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Review By:  Christopher Coey

Developer:  Criterion Games
Publisher:  Acclaim
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  7-23-02

You and three other cars line up at the starting line, set to race through the streets of some European city. The race begins and you speed off down narrow streets, making hairpin turns, and skidding around tight corners. Then the track takes an unexpected turn and you find yourself racing INTO oncoming traffic. After weaving in and out past countless cars that all swerve out of your way while flashing their lights and honking at you, you’re back on the proper side of the road. You come to an intersection, but the light is red. Ignoring your driving instructor’s best advice, you decide to run the light only to find yourself clipped by a passing 18-wheeler. You spin wildly in circles, then smash into the side of a parked car and launch into the air. Congratulations, you just caused $125 000 in insurance claims. Now go watch the whole things again in slo-motion replay.

"The best crashes ever in a video game" is what the game box advertises. And the claims just might be accurate. Mostly only because I can think of many other quality driving games that even allowed crashes. Usually, you crash, the car may crumple a little, then the game/track resets. You get all that in Burnout as well, but you finally get to see some actual damage. And the car isn’t glued to the track anymore. Hit something at the right angle, and you’ll fly through the air, twisting and bouncing. The crashes can really be quite a spectacle. The graphics are impressive enough to hold their own against most competitors. But the cars themselves tend to be rather bland. There are no real-life licensees, which is rather disappointing. I hate to always compare every new racing game with Gran Turismo 3, but it is the ‘gand-daddy’ of all racing games. It came out over a year ago, and it still holds the title for best graphics, best racing sim, etc etc. But one of the most fun aspects of that game was that you got to drive, and unlock real-life cars. Wouldn’t it be much cooler to see car crashes involving say, a Porsche, and a Volkswagen Beetle? Instead of a car that sort of looks a bit like a Viper, and some other generic looking compact car. No contests, games like this should have licensing. This one doesn’t.

Although the crashes are amazing, this is after-all a racing game. So for the most part you try to avoid crashing. That being said, the cars are often too fragile, triggering a crash on very minor impacts. Or seemingly no impact at all, as if you blew a tire or something. Some of the courses are set up with predetermined actions. So, for instance, when you hit a certain point in the course, it will trigger the motion of a set of cars that might speed through an intersection just as you’re nearing the center. The resulting crashes are some of the most spectacular, and fun. I did find though, that the blur-effect used in the game, combined with a grainy quality in the graphics, often made the path of the courses difficult to make out. I play my games on quite a large TV, and even I found that I wasn’t sure which way the upcoming turn was headed until the last possible second. And I’d often end up running into invisible barriers.

There are initially a handful of cars to choose from, which increase in difficulty and speed. You can later unlock four additional vehicles including a tow-truck, and my personal favorite, a full size public transit bus. Very cool. In all, however, not much to add in the way of replayability. Once you ‘figure out’ a course, it’s pretty easy to continue to win everytime. You can, as with any racer game, try to constantly improve your times, or damage scores. But I don’t generally get a kick out of racing the same tracks over and over again just to shave a couple of seconds off my time.

The driving in Burnout is arcade, not simulation. Don’t expect the deadly accurate road physics as in some driving sims. The physics level, as well as the graphic details level is far below that of GT3. Since the game IS arcade style though, the less than perfect physics model actually makes the game more playable.

You may often say to yourself, while playing your favorite games, "the game cheats!" And in fact, in most cases you’d be right. The programmers do often allow a game’s AI to do things that you the player are not able to do. Sometimes it might be that your opponents have unlimited ammo, or a seemingly impossible accuracy. They do this in order to make the game more competitive, and it’s often these levels that increase or decrease depending in the difficulty setting you’ve chosen to play with. In most racing games, the "cheat" that programmers use is known as ‘rubber-banding.’ This is where, even if you are racing the race of your life, hitting every corner perfectly, and never missing a short-cut, the other cars still seem to be right behind you. You seem never to get too far out ahead. This type of thing can actually work to the player’s advantage, as games often have reverse rubber-banding, especially in the beginner levels, in order to give players a false sense of accomplishment. Well, in Burnout the rubber-banding is rampant. You may race one track, do fairly well but still come in second by a narrow margin. Then the next race, you might be 20 or 30 seconds ahead of your previous time, well ahead of the pace of the lead car from the other race, and yet still find yourself in second or third place. It does make the game a LOT more challenging, which usually I’m all for. BUT, in the later races such as the USA Marathon: you might be racing for almost 20 mins, and be in the lead the whole time. But, if you make a small mistake near the end, the other cars will whip past you and you won’t have enough time, or track left to catch them. So you have to spend another 20 mins racing the same level again (possibly many many times.)

