Burnout is one of the most intense and entertaining racing games on the PlayStation 2, complete with tight controls and impressive graphics.
If reckless driving citations were handed out to virtual drivers, then the racers in Burnout would find themselves restricted to the cozy confines of the local precinct. But in the traffic-filled streets of Burnout, there is hardly a police officer to be found. So, left to their own devices, the racers in the game weave through oncoming traffic, run red lights, play chicken with massive 18-wheelers, find themselves involved in a wide variety of crashes, and otherwise run rampant on streets and highways cluttered with hundreds of cars, vans, trucks, and other assorted vehicles.
With its checkpoint-based racing, Burnout is a fast-paced arcade racer that will challenge the resilience of anyone's nerves. In the game, players are thrust into a variety of environments that are based on, but not actual replicas of, US and European cities. The objective, for the most part, is to avoid crashes in order to stay ahead of three AI racers who are competing with you for a first-place finish. In practice, this translates to a fun gameplay experience and a game that is easy to pick up and play. Although Burnout's primary single-player modes can be completed in four to six hours, like most racing games of this sort, you will find yourself coming back to the game intermittently for the twitch-based racing and the rush of driving at speeds of over 100 miles per hour through rush-hour-style traffic.
Burnout has five primary modes of play: championship, single race, time attack, head-to-head, and a specials area where you can face off against a single AI driver or try the survival mode, where you have to complete a course without crashing. The meat of the gameplay is naturally in the championship mode. Here players must compete in a six different grand prix events. Most of the events have three races, in three different environments, and much like in so many previous arcade racers, the objective is to achieve a required finish position. For example, in the game's first Journeyman GP event, the game requires third- and second-place finishes to advance, while one of the latter events, the Twilight GP, requires three first-place finishes to move on. The competition also gets tougher in some of the later events, as you'll be racing against high-power muscle cars and GT cars. In this way, the level of difficulty in the game achieves a nice balance. The championship is easy to get into, and the first four events are relatively painless, but the last two events can take quite a bit of persistence to complete, require a bit of luck, and will challenge even the most skilled arcade racing fans.
Aside from the championship mode, the game's head-to-head mode is also quite entertaining. However, because of the inherent gameplay style of Burnout, one specific issue tends to arise in most head-to-head games. Although the game's AI is quite serviceable, after some play time with the game, it can also become very predictable. Driving into oncoming traffic, you'll soon realize that the AI drivers will almost always swerve out of your way, so the best method of attack is to simply drive in a direct line. Also, there are several scripted traffic situations in each of the game's levels, and after playing the game for a while, you begin to recognize, and avoid, these events. All this can lead to an unbalanced two-player game, particularly when playing against a friend who is picking the game up for the first time. Burnout should have been all about chaos and unpredictability in these head-to-head games, but in general, a player who recognizes the game's AI tendencies and scripted events will be able to win, even if the opposing player is more skilled. Still, even the most astute racer will get into some pretty horrific crashes, and these wrecks are one of the game's major selling points.