Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA UK/Criterion Games
Release Date: March 6, 2007
During its rapid ascent to the top of the arcade racing heap, the Burnout series has always been marked by three dominant traits: unbridled speed, endless intensity, and constant innovation. The first two are a given, but the third has allowed the series to stay fresh and improve considerably with each iteration. Via the addition of new modes and refined gameplay elements, no two games have been the same — and the forthcoming Burnout Paradise looks to further reinvent what we expect from the franchise.
Burnout Dominator attempts to prove the old adage that two out of three ain't bad. And truly, it's not — Dominator is good fun, but it's not great. Speed and intensity are not the issue here; it's the innovation, or rather the lack thereof. Not only does the game bring little to the table, but it actually reverses many of the crucial enhancements implemented in recent iterations. With nearly every aspect of the experience either limited or watered down in some respect, Burnout Dominator feels more like a solid business decision than a cohesive, necessary entry for the venerable series.
Patterned as the missing link between Burnout 2: Point of Impact and Burnout 3: Takedown, Dominator marries the boost-blazing gameplay of the former to the aggressive, takedown-oriented atmosphere of the latter. Call it Burnout 2½, or just call it three years too late — the actual "Burnout" maneuvers of Point of Impact were ditched in favor of a more flexible boosting system, but they return to Dominator in their full, supercharged glory.
Filling the boost meter works much like it has in the past — players must perform reckless acts, such as driving in the oncoming lane, drifting around massive turns, and slamming competitors into other objects (inanimate or otherwise). Once filled, hold down the R1 button and don't dare let go, since using up the entire meter at once will trigger a Burnout. If you can continue to drive with reckless abandon, you may start a Burnout chain that can theoretically continue until the end of the event; that is, presuming you don't crash or play it safe by riding the walls and avoiding opportunities for boost.
This increased emphasis on chaining together Burnouts gives the game a much different feel than its two most recent predecessors. Boosting when the meter is not full seems to give you less of an advantage than when it is supercharged, and the rubber-band nature of the A.I. competitors means that you're either boosting or you're behind.
More startlingly, Dominator nixes the ability to check traffic from behind, which I saw as one of the key enhancements in Burnout Revenge. It may have allowed drivers to be a bit more careless, but it also helped to eliminate many of the cheap crashes that come with the rolling hills and wide turns of the courses. The right lane was like a safe zone for speed-seeking racers, but now the outer edges serve as the only respite from the traffic-heavy highways of Dominator. As someone who invested countless hours into Revenge, it took me several hours to adjust to the lack of traffic checking and learn to avoid anything that moves. Well, aside from the other racers — they can eat wall.
The World Tour in Dominator takes a point-based approach to unlocking its seven series of races, each centered on a certain type of vehicle (such as Tuned cars or Hotrods). Each series has at least 10 events spread over a variety of race types, with a Grand Prix and a Dominator event featured prominently at the tail end. Four cars can be unlocked in each of the first six series by completing a specific objective in an event, such as drifting for 9,000 feet or taking down a rival three times. Unlocking all four vehicles in a particular series unlocks the Dominator event, and earning a medal in that event reveals an additional Dominator car.
Points can be accumulated in many ways, though most will come from earning medals in each event. Additional points are earned for completing objectives and earning trophies, as well as for unlocking vehicles and opening up Signature Shortcuts. Like the Signature Takedowns of previous entries, unlocking each shortcut is usually a matter of luck, as the insane speed of the game restricts most attempts to plan such an extravagant takedown. Once you open a Signature Shortcut (by ramming a competitor into the restrictive barrier), it is unlocked forever, and can be used for faster times in Preview Events and to gain an edge in races.
Many of the event types will be familiar to series fans, including Road Rage, Race, and Eliminator, but others are completely original, even if they play on existing concepts. A trio of Challenges — Near Miss, Burnout, and Drift — limit a racer's ability to earn points to the specified concept. For example, the only way to succeed in the Drift Challenge is to drift extensively, and so on and so forth.
Most exciting of the new additions is Maniac event type, which assigns points to all of the crazy things one can do on a busy road. By stringing together Burnouts, drifts, near-misses, and time spent in the oncoming lanes, players may be able to earn enough points to win a medal. The World Tour mode culminates in a one-shot Total Maniac event, which challenges gamers to earn a million Maniac points to win the ultimate Gold medal. I strung together 14 Burnouts and still only earned a Bronze. If Burnout Paradise plays anything like the recent series iterations, Criterion Games should seriously consider carrying Maniac over to the next generation of consoles.
Takedown and Revenge each featured more than 150 events, but Dominator checks in with just 88 in all. As such, the entire World Tour mode can be seen and conquered inside of 10 hours' time, and there isn't much else to the experience. On top of that, just 36 vehicles made the cut, and for the most part, every car within a particular class drives about the same. With each series restricted by vehicle class, Dominator removes the strategy and flexibility seen in Revenge, where players could choose from several unlocked vehicles in most event types. Outside of the World Tour, the only other single-player option is Record Breaker, which is like a "create an event" practice mode. It's nothing to get worked up about.
Still, the single-player experience seems absolutely epic compared to the lackluster multiplayer offerings. It's 2007, guys, so the lack of online multiplayer in a marquee racing entry is downright embarrassing, especially when Takedown and Revenge both featured it. Split-screen races are somewhat suitable, though the visuals take a slight hit and the music doesn't play at all. Up to four players can switch off with a single controller via Party Play, but you would have to be pretty desperate for entertainment to take turns going through time trials.
Burnout Dominator looks about the same as Revenge did in 2005, with a smooth frame rate and slightly grainy visuals. The sense of speed still top-notch, though it can be quite tough to make out the headlights of the oncoming traffic with the standard definition visuals and overabundance of lens flare effects. Though all 12 of the courses in Dominator are brand new, they cover a lot of the same ground as those in previous games: industrial sectors, tightly constructed European cities, and highways galore. The tracks seem a bit more linear than those in Revenge, though they do sport much wider turns (like those in Burnout 2).
Building a Burnout soundtrack using the EA Trax library is nearly an exact science at this point. Start with a bunch of emerging indie/punk bands (Bromheads Jacket, The Photo Atlas), add a couple of buzz bands (The Fratellis, LCD Soundsystem), sneak in some groups whose up-and-comer rights are about to expire (Sugarcult, Senses Fail), curiously include a pair of remixes of ancient singles from bands that may or may not have broken up (Filter, N.E.R.D.), score an exclusive track premiere (Hot Hot Heat's "Give Up?"), and secure one bona fide smash hit (Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend"). Bam, it's a Burnout soundtrack. For whatever reason, we get that smash hit in four languages (English, Spanish, Japanese, and Mandarin), though only the chorus changes in each version. Lucky us!
Despite all of those nagging discrepancies, Burnout Dominator does capture enough of the familiar formula to ensure a quality experience, but it's one that feels both overpriced and unnecessary in the modern marketplace. Dominator answers the theoretical question of what might have happened if Burnout had not significantly evolved after 2003, but did that question really need to be answered?
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