2001 - Broke the mould by putting crash mechanics at the forefront of gameplay
2002 - Intense gameplay continued, with the addictive addition of Crash Mode
2004 - Blew us all away with the addition of takedowns, still unrivalled to this day.
2005 - Crash mode, Takedowns, Events... Everything that made the Burnout series an epitome, was vastly amped up and improved.
2005 - A safe bet spin-off created to launch with the PSP.
2007 - You'd be forgiven for mistaking this for Burnout Revenge
2008 - The peak of the franchise. Open-world party madness as you crashed and smashed.
2011 - Top-down crash mode based gameplay left some with a little to be desired
I only happened to chance across the Burnout franchise. Back when I was 11 years old I received a Playstation 2 for Christmas. It was December of 2001, and it was the first games console that was truly mine. There was no more sharing with my brother who's interests in football had grown and taken centre stage, this was mine. I wouldn't call it my entry into the gaming world as my childhood had been centred around Burger Time, Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd; however this was the first step I had taken that was my own, and not borrowed from someone else.
My matte black beauty came with four games, Crash Bandicoot 3, The Simpsons: Road Rage, SSX and Burnout. Admittedly, Crash Bandicoot 3 was my favourite game of the lot, with The Simpsons a close second. I did have a blast of SSX whenever I wanted a change, or to play something competitive with whatever friend I was showing off my new powerhouse to at the time, but one disk that never left it's cellophane wrapper was Burnout.
At the time, I wasn't the biggest fan of racing games, which is a far cry from the 24 year old Carl, who has amassed a huge collection of games from that genre. My previous experience of those types of games was limited to messing around on Colin McRae Rally, using cheats I still remember to this day. "TROLLEY" entered as your name would give your car four wheel steering, while "MOONWALK" would lower the gravity. Yes, it was fun, but it was never serious. However, one day I was looking for something to play and figured to myself "You might as well at least try Burnout" and proceeded to load the game into the disk drive.
My initial impression was good, the graphics were crisp and pretty, and the soundtrack instilled a sense of urgency, like you had to get to that finish line as quick as possible. First race, red car, interstate. Then I waited as the blue loading bar filled up and before I know it the screen began to flash up numbers; 3, 2, 1, Go! I didn't move. Read the manual, try again. 3, 2, 1, Go! I was off! Hitting over a hundred miles an hour, I was dodging traffic that could rival New York at eye watering speeds, swerving around cars and lorries, all of which was earning me pixel by pixel of a green boost bar in the bottom left corner. I'm invincible I thought as I watched my little red car clip a flatbed truck and fly off into the back of a white sedan.
And I was hooked. Between the slow progress through it's difficult gameplay, I found myself intentionally causing crashes to find out what the game engine could throw on my screen. I'd throw myself into the back of vans to try and land on the flat bed trailers, or I'd see how many flips I can do from a single head on collision.
My only regret though, is that I never did unlock the Bus, but the Tow Truck was extremely fun.
Late 2002 welcomed the release of Burnout 2, and for the sake of chronology I write it into my article now, but I actually didn't play it until well after Burnout Revenge, which is the 4th game of the series. Burnout 2: Point of Impact took what the original gave us, and made it better. You could take your Burnout disk out from your PS2, boot up Burnout 2, and continue on seamlessly. The game was made much easier to play, with less traffic and even a small tutorial called Offensive Driving 101, six little challenges that taught you the aggressive skills to help you play the game well. Just like the previous game, aggressive driving such as drifting, passing close to other cars and jumping would all reward you with a small fill of your boost meter which, when full, could be used to boost your speed. It's a simple premise, but fairly new back then.
Do not mistake my words for business as usual, as Burnout 2 brought the extremely popular boost mode. This is where I believe I missed out with skipping Burnout 2, I didn't get the jaw dropping awe that Crash Mode was intended to give as I had previously experienced it in Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Revenge. Crash Mode was tough, but addictive. The player had to intentionally crash their car into a busy intersection, to cause as much damage as possible, scored in the monetary cost to repair said damage. Eleven year old me would have screamed in joy for this, having spent most of his time on Burnout causing crashes intentionally.
How could the Burnout series improve any more? It had the races, and the unlockables available to want you to progress further in the game, yet the crash mode for when you want to relax and create carnage.
Then Burnout 3: Takedown came along. The clue is in the name and this is the game I call the pivot of the series. As the PS2 continued to see more and more triple-A releases, Burnout's magic could only seem to fade. As time went on, it was pitted against more and more similar games, and sometimes bested by new features. Need for Speed Underground had released and that game allowed you to customize your car to your liking, you could improve it's look and increase it's performance, then you could go out and race in new modes never seen in a Burnout series. The other side of the coin held Gran Turismo, a game that relished in it's realism and it's cutting edge graphics. Criterion Games had to keep Burnout fresh, and they decided to do something none of it's rival's had done. You could now cause your opponents to crash.
