Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Criterion Games
Release Date: March 6, 2007
The Burnout series had its first two entries published by Acclaim until the publishing company folded. Electronic Arts also seized the opportunity to take over the franchise by picking up the developer, Criterion Games. Over the course of the series, the gameplay has evolved into an almost different kind of creature altogether, as the racing style shifted from daredevil driving, reaching outrageous speeds by chaining together Burnouts, to what could only be described as offensive driving.
In Burnout 3, the franchise introduced the Takedown aspect of the game, which involved trying to force your opponents into devastating crashes in order to rack up points. Revenge, the fourth title in the series, added the ability to use the traffic to your advantage to force your adversaries into multiple car pile-ups, and the option to extract actual "revenge" on any opposing racer who managed to wreck your grill with after-the-fact self-destruction. Now, with Burnout Dominator, a new game exclusive to the PS2 and PSP, Criterion has taken the gameplay back to its roots with an emphasis on daredevil driving, while keeping the offensive aspect — a later addition to the series — completely intact.
The Burnout series has always done a great job at delivering fast, action-packed racing, and that formula's no different in Dominator, but the driving force that has kept its audience coming back for more are the explosive, and extremely thrilling, slow-motion crash sequences. Watching your vehicle — and anyone else's caught in the middle — smash, crash and burn, up close and personal at less than half the original speed, optimizing the amount of visible carnage, is what actually catapulted this series into one of the premiere racing titles in the U.S. With the Need for Speed games already leading the way in the arcade racing genre, Burnout had to find a way to set itself apart from other offerings in the racing field, and realistic, drawn-out crash sequences was apparently the correct route to take, given the series' overall success.
In Dominator's single-player campaign for the PSP, designated as World Tour mode, you'll work your way through sets of races, separated by which series of vehicles you'll have to choose from, where you advance by earning Dominator Points and completing a list of objectives and races in an individual series. Each event has qualifying goals, and you'll be awarded a medal ranging from bronze to gold depending on your success with the listed objectives. Sometimes you'll only be expected to finish a race at a minimum of third place, while other times, your only goal will be to take down a specific number of opposing racers before you cross the finish line.
Because of the range of objectives, you'll find some events are easier for you to finish with a gold medal than others, according to your own personal strengths and weaknesses on the road, so you may want to work your way through the events you're most comfortable with first and then plug away at the events that cause you trouble. For the most part, I found the events focused on drifting were the most difficult, as the courses are very short and the drifting can be slightly difficult to pull off on the PSP's controls. Regardless, if you're a completist, you're not going to manage the gold on every event on your first attempt, so you can easily keep yourself busy for long gaming sessions.
While playing, you're awarded Dominator Points for a multitude of reasons, including near-traffic misses, drifting, opponent takedowns, and, of course, chaining together burnouts. To anyone not familiar with the series, to achieve a burnout, you build up your boost meter by driving dangerously until it turns into a blue flame, and then you activate your boost with the R button and hold it until you enter into a burnout. Once in a burnout, you need to keep driving on the wild side with nasty sliding drifts, heart-racing near-misses and wild takedowns, in order to max out your boost again before it runs out and then chain your burnouts together into a massive ball of outrageous speed.
When you're tearing down the road at speeds over 120 mph, you're obviously more susceptible to slamming into oncoming traffic or spinning out of control into a rail barrier or tunnel wall. Luckily, if this happens, you can always activate a crash-breaker after the fact and take down any racers in your immediate vicinity. You're given a few seconds once you've begun to crash to manipulate your vehicle with the analog nub into a desired location, in a feature known as impact time, so you navigate toward opponents in order to catch them inside of your self-destruct explosion.
In the racing genre, a game's controls can make or break it, and I'm happy to say that Burnout Dominator is very easy to pick up and play, with smooth and responsive steering and an extremely accessible control layout. The only problems you may have controlling your cars revolve around drifting properly with the awkward PSP analog nub. Although the controls are very spot on, this doesn't mean you're going to race flawlessly, as the statistics of the vehicle you choose for the event will also play a large role in how you perform. Different vehicle types are better suited for different event types, so you're only going to complicate matters for yourself if you pick a car that's weak at bending corners for a drifting event.
Beyond the World Tour mode, Burnout Dominator offers two separate forms of multiplayer gameplay. In Party Play, you and up three other players can take turns racing the same event, or series of events, on the same PSP, and the score leader at the end wins the round. You can also play in Ad Hoc mode with up to five other people, as long as they each have their own PSP and a copy of the game. If so, you can take it to the streets in either Road Rage mode or Maniac mode, a new mode exclusive to Dominator that requires you to drive like the mode's title — like a complete and total maniac. Additionally, there's also Record Breaker mode for single-player play where you pick an event and try to break all of that event's previous records.
For a PSP title, Dominator sports some pretty impressive visuals. Criterion seems to have managed to push the handheld console to its limits with outstanding car models and vibrant, lively environments. The game never suffers from any slowdown and moves at a quick and steady pace, all the while holding countless numbers of cars on the screen. The money shots for which everyone clamors in a Burnout title are present and in top fashion, as the crashes are outrageous, over-the-top and as gorgeous as chaos can manage on the PSP. Don't worry, the wrecks sound just as horrific as they look! There's not much to fault with the audio package, other than the fact that you might not care for the licensed songs that make up the soundtrack.
In conclusion, Burnout Dominator is well worth its $40 price tag, especially if you're a fan of the arcade racing genre. The controls are tight and responsive, the visuals are outstanding, and the single-player campaign will keep you occupied for a good while. The only improvement that could've been made to this PSP title would be the inclusion of Infrastructure Wi-Fi play, and, sadly, the absence of such online play really holds back this title from greatness. Either way, Dominator is one of the best racing games currently available on the PSP, so there's more here to cheer than jeer.
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