Malik (9/23/05)

Burnout Revenge (XBox)

From Criterion/EA

It's official. Burnout is now an annual event. EA has done with Burnout what it has done with so many other games under their publishing name. However, while this can be tedious (look at Dynasty Warriors for a good example), it doesn't have to be. Tony Hawk has done somewhat well with most new releases, despite being an annual event. 

So, with the latest Burnout, beyond being treated to a rather unusual string of TV ads, what do we have that makes this worth being a new purchase (and not just a one-shot rental)? Plenty of new things were promised in this new version, from checking traffic to having tracks with shortcuts and alternative routes. However, in the end, the ultimate question that matters is if the game is really fun. 


No lame forced plot on this. It's not like recent F-Zero games, or SSX titles, or many other extreme sports games. There is no plot, and there is no need. In a game about racing recklessly through urban environments, the best plot is an absent one. 

Game Play 

For those who never played one of the previous Burnout games, there are a few features to this series that make it a little different than your average street racing game. First of all is that you are rewarded for driving dangerously. In fact, that is the basis for this series. In past Burnout games, you obtained the infamous "boost" by driving as unsafely as possible, while still not crossing the line by causing yourself to crash. This gives you more speed, and this makes you more likely to finish in first place. Sound simple? It should. If you want more of an understanding of the Burnout of the past, check out this Burnout 3 review

Burnout Revenge keeps this up, but goes in a few unusual directions with it. First off, while it used to be good enough to go for first place in a race, that's only one part of becoming the best racer possible in Burnout Revenge. You are now graded as you race, according to the severity of your reckless driving. If you manage to pull off long stretches of driving in oncoming traffic, drifting while turning, nearly hitting traffic, checking (ramming) cars from behind, performing a "takedown" (forcing your opponents to crash), and just pulling off long stretches of boosting (all of those things, except this last one, also increases your boost meter), you will be given better grades. In order to pull off the best grade in an event (which is a 5/5 or "perfect" rank), you will have to drive insanely and still get the gold. Your final score on each track is made up of up to four points by driving with flair, and then your final score will be adjusted by what place you finish in (gold gives +1, silver gives nothing, bronze gives -1, and below...well, you have to re-race if you do that badly). 

While this may all sound like a good idea for a game that is based on reckless and furious driving skills, it has some negatives. First off, you actual place in finishing is no longer too important. Secondly, some races are really short, and while getting a gold may be difficult, it won't be as hard as getting a good rank for driving skill. Yes, the shorter the track, the harder the "perfect" is to achieve. Beyond all of that, the burning lap events (if you don't know these, keep reading and I'll explain) are back. In order to get gold on these events, which are still as unbalanced and hard as they were in Burnout 3, you won't be able to afford to drive too recklessly. One crash and you're out a gold...yet, if you don't risk crashing, you're out a "perfect". It's a no win situation. Anyway, isn't the ultimate sign that you drove with flair and ability, in a game that rewards bad driving with boost, just getting that gold medal for first place? I think it was fine in Burnout 1-3. 

At least the game modes are pretty interesting. Of course, they are the same general modes from Burnout 3. The standard races (you versus five CPU cars) are still here. You have anywhere from several laps on a circuit to one long stretch of (usually) city roads. There's also the standard grand prix mode in which you race three consecutive single races and earn points with each completed race (highest final points wins). There's the old road rage mode that was first introduced in Burnout 3, which is one of my favorites. In this mode you race against the clock to take down three CPU cars that continuously re-spawn. Your objective is still to get a certain number of take downs before either time expires or you crash too many times. 

Crash mode is back, also. It is a lot like the old style of crash mode first seen in Burnout 2. You will have a preset intersection or stretch of road, and you will try to cause an accident of maximum monetary value. However, with traffic checking, this is less about strategy than it was in Burnout 2 or 3, and more about just hitting stuff blindly. Also, you now can chose which vehicle you want to use in a crash situation (with a few special locked vehicle scenarios). Each vehicle handles differently, has different speeds, and has different sized crashbreakers. A crashbreaker, which was first seen in Burnout 3, is a special ability you can use when enough vehicles have been involved in your carnage. This time, however, you can have multiple crashbreakers in a given situation. Also, unlike the prior game, you no longer can acquire special bonus pickups. You will be scored only on your destruction, with a bonus obtained from how many vehicles explode in a crashbreaker. 

