Burnout Dominator Preview

We take a crash course in dangerous driving as we check out a near-finished version of Criterion's upcoming racer.

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Criterion's Burnout series of games has long been known for offering high-speed racing and spectacular crashes. In previous entries, the UK-based developer has made a point of experimenting with new gameplay modes and mechanics rather than just sticking with its existing formula, and Burnout Dominator is no exception. The upcoming game introduces some promising new features to the mix, but it also does away with some existing ones, at least one of which you might sorely miss. The result, as far as we can tell after spending a few hours with the game, is a highly distilled Burnout that concentrates on doing what the series has always done best while making a few sacrifices along the way.

Driving dangerously is the name of the game in the all-new maniac mode.
Driving dangerously is the name of the game in the all-new maniac mode.

If you're a fan of previous Burnout games, the most significant changes that you'll notice from the outset are the absence of traffic-checking and the lack of a crash mode. Traffic-checking, which was a feature introduced in last year's Burnout Revenge, changed the gameplay quite dramatically in that it encouraged you to crash into the majority of vehicles on the road rather than desperately attempting to avoid them. In Dominator, if you do anything more than rub up against a vehicle that isn't one of your opponents, there's a good chance that you'll lose valuable seconds while you enjoy the resulting crash animation. In previous games, dedicated crash modes have rewarded you for causing some of the most spectacular road traffic accidents imaginable, and we're a little disappointed that Dominator doesn't have one.

The good news is that Burnout Dominator still offers plenty of different gameplay modes, including a good mix of old favorites and all-new challenges. Modes that make a welcome return in Dominator include road rage, in which you must take down opponents by slamming them into other vehicles or environmental objects; eliminator, in which last-place cars are taken out of the race at regular intervals until only one remains; and straightforward races to the finish and single-lap time trials.

Perhaps the most exciting addition to Burnout Dominator is the new maniac mode, in which you score points for driving as dangerously as possible. In maniac mode, you'll drive through oncoming traffic, drift around corners, and, whenever possible, score a burnout by using up a full boost meter in one go without ever letting up on the accelerator. Dominator's three new challenge modes--drift, burnout, and near miss--essentially force you to focus on just one aspect of the maniac mode because they offer you only one way to score points. The drifting and near-miss modes are self-explanatory, but if you're not familiar with some of the older games in the series, the burnout mode probably warrants further explanation.

As mentioned previously, to score a burnout, you need to exhaust an entire boost meter in one go. This is the only way to score points in burnout mode, but to stand a chance of earning a gold-medal score, you'll need to string together a number of these "supercharge" boosts to form combos. So while exhausting your full boost meter, you need to make a point of driving just dangerously enough to fill it up again. This "boost chaining" mechanic was originally a feature of Burnout 2: Point of Impact, but it was removed for Burnout 3: Takedown a year later.

The increasingly speedy car classes in Burnout Dominator include classic, factory, tuned, hotrod, super, race specials, and dominator. The performances of each car in any given class are comparable, but they all handle a little differently, and you'll inevitably have favorites as far as their varied appearances are concerned. While playing through the single-player world tour mode, you will encounter certain events that give you an opportunity to unlock new cars for your collection by completing bonus objectives. These objectives are often every bit as challenging as the event itself and include such things as drifting a certain distance, scoring a certain number of near misses, or taking down the car that you want to unlock a few times.

Every time you wreck an opponent you'll get to witness the carnage in slow motion.
Every time you wreck an opponent you'll get to witness the carnage in slow motion.

Taking down rivals with overly aggressive driving has long been a feature of the Burnout series, and in recent years, "signature takedowns" have rewarded you for wrecking your opponents in particularly dangerous or spectacular ways that were specific to each track. For example, these included such things as shoving an opponent off the edge of a cliff or forcing an opponent into a bridge support. Burnout Dominator attempts to take this concept a step further with the introduction of signature shortcuts, which become available to you only after you've used an opponent's car to take out the yellow barriers that block your opponent off initially. As with signature takedowns in the previous games, you'll often be racing past the signature shortcuts at such insane speeds that finding them is more luck than judgment. However, the yellow barriers are quite distinctive, and they're certainly worth keeping an eye out for if your eyes aren't bleeding from the sensation of speed already.

In addition to the single-player world tour mode, the PlayStation 2 version of Burnout Dominator that we've been playing also features split-screen support for two players and a party play mode that lets up to four players take turns to compete in the same event and compare their scores. The PlayStation Portable version of Dominator, which we've yet to see in action, will also feature a party play mode, as well as ad hoc support for up to six players. Another promised feature of the PSP game is score syncing, which will let you synchronize your high-score tables with those of up to 16 other players to see how you compare. We look forward to bringing you more information on Burnout Dominator, which is currently scheduled for release in March, as soon as it becomes available.

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