The Need For Speed
It's safe to say that Criterion had their thumb jammed firmly into the arcade pie when they were developing Burnout, and it's obvious from the outset that it wouldn't look out of place amongst the tramps, truant school kids and dilapidated Virtua Cop and Sega Rally machines at your local shopping centre. However, instead of crammed into a cabinet, this finely crafted piece of racing mayhem has been buffed and polished from its original PS2 incarnation and slid neatly into the GameCube's launch line-up. But is Burnout worth picking up for your favourite new toy? Almost certainly.
Diving into the game is simple enough, and plumping for the Championship mode should be your first move. The championship comprises of four Grand Prix and two Marathon races, all of which are unlocked sequentially. A Grand Prix involves fulfilling a required finishing position after three laps on one of the games 14 tracks, while the Marathon races are the same, except they're more like an endurance test as the tracks are made up from several of the game's courses linked seamlessly, end on end.
The first thing that strikes you as you head into Burnout is the enormous sense of speed, more so than any other racer I've played recently. As you tear down the wrong side of the freeway into oncoming traffic the proceedings get more than a little hairy, and tension builds as you anticipate the inevitable. That's when you experience one of Burnout's main selling points - the crashes. Whacking headlong into an articulated truck and tumbling down the road, dragging other cars with you and causing an enormous multi-vehicle pileup is one of the most grin-worthy and downright visceral moments I've ever experienced in a racing game.
Slinging your car about with wreckless abandon is all very well and good until you realise that you're not going to get anywhere in the game. The crashes are a feature, yes, but you'd do well to avoid them as your wallet takes a heavy hit in insurance payouts for every crumpled bonnet and smashed windscreen, and eventually this can mean game over. Also, unless you manage to create a crash big enough to catch out your trailing competitors, it could see you slipping to the back of the pack easily. However, once you slip up, all is not lost. The AI competitors screw up their racing line just as much as any human driver, and scrambling back to first position within a lap is an entirely realistic proposition providing you pull out some fancy moves.
Criterion chucks polygons about with wreckless abandon, but although speedy it really isn't even close to pushing the Cube as much as we'd like. Reports of flickering and other graphical glitches in the PS2 version don't seem applicable here, and the whole aesthetic is very solid if a little dated. Some higher-poly models and scenery wouldn't have gone amiss, and the general feeling is one of "it'll do", despite some pretty particle effects like dust and breaking glass, all of which conspires to remind the player of Burnout's origin as an advert for Criterion's RenderWare development tool. On the plus side, the musical accompaniment is very strong, with tunes varying seamlessly as each race progresses from rather odd RPG-ish compositions blending into rawk and into techno. The car engine noises tend to whine, but other spot effects are above average.
Aside from progressing though the championship and unlocking new tracks for use in the single race and time trial modes, extra modes may be unlocked as you progress, and appear in a "Special" menu. Face Off pits you up against an AI opponent in a previously unavailable vehicle, and should you win, that car will be available for use in all the other game modes. The other mode, Survival, sees you attempting to complete a course without crashing once, and despite not going up against any other racers, it's still more difficult than you would imagine. Throw these in with a superb split-screen mode and you've got a racer that effortlessly lasts beyond usual expectations.
There's really no reason to not recommend Burnout to you. It's an incredibly fast paced, nerve wrecking twitchfest of a racer, and commands your attention for every moment that you grip the controller. The visuals and the game's simple premise might seem off-putting at first, but there's a lot to do, and a rich bed of content to dig up beneath the surface of the main game. If you buy it, you should find plenty to do with it. Superb stuff.