The only new game mode is traffic attack. In this mode, you continuously check traffic. To do so, you just hit cars from behind. Each car earns you a little money, with a goal of earning a certain amount for gold, silver, and bronze awards. Once your timer runs down to 20 seconds, you will also earn a small amount of time for each car you take out. This mode is fun, if you view the crazy antics of Crazy Taxi higher than you view the cautious yet destructive game style of Burnout 3. This mode, and all others, thanks to checking of bystander vehicles, is very cartoonish. Your little race car will check everything from cars to moving vans, and they will fly through the air like they were hit by a semi going 200MPH. 

In fact, the worst new addition to the series is this traffic checking ability. It is limited, thankfully, to only vehicles that are moving van sized or smaller, and they have to be hit from behind (head on collisions still lead to your vehicle being trashed). While it sounds good that you can slam an innocent car into an opponent to make him crash, this is not usually the case. Usually, the smacked bystander will just be hit away by your opponent. It's almost like oncoming traffic is made of cars made out of styrofoam. They don't usually do anything more than fly around. It's almost like traffic checking was an idea that wasn't fully completed before the game was sent to the publishers, but was still included in it's incomplete state. 

There are more changes, however, beyond traffic checking. While crash mode is improved with the loss of pickups (which made Burnout 3 crashes into a hunt to find the 4 times multiplier to ensure a gold), there have been two negative changes. Beyond the traffic checking, which reduces strategy in this mode, the crashbreaker is now a pointless activity of button mashing. When you have enough vehicles in an accident, a counter will begin to go down from 5 seconds. At this point, you mash the B button until either a meter fills up (it's like the breaking objects mini-game between battles in Mortal Kombat) or until the timer reaches zero. Then you explode with a power equal to you vehicles maximum crashbreaker potential reduced by the unfilled portion of your meter. Confused? Well, it's just button mashing. 

On top of that, crash mode levels start with the lamest possible maneuver. You have to select your vehicles starting speed with a special boost meter. You hit A to start it, and it will pass through a slow start area, then a boost area, and then a bad area. Then it goes back to start, and you must hit the A button as close to the best start position as possible. It's like a golf game which requires a forward and back-swing attempt. If you mess up too badly, your car may explode before starting the scenario.'s that lame. I guess that's how Criterion decided to handle the loss of pickups (including the old boost pickup) make things lame and pointless. 

To make things worse, the AI is still broken. Sometimes the AI will act incredibly stupid, and other times they will be as vicious as the best XBox Live competitors. This will mean that a race can either be too easy, or impossibly hard. If it's easy...well, you'll have a dull event with an excellent ranking at the end. If it's the other way...well, you will need to restart the event or re-try the event. 

The worst part of this change to having a boost meter in crash mode and the still lame AI is that reloading a level still takes longer than it should. You will see the same damned loading screens more than you'll see the carnage as you race. In fact, there is nothing worse than starting a crash mode event, having your car immediately blow up, and then losing a half minute (actually it's about 11 seconds on average, but can be longer than that on some levels) to restart the level. Is this supposed to be a good thing? No. 

Also, unlike any previous Burnout game (and I played them all into the ground), there are bugs. Actually, there is one really bad bug. You may be racing when you get surrounded by AI controlled cars. Normally, at least in Burnout 3, this was a chance to take down some competition. In Burnout Revenge, it is sometimes that type of moment. Other times, you will simply, somehow, fall through the world, be told of how your getting awesome air (since you do get bonuses for long jumps), and then you'll respawn somewhere, almost randomly, behind where this happened. You'll also have no chance of even coming in 5th place on the race it happened on without reloading the level...and seeing another 11 second loading screen...and swearing in frustration...and swearing again...and finally restarting the race. 

Also, this game is the only Burnout that has frozen more than once on me. I usually find it happens when the game is loading a new level. It isn't so often as to remind one of KOTOR, but it is enough to be noticeable, and it's more frequent than any previous Burnout game. 

