The announcement of Burnout 5 this week won't have come as a shock to anyone ("Did you honestly think we'd NOT do a Burnout on PS3?!" quips Criterion's ever effusive Alex Ward) - but that doesn't mean we're not excited about the prospect of a next gen overhaul for one of our all-time favourite games.
But in typically enigmatic fashion, the press release for the game delivered, well, absolutely no information about the game whatsoever. Apart from that bit about it being a "complete reinvention". Yeah, thanks for that Alex!
Being unable to just leave it at that, we decided to collar Mr Ward to attempt to extract some more concrete information about Criterion's latest, and possibly greatest project. Slipperier than an eel in an oil spill, Ward wriggled out of giving us too much information, but it seems likely that the next Burnout will adopt the open city approach favoured by Need For Speed, but with the added bonus of "always having something to do". Like smash up cars, for instance.
With better damage modelling promised, more "space" and a jazzed up approach to the online side of the game, it promises to be the ultimate Burnout. Read on about Criterion's new game, thoughts on a sequel to Black and how the company's coped with its transition to EA ownership...
Eurogamer: Burnout 5 is pitched as a "complete reinvention" of the series. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?
Alex Ward: What we mean is that we're starting again and building a next-generation game from scratch. People expect a lot from the new hardware. I know I do.
Eurogamer: It sounds like the game will be an openworld driving experience - is that the case, and will it feel more like Need For Speed in that respect, with the player driving to and fro to different events?
Alex Ward: You'll have to wait and see. Burnout and Need for Speed are connected in the sense that they are both driving game and they are both published by the same publisher.
We do totally different things in our games.
Eurogamer: On the same topic, can you skip the needless driving around if you want to, or does the driving between events in itself provide a meaningful gameplay element (such as actually driving along and discovering a massive crash junction, etc).
Alex Ward: For starters, it's Burnout. So the action is always around the next corner. We feel that sometimes this style of world can lead to a 'find the fun' factor where there isn't much to do. In Burnout there is always something to do. Like ploughing into cars for example.
Eurogamer: Revenge was a surprisingly big game, all in all. Will 5 be as big, in terms of actual play area?
Alex Ward: The new game has more 'space' (note I am being careful what I say there) than any other Burnout game yet.
Eurogamer: Ever thought of combining Burnout and Black and letting people get out of the car to run around and blow shit up?
Alex Ward: No.
Eurogamer: Burnout has always featured incredible damage modelling. With the power of next gen machines at your disposal, how much better can it get?
Alex Ward: A lot better. We can now simulate the energy traveling through a vehicle at the point of impact. For us, it's about spectacular car crashes.
Eurogamer: Last time around, it took Criterion until Burnout 2 to really tap into the power of the PS2. Will it take a similar amount of time before you can really begin to explore the true potential of 360 and PS3? In the case of the 360, has the Revenge port given you a chance to really hit the ground running?
Alex Ward: Port is such a dirty word to us. Whenever we bring our games to a new format we always try and do something different or unique for that hardware. Looking across the 360 library so far, we don't see Revenge 360 as a port. We spent significant time developing the 'Live Revenge' feature as well as working on visuals and adding new content. I think it's still largely a misunderstood feature in the eyes of the specialist press. In fact, we just explored this topic on our website www.CriterionGames.com. We're enjoying the hardware a lot so expect something special.
Eurogamer: Online play in Revenge (particularly the 360 version) was definitely a big improvement on Takedown, but there's still the feeling that Criterion could go further in seamlessly integrating the single player/offline element in the way Project Gotham does. Can we expect a greater emphasis on the online element this time?
Alex Ward: Yes. I think all games are moving towards heavy online gameplay. We've certainly got some great ideas for that area.
Eurogamer: Traffic checking was Revenge's 'big idea' but not everyone liked it. Will it be in 5? What's the big new addition to 5?
Alex Ward: The big idea for Revenge was actually Revenge Takedowns and how they work. Traffic Attack is just a fun game mode. There is a lot of sublime gameplay in there. Personally, I'm not a fan of boiling down a couple of years work to one big idea. It's more of a central experience. The Burnout Experience.
Eurogamer: How's life at Criterion since the EA acquisition? How has the company culture changed?
Alex Ward: The culture of the company hasn't changed at all. We're still Criterion. Always have been. Always will be.
Eurogamer: With Fiona Sperry taking over as EA UK Studio's general manager recently, is there a sense that Criterion has taken over EA's UK development - rather than vice versa?
Alex Ward: I can't speak for Fiona. You'd have to ask her that one. I just make games.
Eurogamer: EA gets accused of not producing enough original IP, and of churning out sequels. How concerned are you about being tarred with the same brush now that you're onto your fifth Burnout?
Alex Ward: Not concerned one bit. Burnout was an original game started by myself and my team. Same with Black. They have all been incredibly successful.
It's been a great generation of gaming for us and we're excited to move forward into another one.
Do you honestly think we'd NOT do Burnout on the PS3?
Our critics forget that games like Burnout, Black, Army of Two - which is really incredible by the way - Need for Speed, The Sims and Medal of Honour - these are all original properties that are 100 per cent owned by Electronic Arts. That's quite a line-up.
Eurogamer: How hard is it for a company like EA to hang on to talented staff? Is the rate of staff turnover high, and does that present a problem for your projects?
Alex Ward: To be at Criterion, you have to be exceptionally talented. Across the company, the whole of EA, we have some of the best game makers I have ever met.
Eurogamer: Is your focus entirely on Burnout at the moment, or are you working on other IP as well? A Black sequel perhaps?
Alex Ward: I am working on about six or seven projects right now.
The Black Team are overseas at the moment. I occasionally receive postcards from them from time to time.The last one came from a location marked '2900 E.Trop.' They are a mysterious bunch.
Eurogamer: Is Criterion now an exclusively next gen developer? Do you think there's any life left in PS2/Xbox?
Alex Ward: We work on anything that is interesting to us.
Eurogamer: Were you surprised by the level of success that Burnout Legends on the PSP had? It stuck to a much older model of gameplay than Burnout: Revenge had, but seemed to go down better with both critics and consumers...
Alex Ward: Not really. It did really really well. The team did a good job. The design was very deliberate.
Eurogamer: The DS version was less well received. Why do you think that was? Are you likely to do further Burnout games for DS?
Alex Ward: Probably because it was not developed by us. We might do something, you will have to wait and see.
Eurogamer: EA Mobile has had success with bringing Need For Speed to mobile phones. Could we see Burnout on mobiles one day? Is mobile gaming something Criterion is interested in?
Alex Ward: Right now it is not something we are doing. But that may change in the future.