Burnout 3 will always be the most mind-blowing experience I have ever had from a racing game.
"We are the lazy generation, no more standing out in line, so good at wasting our time." The opening scene would play as soon as you put the disk in, the screen flashing with images of cars being taken out by this sleek blue sports car. This was going to be awesome, I can feel it!
Everything had improved, the soundtrack pumped, what you saw on the screen was awe-inspiring, and the damage model of Criterion's Renderware engine had improved significantly. Cars had realistic crumpling and warping of their shells to reflect their recent head on with whatever obstacle they decided to hit, and paint would rub off onto your opponents as you rubbed against them to force them into a crash.
As you forayed into your first race, a tutorial movie, voiced by a guy who introduces himself as Stryker played, telling you risk equals reward, and that reward is boost. We know this by now, this is the staple of Burnout past and present. But wait, there's more. "New to the Burnout series" he continues to say "is crash aftertouch." I pretty much lost it at this point, I don't remember any more of the tutorial movie, so I couldn't tell you how I learned that R1 is how you activated it. For those of you unfamiliar with crash aftertouch, it was a way of gaining when you fell. If you crashed, you could steer your wreck, in slow motion, into the path of rivals to gain aftertouch takedowns.
You never forget your first takedown, trust me when I say this. I must have amassed thousands of takedowns in my entire Burnout career, but only the first and the special stand out. All it took was a slight nudge on the left hand side of the car in front of me, and he went careering directly into my first ever Wall Takedown. Sure, it's pretty standard in comparison to T-Bone and Vertical Takedowns (both of which appeared for the first time in later games) but it was my first, and I'll never forget the overwhelming joy that it brought to me. The best part was you were shown the clip of your opponent crashing, in slow motion, before being placed back where you left the action at. Of course you could turn this off, but where's the fun in that?
As with the last Burnout, World Tour and Crash Mode made a comeback, but of course they were improved. World Tour gave you loads more unlockable tracks and vehicles, including the bus (which I unlocked this time around.) Crash mode was vastly improved, not only did the aftertouch feature provide you a vast improvement in accuracy, as you could steer your post-wreck vehicle into more undamaged vehicles, but there was the addition of the crashbreaker. The crashbreaker activated when you reached a certain amount of wrecks in a crash mode round, and when activated, would cause your vehicle to explode (even if it had previously) to cause more damage. Throw in the pickups that would increase and multiply your cash, as well as provide you with an extra instant crashbreaker or boost, you were certainly a force to be reckoned with at whatever intersection you threw your car at. All of this was topped off with a camera sweep of the aftermath, with a running total of each vehicle you've damaged.
Burnout Revenge was Burnout 3, on drugs. I won't say it was the same game, but it was an improvement on something that didn't need improving. You could now land on top of an opponent for a vertical takedown, or knock a car into an opponent for a traffic check takedown. New events pushed you to achieve as many takedowns as possible within a time limit, and online play was given a much needed improvement with extra modes to play and conquer the world in.
It took Burnout 3 and magnified it's best bits into something even better, and it did it right. There was nothing excessive added (although, how can you excess something that is already over the top?) This Burnout held my favourite Crash Mode, as everything was amped up. The intersections you crashed into were huge, and chock full of high value vehicles waiting to be destroyed. You didn't just drive into the intersections, you took a ramp that flew you into the side of a passing 18-wheeler to start your crash. The crashbreaker repeated itself when you reached a certain amount of damaged vehicles over and over, and it's intensity was adjusted by how quickly you tapped a button before it activated. Wind was a factor to consider, as aftertouching was affected by it, and on top of all this, a high-value target car and a star-based rating system gave you something else to aim for. For me, it was perfect. Little touches that made a huge impact to a mode we all loved. Burnout Legends is regularly mistaken as being Revenge, but for portable devices, however, it was a spin-off game, that features many of the tracks and vehicles from the first three games, that plays more similarly to Burnout 3 than it does to Burnout Revenge.
The next game in the Burnout line, but not in the series is Burnout Dominator. Not many people know this but Burnout Dominator was not developed by Criterion Games, but by EA Games, even though the Criterion logo still appears at the start of the game. It is referred to as a 'spin-off' by Criterion; when Burnout games are mentioned, Dominator is omitted and Paradise is the game they list that follows Revenge.
That doesn't mean Dominator was without it's charms, I mean, it played just like all the other Burnout Games, it had the solid takedown mechanic we all know and loved, with a handsome sprinkling of tracks, events and cars from the two previous games on top of many new additions. It was, however, lacking a Crash Mode, Online play, and several small gameplay mechanics (such as Traffic Checking) which was a reason the vast majority skipped this game. I bought it religiously for my PSP, and enjoyed every moment of it. Anything with a Burnout logo on it was a definite purchase for me. Unfortunately, because this game wasn't subjected to the innovative team at Criterion Games, it appears as though EA played it safe, and copied and pasted the majority of the mechanics within this game, so talking about it in tremendous detail is something I find difficult without repeating what I have previously written.