At least not all changes and important "features" are bad. One of the most interesting aspects to Burnout Revenge is that the tracks are not always 100% linear. Each race will usually include at least a couple short cuts. While the main path through a race is marked with obvious arrows and lights, there are some back roads and lawns that can be cut through. However, not all of these are actual short cuts (some lengthen your trip, and some are equal length to the main way through), and the computer will utilize them too. It makes things interesting since you can chose your own unique style for taking on a level. In fact, with the obstacles and different patterns of bystander traffic, each time you chose between a shortcut and a normal path, it's actually more based on your playing style as to if the choice made will be beneficial or not. 

To add to this new style of courses in which multiple choices can be made on how to get from point A to point B with the most carnage, there are some really interesting courses. Most of the courses are the standard assortment of racing courses. There are mountainous highways, urban sprawl inspired cities, rural logging communities, blah, blah. It's not that they are boring, but it is the same general themes. This, in itself, is not a problem. However, the design of a few of the levels contain some flaws. The most obvious of which is the addition of way too many pillars and obstacles in the middle of courses. Not only does this feature lead to a few easy takedowns by the computer, but it also limits the time you can battle other cars, since you can't check someone if you're separated by a quarter mile of pillars. It's not like in Burnout 3, which had some areas with scattered pillars...these ones are constant and impossible to travel between. On top of that, there are the points in some tracks when the road narrows from being quite wide (20 or so feet wide) down to a small one lane section instantly. By instantly, I mean there is a solid wall perpendicular to the road, and it will come with no warning, and at the end of a sharp turn (so you can't see it coming). Now, the computer obviously will know about it ahead of, these serve to only add some frustration to human players...which is never a cool thing. Handicaps should only be induced on everyone...not just human control drivers.

Races have now been adapted to include the crashbreaker. While it's not available from the start, you will eventually find races that use crashbreakers. While some would not see the brilliance of this, Criterion did. If you are on one side of a road, and you wish to get an "aftertouch takedown" (take out an opponent with your wrecked car), you can use a crashbreaker to knock your car into the path of the opponent of your choice using aftertouch (the ability to control your wreckage after you crash...exactly like it was in Burnout 3). 

Also, one change is actually a reversion to an older Burnout. The level select menus are a unique hybrid between Burnout 2 and Burnout 3. You have more choices of what even to do next than you had in Burnout 3, but you have obvious levels of difficulty and levels of progression, like you'd find in Burnout 2. Overall, it may be different than Burnout 3, but it's actually a pretty good way to help a player both feel motivated to experiment and explore, but to still feel somewhat directed and to understand what event would be best to do next. 

The controls of Burnout Revenge are still the same sharp and ideal racing controls that were found in Burnout 3 (and the older Burnout games, as well). You still use R to accelerate, L to brake (usually to only start a drift turn), A to boost, B to (sorta) use a crashbreaker when it's available, Y to look back, and the analogue stick to steer. It's still simple, it's still easy to learn, and it's still brilliant. There are probably no better racing controls in any video game to date. 

In the end, while the game play has been kept relatively the same as in Burnout 3, there is enough of a change to justify this being called a new game. However, while some changes, like crashbreakers in races, have been good, this doesn't apply to all changes. Traffic checking feels incomplete, boost starts in crash mode feel pointlessly complicated, and there are bugs aplenty. Overall, Burnout Revenge still shows enough power and variety to keep the franchise as the king of arcade-style racing games. 


I know that I usually say visuals are not an important feature on games. They usually just over-compensate for a lack of game play. Well, this rule doesn't apply to any game in which you are traveling at 200MPH in oncoming traffic. 

So, even with Burnout Revenge having sweet controls, Criterion still gave it's full effort with the visuals. In fact, I think it's safe to say that this is the best we will see on this generation of consoles. While games like Forza and GT4 may look nice at a glance, Burnout Revenge looks awesome while in full motion. 

