In these days of lowest common denominator development and identical ports, it's often a pointless exercise reviewing conversions like Burnout 2. It's akin to watching a DVD movie being played on a Panasonic machine and rewatching it on a Toshiba. There might be infinitesimally subtle differences, but it's hardly worth committing a thousand words to the subject. Games have become a little like that; what chance of Burnout 2 bucking the trend?
On a basic level, Criterion has delivered a very straight up port, with very few extras of any real consequence. Yes, there's the welcome addition of 15 extra Crash junctions, the ability to upload and compare around 60 different high scores on an Xbox Live leaderboard, 5.1 surround sound, 480p support, supposedly increased polygon count with twice the detail on the car (although you'd be hard pressed to notice), real-time cubic environment mapping, four extra decal sets, and the Xbox standard custom soundtrack options, but in practise these are hardly exciting extras. On the other hand, the omissions are lengthy and baffling, given the eight month's extra development time.
Every right-thinking Xbox owner will have fully expected the multiplayer side of things to have been improved; at the very least a four-player split screen mode, maybe system link, or, praise be, Xbox Live online racing. But instead, all they get is... exactly the same thing as PS2 owners have had for eight months, albeit with improvements to the split screen mode's frame rate. The presence of an Xbox Live mode would have made this one of the must-have titles for the service, so it's more than a little confusing why Microsoft didn't insist on this being one of its flagship titles.
Stepping down from the soapbox for a moment, we should point out that "exactly the same thing" as the PS2 shouldn't put off Xbox owners from nipping down to the shops and snapping this up immediately. Justified ranting about lazy ports aside, there are very few games we enjoyed just as much the second time as Burnout 2.
Right from the minute you engage in the Offensive Driving 101 you're in for an eye-popping manic racing thrill for as many hours as you can stand. The game itself is split into various modes that are equally, insanely entertaining. Top of the bill is the Championship mode, which is where you'll unlock all the cars and tracks available, (and the Custom mode full of oddball concept cars to race once you've completed it). Single Race simply offers you the ability to race on any of the currently unlocked tracks with any of the available cars, Crash is like a game all of its own, tasking you with creating as much vehicular carnage as possible, while Pursuit is a straightforward lift of the Need For Speed cop vs. escaping car mode, but even prettier, and faster.
Slam, screech, scrape, smack, sparks and chaos
The controls have been tweaked slightly for Xbox, with the Burnout boost being shifted to the A button, and accelerate now assigned to the right trigger, which allows for more subtle control over your speed, but you hardly need it. Slam that hammer down, screech around the corner, scrape past an oncoming car, dodge between lanes of HGVs, smack the boost down hard before smacking into five different innocent cars, spraying arcs of beautiful sparks into the sky and spinning across the opposite carriageway and causing utter chaos, not to mention lots and lots of damage.
Get the picture? Words can never do justice to the ridiculous sensation of speed as cars repeatedly roar past you in the opposite direction. Arguably, the ever so slightly sharper visuals do make it a more playable game, as you can see what you're about to crash into that tiny bit quicker than before. Burnout 2 is one of the few games that plays even better in 'bumper cam' view, because it gives you that split second extra to see the oncoming traffic, and dodge out of the way just in time.
One area you might be tempted to pay more attention to this time around are the scores you receive after each and every race. Whereas most racers will leave you with nothing more than a lap time and race total to beat, Burnout 2 is positively awash with them; biggest slide, air, oncoming traffic, most damage, most crashes, you name it. Whereas the PS2 version dutifully recorded them, there was little point going back and trying to beat your own record, other than personal pride. Being able to check up your performance against the rest of the continent's players does add a little extra to the package. It doesn't come anywhere near making up for the loss of full online racing, but when you've finished sobbing, it is quite cool.
Driving me crazy
Burnout 2 has gradually built up a decent following on the PS2 after an initially muted commercial response. Sceptics were doubtful that the sequel could really be that much of an improvement over the disappointing original, but as we found out, any game that has you physically dodging oncoming cars from your television is no ordinary game.
But with Midnight Club II out on Xbox on June 20th, complete with full Xbox Live support, and four player split screen racing, Burnout 2's lack of online multiplayer antics, and weedy two-player split sreen have cost it a point. It's still a cracking game, but if it came down to a choice between the two, we'd plump for the former if you're an Xbox Live player. If multiplayer gaming isn't important to you, then Burnout 2 is by far the more accessible, although some might tell you it's easy. It's easily one of the best arcade racing games out there, and you'd have to have a heart of stone to not come away from playing it will a stupid grin etched on your mush. But we'll say it again - why no Xbox Live racing, Criterion? You've broken our hearts.