ability to ?check traffic? ? you can drive and ram same-way traffic (it?s that kind of check, folks), and scatter the cars about like so many cherry blossom leaves floating on the?ahem. Yes, it is quite poetic to behold, as the carnage (pun definitely intended) that you cause with this ability can be deflected into fellow racers, or be left behind as obstacles for your pursuers to run themselves into. There?s even an entire new gameplay mode based around this ability called, what else, Traffic Attack, where the objective is to rack up cash totals in damages within a certain time limit by traffic checking, akin to Crash Mode. There are obviously rules to prevent this ability from unbalancing the game ? same-way traffic is ?legal? to check, while oncoming traffic, cross traffic, and oversize vehicles kill obliterate you. Other new additions that separate this Burnout from its predecessors include alternate routes, in-race Crashbreakers (oh yes), a timer-based Eliminator mode, a new class-based system of progression, and a significantly altered Crash mode. Some of these new elements seem to detract from the overall experience rather than enhance it, sadly, especially the changes made to Crash mode, but the core Burnout experience is still just plain awesome in spite of this.
That such elements are still present is a good thing, because the focus on crashing, and the coercing of traffic, makes a sublime experience. The addition of traffic checking gives racing and Road Rage a somewhat different spirit. Same-way traffic, instead of being lethal like in Burnout 3, suddenly becomes your energy source, your mystical center to draw power from, and knowing how to draw this energy can help you quell the opponents that beset you?uh, anyway. Crash mode is also as methodical as ever, and still has explosively hysterical results. Completing the crashes with the maximum damage possible takes on a sort of Zen-like feeling, where to win with the best score you need to become one with the environment. You need to know where the streams of energy?I mean, lanes of traffic are, how they flow, and just how to launch yourself into it to disrupt their flows, and position your wreck to cut off whatever traffic escaped your initial assault, and have them running into your wreck. It?s like an anarchist?s wet dream ? your very presence causes everyday complacency to come to a screeching halt, as you single-handedly demonstrate how mind-numbing the same old routines are?
Er?ahem. That?s enough waxing spiritual and scholarly from this writer. The core gameplay is awesome, that?s all you need to know. It?s not perfect, and some of the new features that have been added to Burnout Revenge contribute to these imperfections. Amongst the most prominent disappointments of the new additions to Burnout Revenge are the changes to Crash mode. Gone are the power-ups of Burnout 3, supposedly to make Crash mode more multiplayer-friendly, which it does, but in doing so it detracts somewhat from the single-player Crash experience. In Burnout 3, the placement of power-ups, especially the x4 score multiplier, acted as guidelines, a general direction for you to aim for as you planned your attack. The lack of power-ups in Burnout Revenge?s crash mode, therefore, leaves you with little else in the way of information to hint at what the best route might be. While not impossible to find the best route for the most destruction, the cloud of obscurity now facing you forces you to rely a bit more on Lady Luck. I understand that the power-ups made multiplayer Crash unbalanced, but wouldn?t it have been more sensible to have the option to turn them on or off? There?s also the almost entirely pointless new starting boost system, which consists of a short mini game that you must do before you start, where you stop an oscillating boost bar at the two green zones (at the near top and near bottom) to have your car launch at maximum speed. If you press the button at either extreme end, where the red zones are, your car explodes before the event even starts. What is this for, exactly? It doesn?t allow us players any additional control at startup, as the maximum speed startup is pretty much the only way to go for your crash to gain the best results, and starting at slow or medium speeds usually results in a less-than-ideal run. Plus, the risk of killing your chances right at the bat, while slim, can be quite annoying should you be uncoordinated enough to punch it in the red zones. At least the new feature of pumping and repeatable Crashbreakers is enjoyable ? like Burnout 3, destroying a certain number of vehicles will allow you to detonate your car like a bomb, and then you direct your smoldering wreck over to other vehicles. Burnout Revenge does add the feature of pumping to keep you on your toes this time ? when you trigger your Crashbreaker ability, instead of detonating right then and there, you have to mash B to pump a flaming meter at the bottom all the way full, which then detonates your vehicle. In a truly physics-defying move, in Burnout Revenge you can earn repeat Crashbreakers by wrecking more vehicles after your first Crashbreaker. However, we still think it?s a criminal omission that Criterion still hasn?t added the option to save your best wrecks as replays.
Another change that drags the experience down is the new class-based system of progression. Although there are still gold, silver, and bronze medals to earn, your progression is determined not through the amount of medals, but rather your overall star-based ranking in each race. The medals affect your star ranking in each race ? bronze subtracts a star, silver does nothing, while gold adds a star, with gold being the only way to achieve a five-star rating for a race. (You must get at least bronze for your stars to count at all.) Get enough total stars by finishing races, and you?ll advance in class, with 11 total classes. All the races are organized this way, with each class presenting its own bracket of races. This makes for a very bewildering setup and navigation system, as the star system makes gauging your progress somewhat confusing and Burnout Revenge doesn?t make it entirely clear how your star rating goes up during each race. Also, there are still city-specific challenges to accomplish (organized into challenge sheets) and location-specific signature takedowns, but without a way to organize races by city, it becomes much harder to keep track of what challenges and signatures you?ve completed, as well as where to complete ones you haven?t.
In the miscellaneous nitpicking category, first are the shortcuts. The shortcuts can add an extra element of tension to a race, as finding your opponents becomes more complicated ? you really have to hunt for them amongst the windings and crossings of the various routes. Some of these shortcuts can become long cuts, as some feature jumps with walls partially obscuring the landing zone, and with so little time to guide your approach, you can run smack-dab into them, which can be frustrating. Then there?s the soundtrack ?the music is better in some areas, such as those that do not feature pop-sounding punk songs (sorry, pop-punk does not do Burnout justice), some great rockers, and in a surprising twist some bass-thumping techno. There are even some new tracks that just don?t blend in at all ? there are, for instance, some more ambient-oriented techno tracks, which certainly don?t mesh well with a car-smashing game, and some are just plain annoying, given the setting. A reggae track? Give me a break!
Don?t get me wrong ? Burnout Revenge is executed well enough to be a truly enjoyable sequel, a worthy follow-up to Burnout 3, and I would even recommend it over its precursor, although it seems at times that it may have been rushed towards the end of its development. Next time, Criterion, tell EA to be patient, so you can have all the time you need to create the best racing game possible. Just tell them we?ll be happy to play Burnout Revenge until then. It?s an excellent game, and definitely worth checking out for racing nuts, casual gamers, and anyone who wants to just practicing crashing into oncoming traffic.