Burnout's latest iteration (there have been seven games in the series thus far, on five different systems) hits the PSP (there's a PS2 version as well), just as the first next-gen entry to the series (Burnout Paradise) gets announced. Is it just in time to capitalize on the publicity storm the latter announcement is sure to generate, or too small a title to capture the imagination when compared to the feature list of its imminent big brother? Let's take a look...
Burnout is about driving headlong into oncoming traffic, huge crashes and adrenaline pumping driving action. The action itself is split out into a number of series, starting with classic cars and working its way up through factory cars, tuner cars (think: boy racers), hotrods, super cars and more until you reach the ultimate dominator class. Each class represents a step up: faster cars, harder opposition, more extreme handling and ever more insane track layouts. Each class is further broken down into single events, where the goal is generally to wreak havoc with your motor.
Completing the goal(s) of each track earns you dominator points which, at set intervals, unlock access to the next series up. You must complete each series in order as it is necessary to complete each event in turn to unlock the next. The events themselves vary from trashing your opponents, eliminator racing, classic racing and a variety of points-related events where the goal is to be as reckless as possible. Surprisingly, crash mode - the classic "drive at high speed into an intersection and cause as much damage as you can" that has been a staple of the series - is completely absent.
Over the series, the rules have changed a bit as Criterion and EA attempt to find the perfect balance of racing, crashing and pure insanity. True to that legacy, Dominator is not without tweaks to the formula. Unlike in the previous title - Revenge - you can no longer slam willy-nilly into traffic in your own lane. Doing so will result in a spectacular crash and damage your chances at succeeding in your current goal.
The other major change is the introduction of supercharge mode. In a nutshell, supercharge mode means that you now get a "supercharge" meter when you fill your burnout bar. Using your boost once you have supercharge enables you to earn more boost as you supercharge down the road - if you drain your entire boost bar in one long boost, you earn a "burnout". This means that after using all of your boost in one shot, you'll finish up with a full bar of boost, ready to go again (you'll need to earn a little more to get supercharge again).
Furthermore, if you earn a full bar of boost while you supercharge, you'll score a supercharge burnout combo - this means that you'll have a full supercharge meter again and your score multiplier will increase by one - the obvious goal then is to chain endless supercharge combos as you scream around the track. Don't crash though, as that will end your combo.
The track layouts are pretty much what you'd expect from a Burnout title: twists, turns, climbs and downhills set in a variety of locales, in and out of metropolitan areas. Some tracks are better than others - some are downright irritating with corners placed in locations that make them hard to read, whilst others are superb flowing racing fantasies. Which side of the road is the oncoming side changes from track to track, and there are a number of shortcuts/alternative routes, including some that can only be unlocked by taking down a rival in the area of the shortcut itself - another new feature for Dominator.
Vehicle handling is, for the most part, pretty forgiving - handy since the new supercharger gameplay element encourages you to boost continuously, even when doing so will cause you to smash into barriers or take bad lines through corners. Drifting is pretty easy and something you'll want to get good at quickly since it's a great way to fill your burnout meter.
Graphically it's a nice looking title with good looking cars (considering their deformability in crashes), nice environments (with lots of variety) that are nicely lit and skip past at a nice frame rate. There is the occasional slowdown but this only seems to happen outside of the actual driving so isn't really a concern. It's got all the cool noises you'd expect, with satisfying crunches, crashes and engine noises and the familiar "EA trax" pumping out a selection of pop music you've never heard before (Avril Lavigne, in Spanish!). Fortunately EA saw sense and there are no longer mid-game micropauses as the radio system switches tracks – the biggest bugbear of the previous PSP title.
Should you bother? In a word, yes. It's solid Burnout action with a few twists on the core mechanic to keep things interesting. Even if you've never played a Burnout title before, there's no reason not to start with this version. The lack of crash mode is a little disappointing, as is the exclusion of online play (you can upload scores and download tracks, however) but what is here is well implemented. This is a solid gap filler for those of us waiting for the first next-gen Burnout (Paradise), and is a worthy game to have in your pocket, even if it isn’t particularly outstanding in any way.