One of the main tenets of the Video Game Review Laws (they exist, look 'em up!) is to review each title independently of others, not letting past franchise installments or alternate platform releases prejudice judgment.
And that's why covering Burnout Revenge for the Xbox 360 is just so darned tough. Regarded on its own, it's a searing example of a blockbuster game having everything coming together at the right time – a skilled and mature development staff, a workable, non-rushed release schedule, and a longstanding franchise that pays attention to its fan base. Think Aerosmith on the "Permanent Vacation" tour or Season 6 of The Simpsons – all cylinders are firing. Revenge's sound, sense of speed, shiny polish, deep single player mode, and terrific multiplayer experience are all top-notch.
On the other hand, Revenge is so similar to its current-generation counterparts on the Xbox and PS2 – which were released in October of 2005 – that it's difficult to make an unqualified endorsement. For those of you Burnout fans who spent hours upon hours getting "Perfect" ratings or moving up the world rankings last fall and winter, a not-always-welcome sense of déjà vu will come over you from the minute you slip the disc into the 360. So much is the same – and so little is different – that justification for paying $60 is simply not a slam dunk.
On the Road to Ruin
What's that, you never played Burnout Revenge on your Xbox or PS2? Well, forget everything in the paragraph above. All you need to know is that Revenge is all about speed, skill, and fiery car wrecks – not necessarily in that order (Senators, you may start your hearings now). As expected, the graphics are so shiny you can see your face in 'em, and the sound (especially in Surround) is frighteningly realistic, particularly when you have near misses with other cars on the road. I defy you not to duck your head as you come within 6 inches of a tanker truck at 209 miles an hour.
On the single player front, there are all the modes that you've come to know and love (Races, Crash Junctions, Road Rages, Burning Laps, and Elimination). You start off with no ranking, and will tear your way through the different skill levels in a quest to move up the ladder, unlocking new cars, tracks, and trophies along the way. The ranking system is interesting and challenging (not always in a good way). Not only is there the obligatory bronze/silver/gold for accomplishing a particular task (like finishing Burning Lap under a certain amount of time or finishing first in a race), but you've also got to do it with style. This is accomplished by catching big air, careening through (but not into) oncoming traffic, and/or politely shoving innocent vehicles the hell out of the way, all the while keeping an eye on the clock or on your place in the standings.
Crash, as always, tends to offer the most bang for your buck (pun intended). The explosion quotient has been ratcheted up quite a bit in Revenge, and causing havoc to unsuspecting passers-by has never looked so spectacular. Better yet, the game offers you the opportunity to record up to 30 seconds of your favorite destructive moments and put them on Xbox Live for the world to see. For some reason, the difficulty in achieving Gold medals is wildly inconsistent across different maps. Sometimes, getting Gold is easy on the first try, and other times it's a fitful struggle to find the path to the top dollar count.