Burnout Revenge is about driving fast, and stopping faster. It creates one of the fastest sensations of speed ever – there’s no question of that – and it features some of the most glorious crashes I’ve ever seen. It takes the gameplay from the already excellent Burnout 3: Takedown, which itself revitalised the series, and still manages to improve on it. And yet it bungles the whole thing with one of the most irritating front-ends I’ve ever seen.
As with most driving games, the aim of Burnout Revenge is to win. But half the battle of winning is avoiding, because the Revenge tracks feature a great deal of traffic, not to mention five other racers trying to run you off the road (or into said traffic) in order to score a ‘takedown’. It’s all very frenetic. And that’s before you hit the boost, vital for the quickest lap times. The boost is charged not through power-slides and daring manoeuvres, but also through takedowns, which fill the boost bar and double its length.
Burnout Revenge, then, is all about aggressive driving, and aggressive driving always leads to accidents. And when accidents happen, they’re spectacular and visceral. The soundtrack drops out as the twisted wreck of your car hurtles through the air, cannoning off traffic and mangling other vehicles in much the same way as your own; glass and sparks shower, until everything on the road has come to rest – at which point your car respawns, ready to go again, but several crucial seconds behind the new race leaders. However, Revenge will still let you snatch victory from even the most destructive crash. On holding the boost button during the crash a “bullet-time” effect kicks in, and you can steer the wreckage of your car into your opponents, scoring an “aftertouch takedown”. To cap it all, this Burnout instalment adds the concept of the “Revenge Takedown”, in which you, well, get revenge on someone who took you out. It’s a further sign that the racing usually takes a back seat to running cars off the road.
Burnout Revenge‘s crashes are so good, in fact, that it makes a whole game mode out of them. In the Crash mode the aim is to steer your car into a pack of traffic and cause as much mayhem as possible. Smashing up a certain number of cars scores you a “crashbreaker” (in normal parlance, a bomb) which lets you blow up more traffic, steer your wreckage around the map a bit, and start again. In Revenge, starting your car in a crash event is no longer a case of just flooring the accelerator. Instead, there’s now a swing-gauge much like a golf game, and if you’re not careful, you could end up with a slow start, or worst of all, a blown engine. This is a marked change from Takedown, and to be honest, it’s an unnecessary one. By contrast, the removal of Takedown’s multiplier icons, which ruined the balance of Crash events, can only be a good thing.
The mechanics of the gameplay, in themselves, are very solid, and lend to a hugely entertaining game. They’re complemented by stunning visuals, which are so good they might make you doubt whether we need next-generation consoles right now. Burnout 3 was gorgeous in its own right, but Revenge improves on that by damping down some of the sheen and primary colours, giving proceedings a more realistic feel, and the game is more intense because of it.
Revenge’s tracks improve on Takedown‘s by offering a great many shortcuts that allow the fastest lap times. The tracks also fork into the third dimension, with vast jumps, overpasses, and bridges to cross, all offering opportunities for the brand new “vertical takedown”. Playing the game, you can’t help but think that someone at Criterion really loves arcade racers – especially Sega racers; coming out of Alpine tunnels into blinding sun before drifting around huge corners calls nothing to mind as much as OutRun 2. That’s very high praise, but Revenge deserves it.
So far, so positive. But what lets the whole game down are its front-end menus. They seem innocuous enough to start with – you choose “Single Player”, pick the first of the ten difficulty levels, a track and an event. But after your first event it starts to get confused. DING! You got four stars for your driving skill – that’s AWESOME! Ding! You got first place – GOLD! Dingdingding! AWESOME + GOLD = 5 stars and a PERFECT. And then: NEW CAR UNLOCKED! NEW EVENT UNLOCKED! And you’re dumped back to the track select screen with the word “new” flashing on every course with new events. Which happens to be a lot.
As you acquire stars, you’ll unlock new difficulty levels. As you win events, you’ll unlock new events and cars. And every time you’ve unlocked new stuff, you’re dumped back to the interface to drown in a sea of NEWs with no idea what the new thing you unlocked was. The game is intent on rewarding almost every action, no matter how mundane. This trivialises the skill necessary later on; to begin with, even the most average player might be surprised by the endless string of AWESOMEGOLDPERFECT that they’re blasted with. In the end, you give up any hope of finding out what you unlocked, and discover that just hammering the A button after each race will get you back on the track again. The endless exclamation marks, DINGing and reward smacks of a game designed for a target market of 9-year-olds with ADHD. As a fully qualified grownup, it’s a bit annoying and really difficult to use. Which is a shame, because the moment you into a race, it’s fantastic. But you know that in a few scant minutes, you’re going to be back in that DINGDINGDINGing hellhole.
The soundtrack is also a little questionable; since BO3, when Burnout became an EA property, an original soundtrack has been eschewed in favour of “EA Trax”, a selection of vaguely current punk and indie singles. All I can say is that if you don’t like the genre, and many don’t, make sure you have some suitable music on your XBox hard disk. If you’re playing on a PS2, tough luck.
So all in all, it’s a bit flawed. Unlike Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow which takes a great formula and leaves well alone, Burnout: Revenge can’t resist meddling, and it’s weaker for it. The deluge of rewards no longer feels rewarding; the front end confuses the game’s structure; many new gameplay features are unnecessary complications.
But it’s worth forgiving for the stories you’ll take away from it: tales of near-misses, spectacular crashes, and the time you did a power-slide between two oncoming buses, and as was so excited as a result that you crashed into a wall. Give it a chance, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best arcade racing in a while. It’s good stuff, but it’s not quite – DINGDINGDING – awesome, gold, or perfect.
Burnout Revenge (2005)
Platform: Xbox (version tested), PS2