IGN Review of Burnout: Dominator
Criterion's Burnout franchise has dominated the arcade racing genre for the past few years, and for very good reason. The developer essentially perfected the series' control response and feeling, it's fast as hell, looks fantastic and features some insanely cool crashes. While Criterion is hard at work on Burnout 5 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, EA UK has given PlayStation fans a reason to rev up their engines in the interim.
Burnout Dominator is quite clearly a throwback to the old days of the series. Its focus has returned almost solely to racing, what with things like traffic checking that we saw in Burnout Revenge having been removed from the game. Burnouts are back, encouraging you to keep your finger on the boost at all times, and the track design is geared more for long and huge drifts rather than Takedowns.
In essence, Burnout Dominator feels a lot like an offshoot of the past few games rather than a revolutionary sequel, as Criterion has generally attempted to create in the past. EA UK made use of the Burnout Revenge engine for Dominator, and the (happy) result is that the game feels and looks almost identical to the last game, sans the major gameplay changes. But at its core, this is classic Burnout through and through.
The biggest change, or perhaps we should say throwback, to the series is the inclusion of Burnouts. When you fill your boost meter, the flame will turn blue and you can then begin using a supercharged boost. While you don't actually go any faster than using a normal boost, you're able to chain these together and earn multipliers. As you burn off your boost, if you manage to perform enough daring maneuvers while emptying the tank, be it by driving against traffic or drifting enough, your boost will then reset when you drain it and increase your Burnout multiplier by one. Not only does this mean that you can essentially boost infinitely around the track, this increases the score that you receive for your crazed driving, which is a major part of many events now.
Replacing Revenge's Traffic Attack challenge is the new Maniac mode. Like Traffic Attack, you start with a finite amount of time on the clock and your goal is to simply rack up points before your counter hits zero. But rather than smacking into cars, you'll want to narrowly pass right by them, drive into incoming traffic, slide wildly around corners and so on. Basically, you want to drive like a madman while chaining your Burnouts together and not smacking head-first into anything.
There are more specific offshoots to the Maniac mode as well, like Burnout, Near Miss and Drift Challenges. Each of these only gives you points for performing the challenge's namesake rather than everything.
What all of this means is that Burnouts become extremely important to your progression through the game. While it's possible to pass these challenges during the early parts of the game without amassing huge Burnout chains, you'll need to basically be perfect towards the end in order to win. While this has been somewhat true of every Burnout title in the past, this much emphasis hasn't been placed on one thing across many events. You simply can't let go of the boost button or you'll be back to square one. Some folks may like this design, though others may be a little annoyed that you can be so punished for not doing one simple thing.
As mentioned earlier, the track design in Burnout Dominator is more focused around racing rather than Takedowns, and many feel like throwbacks to the days of Burnout 2: Point of Revenge. Huge, sweeping turns are the name of the game here, allowing you to toss your car's tail end way out in front as you skid for hundreds or even thousands of feet at a time.
One really cool element of Dominator is that Signature Takedowns have been mixed a little better into the game and appear this time as Signature Shortcuts. Nabbing them is the same as the Signature Takedowns in that you need to slam an opponent car into a specific area of the course. But rather than simply gaining a mark on your progression list and a nice picture, you'll actually open up a new pathway in the course, allowing you to cut down your race times. Some courses have more than one Signature Shortcut, meaning that you can save a lot of time in later events by opening them up early as they become permanent sections of the track. This is good stuff.
While the track design is generally great and the game is pure Burnout goodness in most respects, it's also a rather bare-bones experience, at least compared to previous games in the series. Crash mode is curiously missing from the game, which is sure to anger longtime fans of the fantastic party mode. We're told that the reason for this is so that Criterion can reintroduce the mode in Burnout 5 in a big way after having it take a break in Dominator, but that doesn't make the lack of its inclusion any easier to take in.
One great return that some fans will love is a quick race mode, dubbed Record Breaker in the game. You can pick a car, mode and track to beat your existing high scores, or simply race for the hell of it. We received a number of complaints after the release of Burnout Revenge because it lacked this feature, so these folks will be quite happy with Dominator.
Burnout Dominator on the PSP includes a number of multiplayer-friendly options, including support for up to six players via Ad-Hoc. This is fairly standard stuff, and if you've played Legends this way you'll know what you're in for. New, however, is the ability to trade high-scores between systems. You can join together in a lobby with up to 16 other players and swap high-scores between each of your systems with a simple button press, allowing you to compare your times while on the road. There's luckily an option to remove them if you get too jealous...
On top of this, Burnout HQ gives you access to two online features, namely downloadable content and leaderboards. There isn't anything available for download yet, but it looks as if new tracks are in the works. As for the leaderboards, you're able to upload the records that you've set in the Record Breaker mode and see how you compare with others from around the world. Unfortunately, the scores are only taken from Record Breaker, so if you've managed to nail a few perfect laps on a course in the main career mode, you can't compare that time.
From a visual standpoint, Dominator on the PSP looks fantastic. The game runs at a blistering framerate and never slows down. Though the models and scenery detail are obviously not quite as sharp as what you'd find on the PS2, when running at full speed the two games look nearly identical. The one big difference is that cars don't feature nearly as much damage detail as the console games, with the only damage shown reflected on things like open doors and a popped hood.
Our only real complaint with the game is that the collision detection is rather forgiving. There are times where we were sure we should have slammed into a car, only to pass right through and keep on going. While this is certainly better than the opposite, crashing into nothing, it does take a bit of the edge off as you get away with a lot more than you really should.
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