Criterion Studios has come a long way in the past few years in regards to actually developing videogames. They haven’t released a whole lot of titles so far, choosing rather to merely assist in development via their well-known Renderware engine, but of the titles they have developed, one thing is for sure: they have gotten progressively better. But nothing could prepare this reviewer for what they had in store with Burnout 2. This title comes completely out of leftfield with its alien-technology-esque graphics and more-visceral-than-a-steel-cage-deathmatch gameplay mechanics. Sure, the first Burnout, which was originally released on the PS2 late last year, was an amazing game in its own right, but this game outdoes it in virtually every conceivable way. The crashes are more spectacular, the control is tighter, and the visuals are rivaled only by that of Gran Turismo 3: A-spec. From top to bottom, this game has all the makings of a classic arcade racer that won’t soon be forgotten. Burnout 2 is hands-down the best arcade racer that can be found on the PS2.
This game’s coolness-factor is due in major part to its Burn Meter system, which works similarly to Project Gotham Racing’s Kudos points. By performing death-defying stunts and utterly entertaining power-slides, your Burn Meter will gradually fill. Once the Burn Meter is full, you can hold down the R1 button, which results in a super-cool nitro boost that makes the surroundings surreally melt away into a frenzied blur of high-octane speed. Most of the levels in the game are of the racing persuasion, so you’ll want to use boosts as much as possible in order to stay at the head of the pack. Notice I said “most” of the levels: some stages break away from the standard racing style and place you in a pursuit scenario where you’ll play the part of cop and chase down the opponent, crashing into him repeatedly until he cries “uncle” like the little bitch that he is.
There are four distinct things you can do to fill up your Burn Meter, and they all have one thing in common: they should never be attempted in real-life, don’t do it, resist the urge no matter the level of temptation – except maybe power-sliding which can be both fun and educational (just tell the officer who pulls you over that you were researching inertia, he’ll understand). But I digress. The four ways to fill up your Burn Meter are driving on the wrong side of the road, performing near crashes, keeping your wheels off the ground, and, of course, power-sliding. Being awarded for driving recklessly adds an awesome sense of strategy to the game that hasn’t yet been fully realized to this extent in other games like Crazy Taxi, Midnight Racing, or Project Gotham Racing.
There are a total of 21 unique vehicles that you can get behind the wheel of. They are all unlicensed fictional rides but look entireably believable. Since they aren’t representations of actual cars, the developers were free to add incredible crashes replete with amazingly detailed body damage, something that automobile manufacturers traditionally forbid. Of the more notable cars in Burnout 2’s lineup is the police car with working lights and sirens, a surprisingly well-rounded student-driver car, and vintage vehicles that are based off designs from the 1920’s and 1950’s.
Initially, the only mode of play available is Offensive Driving 101. This is a mandatory training course that will familiarize you with the game’s unique dynamics. Upon completing the training mode, you’ll be able to play through the Championship mode, and this is where you’ll find the majority of action in the game. You’ll be put through your paces in a variety of challenges, and new challenges will become available as you successfully complete them. This is also where you’ll be able to unlock new rides, tracks, and modes of play. Other, less notable yet wildly entertaining modes include Single Race, Time Attack, Crash, and Chase. The latter two, Crash and Chase, are the better of the four. Single Race is just a quick one-player race, and Time Attack is a beat-your-best-time mode of play. Chase mode is the aforementioned pursuit-style action wherein one player will be the cop and the other player the criminal. Crash mode is an insane addition that racks up the amount of damage inflicted on your car. The point is to get into the most devastating wreck possible; the more collateral damage you cause, the bigger the points you’ll be rewarded.
I don’t know how the developers achieved the level of texture quality, anti-aliasing, and reflection techniques that this game sports on the PS2 hardware, but it looks straight-up jaw-dropping. Now that programmers are finally starting to get the hang of coding for the PS2’s complicated architecture, the system’s overall processing prowess is starting to show its true colors and that fact is immediately evident in Burnout 2. Also, owners of high-end Hi-Scan or HDTV sets can take advantage of Burnout 2’s progressive scan option, which ups the on-screen resolution considerably. Again, how they got it to run at such high resolutions while kicking out a constant 60 frames per second is something I couldn’t even begin to understand.
The music in Burnout 2 lends itself nicely to the adrenaline-inducing action, and whenever you initiate a nitro boost, the music cranks up and adds an entirely new instrumental track to the tune. This dynamic musical element is a great addition and will be appreciated in the same way SSX Tricky adds new musical tracks as you do better in the game. And finally, to put the nail in the coffin, the sound effects are spot-on realistic and only serve to further lubricate the transition into full-on immersion.
No matter how you choose to play Burnout 2 – Championship, Chase, or Crash -- the ultra-responsive gameplay will shine through as the pinnacle of arcade-racing perfection. Like the Crazy Taxi games, it is possible to weave in and out of traffic, tight spots, and come within hair’s length from hitting an opposing vehicle. That, coupled with a constant 60 frames per second, unbelievable sense of speed, and super-realistic physics, equates to an experience that I can confidently recommend as a must-buy title.