How does EA's smasher fare on Sony's handheld?
We love the Burnout games. They embody many of the things we see as the basic principles of What Makes A Good Videogame, namely: 1. They allow you to do things which aren't possible in real life, at least without risking violent death or long-term incarceration; 2. They present many opportunities to make your friends look stupid and feel angry; 3. They can stilll be enjoyed whilst extremely drunk.
Now, admittedly, they don't feature all of the elements we like to see in our games - guns, space, wizards, brightly coloured blocks, Star Wars, etc. But they do feature very fast, very shiny cars, and you get to mash them up, which is enough for us.
So we've spent many a happy hour with the Burnout series, and we were very much looking forward to playing the first PSP instalment. But we were a little nervous about how it would match up to the console versions. Would it feel as fast? Would the crashes be as satisfying? Would the graphics be as crisp and shiny and full of detail? In short: would Criterion be able to pull it off?
The answers to those questions are as follows: yes, yes, no but it doesn't really matter, and yes. Burnout Legends, while not perfect, is a highly entertaining game that looks good, plays great and is arguably the best racer on the PSP. Here's why.
Now That's What I Call Burnout
Burnout Legends is a sort of Burnout Greatest Hits, featuring as it does a selection of circuits, vehicles, modes and gameplay elements from previous games. There are seven different types of race event, including plain old Race and self-explanatory Time Attack.
Then there's Face Off, where you race against a single opponent in the game's special Legend vehicles - whoever wins the race also wins the other driver's car. Burning Lap sees you racing against the clock to beat a specified time, while Eliminator knocks out whoever's in last place at the end of each lap.
Pursuit, which makes a welcome return after its absence in Burnout 3, puts you in a cop car and tasks you with hunting down an enemy Target. You only have a limited time to catch up with the beggar and smash his car to bits - without getting yours totalled in the process.
Road Rage involves forgetting about who's in pole position, and concentrating instead on taking out as many of your rivals as possible, as quickly as you can. It's one of our favourite events, along with Pursuit - we especially like the fact that there are six different types of cop car to drive in Burnout Legends.
But Race really tops the bill, since there's nothing like jamming a rival car into a wall, watching it fly into the air in slow-mo, and zooming underneath its crumpled carcass and straight into first place.
This is just as satisfying an experience in Burnout Legends as it is in the console outings, thanks to excellent physics and controls. They're basically the same - X to accelerate, square to break and right shoulder button to boost. And once again, you fill up that boost meter by weaving through traffic, drifting round corners, driving on the wrong side of the road and taking down your opponents.
The cars handle beautifully - any fears about being able to pull off precision moves with the analog nubbin are allayed the moment you win your first game of chicken with an oncoming 18-wheeler. Before you know it you're pulling off drifts, boost shunts and wall takedowns with ease - but, as in all Burnout games, you're still making the odd mistake that leaves you spinning through the air and cursing yourself for being a millionth of a second too slow.
The Aftertouch and Impact Time elements are in here, which means right after you crash you can press the right shoulder button to slow down time and steer your car into the path of any oncoming opponents in a bid to reclaim just a tiny bit of your dignity. This doesn't usually work during race events, disappointingly, but it's useful for crash events where you earn money for damaging as many vehicles as possible.
As is the crashbreaker - if you time your crash right and wreck enough cars, you can press the triangle button to blow up your car and unleash a whole new bout of havoc. Marvellous.
One thing that's missing is the 'Traffic Checking' feature that's been introduced to the series with the latest console instalment, Burnout Revenge. It allows you to drive straight into the back of cars in front of you and watch them explode into pieces - admittedly, this is rather ridiculous and quite hilarious the first time you see it, but it's immense fun, and we were disappointed to find it missing from Burnout Legends.
Still, there's plenty of stuff to make up for that, such as the healthy variation in event types and the sheer number of them. Only problem is, some of the events are rather too easy to complete - for every Pursuit that takes four or five attempts before you even earn a Bronze, there's a Race that will see you walking away with Gold on the first try.
You seem to get rewarded for your efforts with alarming regularity, too. The game's constantly throwing new events at you, or telling you that a new car - or two, or even three - has been added to your garage, even when you've only delivered a mediocre performance. Okay, so getting every Gold in the game is going to take some time, but it just feels like you don't have to work too hard to make decent progress. We'd have liked a bit more of a challenge for some of the events, so that we had a greater sense of achievement when we completed them.
But that aside, the single player game is great fun. The multiplayer game, unfortunately, we have no clue about - once again, we only received one copy of the game, so we weren't able to test it out. For anyone reading this who has had the chance, we'd welcome your Comments...
How do I look?
Now we come to the issue of graphics. No, they're not as good as they are in the console games. There is less damage shown on the cars, surfaces can appear grainy, environmental objects such as trees can look a little blocky and while the sparks still fly, there's much less billowing smoke, flying glass shards and detail in general.
But this doesn't matter too much to us. If it did, we'd play one of the console games. But we want a Burnout we can play on the tube, on the toilet and under the table during boring wedding speeches - and we're prepared to make the odd sacrifice for that.
After all, it's not as if the game looks bad - it just doesn't look quite as sharp and spanky as its console counterparts. But it plays just as fast and just as well, and we'd be very unhappy if Criterion had sacrificed speed or gameplay features for the sake of a bit of smoke.
Time for the final score, then. We've already decided what we're giving Burnout Legends. Go on, have a peek at the bottom of the page. Now, we know what you're thinking - "Better than Conker, yes, but is it really as good as Ridge Racer? Is it in fact, as you claimed earlier, the best racer on the PSP?"
Yes. We think so. But that's because it's a matter of personal taste. We like Ridge Racer, loads. We played it for hours on end - until our copy of Burnout Legends arrived. Now, although we can enjoy RR, we find it all a bit samey and, dare we say it, slow.
Yes, it's the better looking game. But it's not as much fun - sliding your perfectly rendered car round a beautifully detailed corner and gliding neatly past a rival without getting the tiniest scratch is all very well, but it's nowhere near as exhilarating as smashing your big fat pink cadillac into that black compact with the stupid flames up the side and watching it go flying off into the side of a bus.
Fact is, we like Burnout games because they're big and shiny and fast and loud and fundamentally ridiculous. Burnout Legends is all of these things, in portable form, and so we like it an awful lot. If you like big, shiny, fast, loud and ridiculous racing games too, this is an essential addition to your collection.