Burnout Dominator PS2 Review
The Burnout series has come a long way since its humble beginnings on the Gamecube, never being afraid to tweak the mechanics of its newer iterations to give them each their own unique style hidden under their seemingly identical bonnets. Burnout 3 is seen by many as the seminal game in the series, taking the focus away from precision driving and encouraging players to give in to their inner beast and become a vicious predator on wheels; a shift in the series’ focus that made the game arguably one of the best arcade style racers ever made. With Burnout 5 soon on the way to quell the speed needs of next-gen junkies, EA have thrown us a bone in the form of Burnout: Dominator, a title which offers all new tracks to bomb around for those who really just can’t wait for the next official sequel in the series.
With Burnout 5 seemingly intent on taking a whole new direction on the franchise, this could be the last classic burnout game we see for a while and overall it’s a nice package; combining the old racing focused mechanics of Burnout 2 with the more realistic graphical tone of Burnout 4. Dominator doesn’t have ideas above its station: it’s a self confessed remix to tide us over until the series takes its next step forward with the likely changes the official sequel will bring- sadly I have to say that Dominator doesn’t cater for me personally, the game choosing to focus on the earlier ideals of the series rather than offering up more of the instant visceral action that Takedown kept on lovingly giving.
Now before I begin, I’d like to make something clear: I love Burnout 3. It’s probably one of my favourite racing games ever, so when reading what I have to say about Dominator take it with a pinch of salt; on many accounts this really is a great game, but largely when compared to Burnout 3 there are some shortcomings and changes that aren’t too welcome in my mind, and as it only seems fair to compare Dominator to the last outing on the system which undoubtedly raised the bar for arcade racing games in general. I’m not going to be pulling any punches when it comes to comparisons. First of all, there’s one unforgivable problem with Dominator: The loading times. Confusingly however the problem doesn’t arise when loading levels, but when autosaving your progress to a memory card after each race – usually taking around 7 or 8 seconds to record your updated statistics, an amount of time that seems frankly ridiculous; get over the time you’ll have to wait to get back to the main menu after each race however and you’ll be well on your way to having a blast.
You can still expect the trademark Burnout playing style of smoothly drifting through traffic on the wrong side of the road to boost your score and fill up the ever-precious boost bar, but rather than upgrading the bar’s capacity with takedowns, the maximum charge is a fixed amount, the focus this time being on achieving Burnout Chains by totally filling the boost meter then discharging it all in a frantic blaze whilst achieving your quota of dangerous driving before the bar runs dry to fully replenish your boost and adding a score multiplier. It’s this aspect of the game that will get your adrenaline pumping, Dominator encourages you to keep on boosting for as long as you possibly can; releasing your finger from the boost button at any point during a chain and breaking it puts a major dent in the incline of both your speed and score. It’s a mechanic that’s a blessing and a curse – reaching 10X multipliers through chaining is absolutely thrilling, but it takes time to build up to such a level and once you’ve gotten a taste of the fast life it becomes increasingly harder to get your kicks when playing Dominator.
Visually there’s not really all that much to say about Dominator that you shouldn’t already know, in terms of appearance it seems to be an identical build to Burnout 3, the only noticeable difference being a preference towards sepia tones in the colour scheme which sometimes makes oncoming traffic more tricky to spot. The game has a more grounded, less flashy visual approach all round. Realism has definitely become more of a focus all round in this iteration, don’t expect to see the same level of pizazz when it comes to cascades of sparks and metallic debris flying about as you carelessly romp around the tracks. This grounded feel isn’t restricted to the aesthetics of Dominator either, the physics engine isn’t set to 11 anymore which in short means that; when you crash it’s rarely very spectacular and achieving takedowns isn’t the cakewalk PS2 owners may have gotten used to. The takedown camera also seems rather intent on frightening the hell out of you, something which I’m not entirely sure is unintentional. Rival cars don’t seem as inclined to spin out and crash when you ram into them this time around meaning that you usually have to forcibly shunt them into obstacles to achieve a takedown. The problem with this is that the camera angle switch is far faster than in Burnout 3, often leaving you being unsure if you’ve successfully taken out the enemy driver or screwed it up and foolishly crashed your own car, which tends to break up the sense of pace at times. When you do crash your own car, the camera angles are often quite tight and claustrophobic, taking the only real gift of messing up out of the experience; getting to see a nice wide angle depicting just how spectacularly badly you judged that drift.
This shortcoming is pretty much forgiven for the inclusion of the Crashbreaker into many of the game modes, allowing you to steer your wrecked car towards oncoming racers in traditional slow-motion glory before triggering explosions to cause a gauntlet of destruction for your opponents to try and weave through and with the scale of explosion being dependent on how full your boost bar was when you crashed, it takes away some of the misery of piling into oncoming traffic with a bar full of turbo. Again however, another trade-off for this is a lack of Crash mode, something which I can certainly live without but many may miss.
Dominator is a great racing title all round, but it’s an entirely different kettle of fish when compared to Burnout 3. It’s more focused on controlled racing rather than visceral carnage and if you’re looking for another fix of metallic brutality then you might find Dominator a little disappointing. The lack of online modes and an emphasis on control and focus mean that it’s a much more solitary racing experience, one which rewards those who put the time into mastering it but lacks the casual appeal of its PS2 predecessor. The grounded style it offers will likely appeal to fans of more realistic racing games, but those looking for a quick fix of nitro-fuelled fun with a few friends will find more joy in cracking out your old copy of Burnout 3 for an encore.
A solid and well made game, but one that’s just not quite as much fun as Burnout 3.