The backgrounds, despite being refreshed at a never ending pace, still look solid. The city landscapes look like the urban sprawl that inspired them, while the nature filled landscapes look breath taking. If you combine this with an HDTV...well, you won't need anything more for your eye-candy pleasure. 

Meanwhile, the moving objects and the foreground are just as crisp and as amazing. The cars will shine just as well as any Forza or GT game could make them look, but you also have a finer level of detail in the surroundings. This is a definite plus, since it's your surroundings (in particular, the gleam of an oncoming headlight) that will determine whether you are taking down an opponent, or if you are being taken down by careless driving. 

I could go off about the high quality of Burnout Revenge's visuals, but I think it's easier to just say that this is as good as XBox gets. It's that simple. 


Now this one is a mixed bag. While the audio shows some great levels of polish, it also shows some poorly made decisions. 

First off, there's little in the way of voice acting, but that little amount is far less annoying than the voice of Burnout 3. Instead of the B3 announcer, who would constantly make me turn off the announcer voice in the audio menu, you are given a less annoying and more bland of an announcer. She is also only heard in the intro movies that explain the rules of the game...not also as a poorly decided DJ on the in game music (or "EA Trax"). So, you only have to deal with the voice if you watch the movies that explain how to play the game, and you only need to see these movies once, if ever, to understand how to play the game. 

Also, the good old sound effects of Burnout 3 are pretty much unchanged. This is not a bad thing. The sounds of Burnout 3, from the revving of engines, to the sounds of tires squealing on a drift turn, to the sounds of metal crunching in an explosive wreck, were all brilliant. Well, I can't really say much more than that these sounds are back and still sound crisp and realistic. When thrown on a surround sound system, it can not be described as any less than beautiful (well, as beautiful as the sound of twisting metal can sound). 

However, the final aspect of the audio is not all good news. While EA likes to throw in "EA Trax" on their games, they need to learn more about music selection. Like most games with EA Trax soundtracks, many of the bands included are either relatively unknown, or are ones with cult followings. This is not bad...hell, my favorite bands tend to be ones that most people have never heard of. Plus, this lets you escape the sounds of what drives most people insane in regards to typical radio play; overplayed songs. However, while Burnout 3 gave a nice selection of adrenaline inducing music (music that is loud, fast, and has a catchy enough of a beat that you can get into it from the first note), Burnout Revenge takes a different route. 

Most of the music here is not that catchy, and definitely slower paced. When dealing with a game that deals with traveling around 200MPH in oncoming traffic, I like to think that the music should give off the same sense of excitement and speed. There are a few good tracks on this game, but many don't quite match the feel of the game. Some songs just have too long of intros before they pick up speed (and what's the point of having a high speed song that takes a minute to get up to speed in a game where some races can be finished in a minute), and others are just too slow. At least the XBox version does still have custom soundtracks. 


So, Burnout Revenge may very well be the start of Burnout being officially milked. The game does offer some great new additions, especially with most of the new tracks. However, it also offers an incomplete feeling traffic checking ability (if I hit a bystander, it should not react much differently than if I check an opponent), that has become too inter-woven in the basic game play (there's even the traffic attack mode to force you to use traffic checking). There are also bugs, and they do make themselves known (like falling through the world). Most of all, however, is the fact that crash mode has been reinvented, and not for the best. When compared to Burnout 3, I honestly have trouble seeing how one could be the sequel of the other...they almost feel like two games that could have just been released at the same time and for different platforms.

However, despite all of that, I still can say that, on it's own, Burnout Revenge is a solid game. It may have some of the bitchiest AI available in this series, but it is a fun game. It's also beautiful, both visually and audibly. So, despite some flaws, some incomplete feeling features, long load times (which are nothing new), and some strange AI, I still can give Burnout Revenge a 8.75/10. It's great...just not as perfect as the hype seems to say.





While there are plenty of cars...

...most look a little taller than they should

One of many times you'll see load screens

Then you start the race, the game glitches, you restart the race...

...and along comes another long load screen.





Here's where crash mode dies...well, actually your car might before you start the scenario

At least you can pick your crash vehicle in most crash levels




Not only does this mean I got third in the means the game thought I drove with nothing but is that possible?