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We check out Acclaim and Criterion's upcoming racer.

Acclaim knew a good thing when it saw Burnout, Criterion Software's arcade-style racing game for the Sony PlayStation 2. At first glance, it seems that the game, which was originally known as SRC, takes inspiration from such games as Midtown Madness. But after Acclaim dropped by with an early build of the game, we soon realized that Burnout is a different beast. Whereas Midtown Madness features wide-open, nonlinear driving, the racing in Burnout takes place entirely on lap-based street tracks, like in games such as Namco's Ridge Racer. The twist in Burnout is that these street tracks are teeming with AI-controlled traffic, and the gameplay system encourages you to drive recklessly.

Like many other racing games before it, Burnout features checkpoint-based racing, but it also includes a clever meter that monitors the virtual driver's heart. Essentially, as you race through traffic, your virtual heart monitor increases with every near miss and skillful powerslide. Once the meter is full, a turbo option is available to you for a limited time. When you use the turbo option, the game, which runs at a solid 60 frames per second, goes into hyperspeed. To illustrate this visually, Criterion has used a cool blur effect, which is the same type of effect that movies, such as The Fast and the Furious, have used in the past. The cars become so fast in turbo mode that it is extremely difficult to keep the car from running into other traffic, causing horrific crashes.

In fact, the crashes themselves are the second unique feature in Burnout. Following a crash, the game automatically shows the scene from a variety of replay angles. In this latest build, there were a handful of generic camera angles available. However, Acclaim promises that the final game will feature a variety of unique and cinematic crash replays, including one that will stop the action in midcrash and show it Matrix-style. Crashes are a relatively frequent occurrence in the game, particularly since the AI-controlled vehicles can make brainless mistakes as they might in real life.

The AI in the game is designed to recognize a variety of driving situations. For example, if you're driving on the wrong side of the road, some cars will be quick to swerve out of the way while others are less adept at making decisions and taking evasive action. The traffic itself isn't specifically scripted, but specific vehicles usually will appear on a preset intersection, and so forth. In any given stage, there are more than 300 vehicles, including taxis, personal cars, vans, busses, and trucks, on the track at once.

Burnout will include 14 total tracks, which are loosely based on real-world cities in the US and Europe. Naturally, a handful of courses will be available at the game's onset, with additional tracks becoming available after the successful completion of the initial courses. In addition to the variety of track design, all of the 14 courses can be raced backward and in a variety of time settings, including day, twilight, and night. The vehicles in Burnout are based on real-world cars, but they're not licensed by their respective manufacturers. However, in our build, there were vehicles that looked like a MR2 Spyder or a chassis-modified Mustang GT--pickup trucks are also available in the game, for those seeking vehicles that can better withstand some of the game's massive crashes.

Burnout will feature head-to-head two-player action and is currently on schedule to be released this November for the PS2. GameSpot will have more in the coming weeks.

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