Easily the worst part of this game is the music. It is almost all composed of crappy high-pitched synthesizer sounds. At times it sounds like the music from some low-budget 80’s TV mystery movie. Again, where are the licenses? Once we, as the gaming public, have been exposed to the joys of flying around virtual racetracks listening to the sweet tunes such as those in the WipeOut games, or yet again GT3, how can any developer think they can get away with this type of audio sludge?

Another issue I had with this game is that there is no positional map. I never really thought about how important this function really is (probably because no other racing game in recent memory omitted it.) But not knowing how far ahead the lead car might be, or just how close on your tail the other cars are, can be frustrating.

Yes, the crashes are spectacular, just as advertised. And you have the ability to save crashes, or play them back in slo-motion, or from different camera angles. However, the crashes, once slowed down and examined more closely are not nearly as impressive. You really notice the lack of realistic suspension in the chassis on the cars, or the not-so-accurately modeled particle physics with the flying car bits. I guess this is merely proof that even the NEW generation of game consoles still have big computation limitations. I’m still waiting for the game that gives me crashes like this one has, but also has the detailed impact physics, flying car parts, and loads of smoke and glass. But I guess we’ll have to wait for yet another NEXT generation of systems before we start seeing ALL of those things in one game. I would have like the option to view some of my computer opponent’s crashes. But you can’t. Even during the race replay, there is no ‘opponent cars’ camera angle to choose from. So unless you are actually involved in the crash yourself, you don’t get to see it.

I enjoyed the fact that the game ‘claims’ to reward aggressive driving, by filling up your ‘boost’ meter after ‘near misses’, or driving into ‘oncoming traffic.’ But I would have like to see a better scoring system based around this idea. There is a scoring system in place that apparently represents the "best drivers", but in the end I found that it doesn’t really seem to reward crazy-driving in a rewarding fashion. It should have been more along the lines of: damage taken+time+position+difficulty=score. But in the game it’s more like: score=distance traveled into oncoming traffic, that’s all. If the game really does reward aggressive driving, then you should get points for causing accidents, by running other cars into each other, or obstacles. Although it wasn’t a great game, this type of scoring system was used in Star Wars: Racers Revenge, and should have been used here. And while I’m on the topic of the boost meter, the actually boost you receive, isn’t much of a boost at all. Especially when you take into account the rubber-banding that I talked about earlier. The only time the boost is useful is to make up a couple of extra seconds if you might be having trouble reaching a checkpoint. But as far as getting out ahead of the pack, it doesn’t work. The other cars seem to also get a speed boost when you use yours.

There is also a two-player simultaneous mode. With racing games these days, this is pretty much a no-brainer. It’s unfortunate that GameCube lacks the multi-linking consoles function of the PS2. I find that playing these games on a split screen, with only a cramped view of the action, loses a lot of the games appeal. That being said, try playing a two-player races using only the transit buses. Again I’ll say, very cool.


  • Spectacular crashes
  • Good sense of speed and control
  • Unlockable vehicles


  • Horrible music
  • Not overly impressive graphically
  • Lacks licensed vehicles and accurate, recognizable locations

Final Verdict:

This is a quality arcade racing game. Overall, it has a lot of nice features, and the gameplay is as good as most current arcade racers. Just keep in mind the word "arcade" in those sentences. This game is NOT GT3. The claim to fame here is the crashes, not the driving. And the crashes ARE better than any of the other racing titles released so far. That is, for many, reason enough to buy this game. But the lack of any kind of licensing, or real-life locations or vehicles brings this games score way down. Add to that the most god-awful music I’ve heard in a game since the days of NES, and you’d better be prepared to play this one with the sound off. Buy it if you like to watch fast moving cars smashing into other fast moving cars. Just don’t expect anything as impressive as the highlight reels from most Indy car events.

Overall Score: 7.0

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