This is a weird Burnout. It’s like Burnout: Year Zero, or Burnout Returns, a kind of re-imagining of the series that ignores the more recent developments. Lots of the innovations introduced in 2005’s Burnout: Revenge have been dumped, modes have been dropped, and features last seen in Burnout 2 have been brought back in as replacements. So what we were expecting to be a half-assed rehash of recycled tracks is, in fact, a right awesome Burnout game - and the perfect end to the game’s career on PS2.
The first big reintroduction is the Burnout Chain. This was everyone’s favorite thing about Burnout 2, and has you powering up your boost gauge, setting it off, then driving like a Hollywood celebrity on a cocktail of prescription medication and alcohol into oncoming traffic to try and fill up the gauge again before it runs out. Manage that and you have a Burnout x1. Do it again for a x2. Keep doing it for one of the coolest features in driving games, and one that lifts Burnout above all of its competitors. You have to wonder why this feature hasn’t been in Burnout for the last few years.
Another retro tweak sees the traffic get a little more dangerous again. When reviewing 2005’s Burnout: Revenge we moaned endlessly about how being suddenly allowed to hit the “same way” traffic made the game too easy, especially in its amazingly dull Traffic Attack races. You could, if you wanted, stay in the correct lane and not really bother about steering, racking up way too much boost by jamming traffic up as you flew along. Well that’s been dumped - hopefully never to return.
In Dominator, you crash if you shove the rear of a car going the same way as you, which reintroduces a bit more skill to the Burnout formula. Now you have to occasionally worry about steering. Of course, you still crash and disintegrate horribly if you hit something coming the other way should you veer over the white line in the middle of the road, so you still get to see plenty of those awesome slow-motion crash shots.
Two new unlocking systems also make you pay a bit more attention to what’s happening. Instead of mindlessly plugging through, unlocking cars at random, each race now gives you a target to achieve. So if you want to unlock a new car, you have to perform a Takedown on it during a race to add it to your garage. Also, Signature Takedowns want you to smash enemy cars into certain lumps of scenery, breaking open new shortcuts. The changes, like the same-way car crashing, makes you pay a bit more attention to what’s happening out there on the road. Great tweaks.
There are a few new challenges to keep you interested as well. The biggest is the Maniac Mode, where you’re ranked according to how crazily you drive. The game ranks you on how long you’ve driven in the wrong lane, your Takedowns, the length of your drifts and so on. You have Near Miss challenges where points are scored by scraping the wing mirrors off cars as you pass them, specific Drift Challenges for holding down X and Square and pulling off those huge slides for points, plus you still race against Rivals in some events, giving you smarter cars to smash out of the way.
All of which contribute to the World Tour ranking and event unlocking system, which is about the same as ever. Winning races gets you points, meeting special criteria gets you bonus points, and your running total eventually unlocks a new race series when it passes through certain score barriers.
Throughout World Tour, you unlock new race tracks and events as ever, and, thankfully, the locations really are all new. The seven World Tour series’ are broken up by car class - not that cars ever feel different from each other in Burnout - with tours taking place around Japanese mountains, dockyards, the usual gleaming cities and the German Autobahn. There’s enough stuff to be looking at, plus the tracks feature more shortcuts and jumps than ever before. It runs smoothly too, although the angular cars and flimsy fly-away scenery are starting to look a little bit dated.
The multiplayer section is a bit hit-and-miss too. The miss part is no Crash mode and no online stuff. The latter of which you’d expect what with this being a “last generation” PS2 game, but the missing Crash mode? That’s a crime. Pad-passing high-score Crash games are a Burnout multiplayer legend, and it’s a shame a few haven’t been dreamed up for this new chapter.
There are also only seven series’ in the World Tour, and factor in the loss of Crash games and you’re left with a title that’s quite a bit smaller than the last Burnout. With no online racing, the multiplayer stuff is taken care of with a league system. Dominator lets you set up groups of up to four players, each racing an event and taking turns to rack up a score. There’s also a split-screen option, but four-player Takedown pad-passing tournaments are definitely the way to go.
So, it’s an odd game, this. It’s a sort of Burnout Greatest Hits compilation, taking some of the best ideas from the series and adding them all together in one sort-of-new package. It’s a shame there are no Crash games and if you’re expecting anything particularly new, well, you haven’t been paying much attention to the videogame industry recently.
But if, however, you want a nice PlayStation 2 finale to one of recent history’s finest racing games, Burnout Dominator ticks all of the boxes. Especially the box labeled “Burnout Chaining” a racing skill we’ve missed since 2002 and are very glad to see back. We were expecting Burnout Dominator to be a cheapo rehash and cash-in now that no one’s really paying attention to PS2 so much, but it’s a class act. We’re confident the series is back on track and set for a stunning debut on PS3 and Xbox 360 later this year.