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Burnout Dominator (PlayStation 2) artwork

Burnout Dominator (PlayStation 2) review

"It’s time to wrap your sweaty mitts around the wheel, clench your teeth, and thread the needle of traffic as you burn your tires down the center line. Blink and you just might find yourself at the wrong end of a five-car pileup."

Don’t signal, forget about your mirrors, and don’t even think about checking your speed. Those pansy drivers’ ed courses won’t help now. It’s time to wrap your sweaty mitts around the wheel, clench your teeth, and thread the needle of traffic as you burn your tires down the center line. Blink and you just might find yourself at the wrong end of a five-car pileup.

Other racing games can brag about their tuning and customization options, but no game does speed like Burnout. It doesn’t matter if you’re blazing down the highway or a city alleyway. The scenery is just a vague blur as you weave through the headlights of oncoming cars. While other racers are busy patting your back for smooth maneuvering and efficient braking, Burnout demands reckless abandonment. Drifting through turns, cutting corners, and throwing your car into the guardrails are not just part of the fun. They are the only ways to win.

For a game about speed, Burnout: Dominator stutters a bit off the line. Beginning in the Classic Series, the first stage is the Burnout Challenge. It’s more of a tutorial than an actual race, complete with pop-up windows that freeze the action to re-introduce the ways of Burnout Chaining as seen in the series’ beginning. A simple video would have sufficed, but still, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t know how to boost. Near misses, causing crashes, drifting around corners, and shooting down the wrong side of the road all build the boost meter. When filled to capacity, activate the Supercharge Boost to blow past everyone in a single paint-peeling surge of power, and then fill the meter again before the boost dries up to get a Burnout Chain. For skillful drivers, or at least incredibly lucky ones, it is possible to spend an entire race Burnout Chaining to the finish line.

Up next was the Drift Challenge, where I was required to drift a certain distance to win, and third was the Maniac Challenge, a new mode where driving dangerously builds points towards a medal. If you haven’t caught on yet, Burnout doesn’t abide by traditional racing standards. Coming in first, or even crossing the finish line for that matter, often plays second string to completing the objectives of the challenges. In addition to the three already mentioned, there are Preview Events which play out as time trials, Near-miss Challenges, Takedown Challenges, and my favorite, Eliminator. Every time 30 seconds passes in Eliminator the last car is thrown from the race. When there’s three seconds on the clock, your opponent has you pinned against the rails, and sparks are flying at the cracks in your windshield, the phrase “nerve-racking” doesn’t seem to cut it.

Burnout isn’t all Challenges. Traditional races are still here, and Dominator doesn’t know the meaning of an easy win. For the first race, thrown into the city with actual opponents, I quickly fell to the back of the pack. Every time I tried to pass, my opponents beat me mercilessly against the rails. Seeing an opening in oncoming traffic, I hit the boost, viciously held to the painted lines, and swept through the highway. With a 5X Burnout Chain I barreled through construction signs, off the highway’s edge, and dropped down on the hood of the lead car, only to flip haplessly upside down. That’s when I hit the Crashbreaker, causing every car around me to become a hurtling ball of fiery wreckage. Back on the road with a full boost meter, the gold medal was mine.

Few games reward crashing like Burnout does. Performing Takedowns by smashing your opponents into the rails, flipping their cars, or pushing them into oncoming traffic is without a doubt the quickest way to keep your boost going. Strange as it sounds, wrecking your own car can even be strategic. Upon crashing, you can slow down time and use Aftertouch to maneuver your car as it flies through the air. When your unwitting opponents get near, hit the Crashbreaker and blow them all sky high. Since a well-timed Crashbreaker keeps you in the lead and fills your boost at the same time, you can use it to your advantage when second place creeps up from behind.

After each challenge, Dominator Points are awarded to unlock new cars and six increasingly difficult series with their own sets of fuel-injected challenges and races. With a total of 88 events, all but the most jaded Burnout fans should be satisfied. Beyond Dominator points and gold medals, there are numerous trophies to obtain. While some of the trophies will be collected naturally by accumulating takedowns and medals, other require you to perform feats like winning with zero crashes, winning after three crashes, and building Burnout Chains. As with all Burnout games, the only thing that seems to be missing is a variety of cars. The cars get faster and faster in each series, but the differences between cars of the same series are purely cosmetic.

Nobody likes driving in silence, so EA packed the playlist with over 30 songs to keep your gas pedal glued to the floor. There are some classics by Alice in Chains and Jane’s Addiction, rising acts like Saosin and Army of Anyone, and four different versions of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend.” I suppose that’ll make someone out there happy. Burnout: Dominator has some good tracks, but it feels like EA is just getting lazy. They do the same thing for SSX, Madden, Need for Speed, and pretty much every other game they toss their name on. What happened to original scores? At this rate, I might as well turn on my mp3 player and make my own playlists.

After beating every series, unlocking all of the cars, taking all but the most elusive trophies, and signing up for the Avril Lavigne fan club, I wondered, “What now?” Dominator may have the graphics of Revenge, but the gameplay is ripped straight from the first two games. We have the return of Record Breaker, where you can practice the tracks and different challenges without worrying about competition. When it comes to multiplayer though, we got ripped off. Split-screen races are here, but online play and (brace yourself) Crash Mode were thrown out the window. Dominator does sport a similar party mode where up to four players can take turns doing races. Nice try, but when some races take a few minutes to beat, that means everyone may be waiting around ten minutes for their turns.

I am not entirely sure what to make of Burnout: Dominator. Some might call it a nostalgic throwback, an expansion to the series, or perhaps even an attempt to cash in on the franchise. Actually, that last bit may not be too far off since EA took over the reigns of development while Criterion Games remains hard at work on Burnout 5. Dominator is definitely not a leap forward for the series, but I suppose I can’t complain too much. When you crave mind-blowing speed, Burnout is still the best fix around.


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Staff review by Brian Rowe (March 26, 2007)

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