One of the most anticipated games this fall is Burnout Revenge, the follow-up to last year's Burnout 3: Takedown, which actually garnered some votes for "game of the year" from a variety of publications last year. From being able to smash into traffic to improved visuals, the sequel has improved upon its predecessor in almost every way, and it even got faster. Yes, faster.
Burnout's "revenge" factor is noticeable right off the bat. For starters, the A.I. for the other cars in the race has been improved and is now noticeably more aggressive. No longer do they passively drive next to you; they want you out of the race as badly as you want them out. When you take another racer down, rest assured they will make returning the favor a high priority. The game also encourages you to takedown opponents that have caused you to crash, highlighting them as a new "revenge rival" before the smoke has even cleared from your wreck. It doesn't seem like much, but it really gets you fired up to take make them pay for taking you out. There are new ways to take down opponents this year; from running traffic into them to simply taking a jump and landing right on top of them. Rival cars actually seem to position themselves under you when you get big air, so landing on top of them isn't quite as difficult as it sounds.
The game also features a new Traffic Attack mode where your goal is to slam into as many cars as possible while racing through town. You'll get a goal of totaling a certain number of cars, and a short amount of time on the clock. As you smash into traffic (they must be going with you, not towards or perpendicular to you), you get more time added to the clock. In addition to there being a certain number of cars to hit to earn the gold, there's also a target number to earn a trophy. Traffic Attack is so much fun that you won't need the added incentive of a trophy to keep smashing cars well after you've earned a gold.
Burning laps, which where many people's least favorite part about Burnout 3, are back, and they are just as frustrating as ever. Driving a flawless lap with the game's faster cars is difficult, and racing the same course ten times in a row to shave off a few seconds is nowhere near as enjoyable as slamming into traffic or taking down other cars. Sure, they help you learn the course, but they're not much fun.
Crashbreakers are a little more effective this time around, and different cars have different power levels for their crashbreakers. The camera is still problematic, which makes steering your car into a passing rival mostly a matter of luck. Should you nail someone with a Crashbreaker, get a Takedown, or just drive dangerously (yet successfully) you'll be awarded points and a ranking at the end of the race. These rankings open up new challenges and courses, and are a good incentive to play more. You'll often find yourself playing "just one more" to get your level up before turning off the game.
Crash mode has been revamped, and despite it being hyped as "golf with cars," which really doesn't sound that appealing, it isn't dissimilar from previous incarnations. There's a meter on the left side, which is ripped straight from Madden's kick meter, and you must hit X near the top, and X near the bottom to get god starting speed. Hit the X button too late near the top and you'll blow your engine; hit it too late on the way down and your car will stall. It does add a little bit of strategy to the mix if you don't get the optimum start, but for the most part it's a frustrating and rather pointless addition. Wind is also a factor this year, as you must take it into account when launching your vehicle off a ramp. For some reason a 20mph wind can wreak havoc on your two-ton vehicle, so lining up your jump to compensate for the crosswind is key. Like the starting meter, this feels like an unnecessary addition.
The good news is, once you get moving, crashing is just as fun as ever. Gone are the crash multipliers (something I liked), but their removal does give you more freedom as to how you're going to tackle a challenge, so it's not the end of the world. A "target" car has been added to the mix, and it's primarily a bonus car that comes around late into your crash, provided you've caused enough carnage to last that long. The camera is still problematic, often not showing the action from the optimal angle. This is mainly an issue when you're about to deploy your crashbreaker and launch yourself into a new group of cars. The camera shifts at the last instant, forcing you to orient yourself while madly pounding the R2 button to charge the crashbreaker. All in all, it's just as good as last year, and perhaps better, depending on how you like the start meter and the wind.
The game's tracks are also an improvement over last year's, not only because they look better, but because of new shortcuts. These shortcuts will save you tons of time, which is a necessity when trying to get a gold medal in burning laps. Most of the shortcuts are marked with flashing blue lights, making them easy to spot, but you still need to have a decent idea as to where they are because you're often going so fast that you're passed the shortcut by the time you see the lights. The shortcuts are generally light on traffic, but they have their own hazards, like narrow paths, jumps, and junk that flies up when you hit it, obstructing your view. They are high risk, but they are also high reward.
Controls are as tight as ever, and there's really no way they could be improved. Load times are frequent, but they've been shortened a little bit, and outside of crash mode, where you're constantly re-starting, they're not really an issue.
Burnout Revenge supports online play, but actually getting online is a rather cumbersome experience. You'll need an EA account, which requires an email address, password, and usually several tries at a nickname – since so many are taken. If you're behind a firewall, or you're using a router, prepare to spend a lot of time learning how to open ports, because without certain ports open, you won't be able to play at all. Many people who aren't technically inclined won't be able to get online with the game, which in my opinion is inexcusable. If you think you fall into this category, and you've got an Xbox, then the Live-enabled version of the game is the way to go.
Takedown was one of the first games to use the 900 degree rotation feature of Logitech's snazzy $150 Driving Force Pro wheel, and anyone that invested in the wheel will be happy to know that Revenge can utilize it as well. Using the wheel is a great way to play the game, and there's really almost no learning curve involved. You might not do as well right off the bat, but after a few laps you of whipping the wheel around and feeling the intensity of the force feedback, you won't want to go back to playing with a regular controller.
The cars look more realistic than ever and are quite shiny, showing off real-time reflections. Like the vehicles, the courses are more realistic this year, and there's a great amount of variety to them. From industrial downtown areas, to snow covered mountains, there's a little bit of everything. Even the menus and trophy clips are snazzy; you can tell that a lot of time was spent polishing this game to perfection.
The framerate is for the most part, rock solid and lightning fast. Somehow, it feels faster than the last Burnout, which is quite an accomplishment. There is some occasional slowdown, but it's rare and never affects gameplay. The game has a gritty look to it, so the colors are a little muted, and everything seems to have been run through a filter to give the game a more natural look. Sparks, flames, and vehicle parts fly during crashes, adding to the mayhem on screen. I found that the in-car camera view, which is my preferred view, isn't very useful because you can't see what's on either side of you. I was constantly getting slammed into walls by the aggressive CPU because I couldn't see they had me lined up.
Revenge supports 480 progressive scan, but the only way to implement it is to hold the X and triangle buttons down when the first loading screen comes up. It doesn't make a huge difference in how the game looks, but it's certainly something you'll want to do if your TV can handle progressive scan. It would have been nice for this to have been placed in a menu somewhere, especially since the X and Triangle trick is nowhere to be found in the game manual.
One of the best things about Burnout Revenge's audio is there's no more announcer. He's nowhere to be heard this year, which is, as anyone who played Burnout 3 will tell you, a good thing. Sadly, EA Trax didn't get the boot, and the soundtrack is just as much of a mixed bag as it always is. It's heavy on punk and rock, which would be a good thing if it was more than a bunch of new bands, who in my opinion all sound the same. If you enjoyed last year's songs, then chances are good that you'll like what you hear this year.
Sound effects are another of Revenge's strengths. The cars all have unique engine noise, ranging from the high pitched scream of a sports car, to the throaty roar of a truck. Crashes are filled with the sounds of breaking glass, exploding cars, and metal being ripped to shreds. All of the sound effects are solid and add to the overall experience.
If you were a fan of Takedown, you should already own this game. The same goes for anyone that enjoys racing games even a little bit. Hell, you should give this game to your mother for Christmas. It's that good.