Foraying into Generation 7 for camp Burnout is Burnout Paradise, a game many of us hold dear. This entry into the series changed everything. It was like Criterion Games knew this was possibly their last major release into the series and gave it their all. Starting up the game for the first time you are welcomed by a extremely well known and popular guitar riff; the opening for Guns and Roses' Paradise City. Burnout games have always had awesome soundtracks, and this one was going to be no different.
A small intro movie, giving you the basics, welcomes you to Paradise City, before you are given your first vehicle and are let loose on the roads. This Burnout is a far throw from the others, it's open-world, you choose what you want to do and when, and the Online is completely revamped. Your records were saved to your 'driving licence' and Crash Mode was now activated on-the-fly, called Showtime. Alex Ward, who was the creative director of the game at Criterion Games hailed Paradise as a "complete reinvention" of the Burnout Franchise, stating "to create truly next-generation gameplay, we needed to create a truly next-generation game from the ground up."
This was truly next gen stuff, right down to the crash engine, which would see cars warping dynamically around whatever they crashed into, yet keeping all your wheels, and your engine and chassis intact would reward you with a driveaway, allowing you to continue instantly rather than waiting for a post-wreck respawn, possibly costing you several precious seconds in a race. I couldn't get enough, this was the perfect end to the series, they had thought of everything. This extended to Online, too, which was accessed using "Easy Drive", tapping right on the D-Pad and selecting "Easy Drive" would put you straight into an online lobby.
The host player of the online session had control of the session, and this was where the fun begin. You could just finish a race, and be thrown straight into a party round, which would throw all players into one of many head to head challenges, such as get to point X first, or work together to amass X distance from jumps. It kept things fresh and entertaining, and one could while away many an hour playing just to see what came next.
Burnout Paradise was the last game I truly believe the money I spent on it's DLC was worth it. Sure, they started small with just new modes and Custom soundtracks, but it was the addition of motorbikes, day-night cycles, Big Surf Island and even Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters and other legendary cars that made it true value for money, even more so if you waited and purchased the Ultimate Box version of the game. One detail I loved was during the wait for Big Surf Island, going to one area of the map would allow the player to see the bridge to the island being built, which I thought was a brilliant and comical touch.
As it stands, Burnout Paradise's servers are no longer in operation, the generations to follow us will never feel what we all felt while taking down our online friends to best them in a "who can smash the most yellow gates" or "who can perform the most barrel rolls" contest. It's depressing, games as groundbreaking as Burnout Paradise should be made timeless, I would certainly donate monthly to the upkeep of it's servers.
Finally, Criterion Games' curtain call was Burnout Crash. A top-down game based entirely around everyone's favourite mode. The premise was exactly the same as all other Crash Mode toting Burnout games, drive into an intersection and attempt to cause as big a pile-up as possible, with the scoring and points based on the price of the damage you cause. The set up was different, you were given a handful of intersections, and several modes to play on each one, with your overall goal being to earn a star rating from the crash you cause in order to progress onto the next intersection.
I would always pick this game up if I was bored and just wanted some casual destruction. This was the game for me. I can't speak highly of this game, but it seems as though I am only one of a minority with this opinion. Players expected this to be more like the Crash mode they had enjoyed in the previous games, as was disappointed by the game that ended up going gold.
As a Burnout lover, I could nothing but love the game; it gave me the destruction I desired, and stayed true to the Burnout franchise. Criterion Games could do no wrong.
It's an extremely tough call, choosing my favourite out of the entire series. Burnout 3 was the birth of the takedown, and the pivotal point in the series that took it from good, past great, and onto extraordinary, but Burnout Paradise included open world and online party elements that just kept you coming back to play it that little bit more. No other racing series can hold a candle to Burnout, and it depresses me dearly that Criterion Games may never release another iteration, having partially disbanded to pursue other creations, but it's better to end on a high. I'd always hoped for a game that had the open, online, world of Burnout Paradise, with the Crash Mode of Burnout Revenge, and sprinkled with the smack-you-in-the-face never before seen awesomeness of Burnout 3, but that doesn't seem like a possibility now.
The series has stayed true throughout, each one more innovate through the last. The first burnout gave us crashes, the second brought crash mode. Takedown dropped, well, takedowns on the table and Revenge took it all and ran with it. Finally Paradise left Revenge running with all those mechanics and made it's own path into next-gen, and took the franchise into the best direction it could have gone. Building everything from scratch, but with the memory of it's ancestors as the base of each decision. Burnout will always stay in my heart, as the game that introduced me to the racing genre, and separated us all from the monotony that could have consumed the genre. We all have experiences we are glad for in our lives, and Burnout is an experience I will never forget and will always look back on with happiness.
Thank you Criterion Games, and farewell