Imagine flying down a Chicago-esque landscape at 190mph. As you're careening through narrow turns and past solid rock columns, you head face-first into a semi. Other cars begin smashing into your already-obliterated husk; the damage and chaos climbs until finally, your tortured car explodes.
If you're lucky, it'll explode a few more times to increase the multiplier.
And that, in a nutshell, is what Burnout games have been about: the embrace of destruction. Burnout Revenge is no exception. In fact, it may well be the pinnacle of Criterion's racing philosophy.
A newcomer to the series can warm up to the ideology right away. Race against 7 other opponents and against standard traffic to earn medals and progression through the game's multitude of events, while unlocking more vehicles and goodies along the way. Sometimes Crash events break from this cycle of dancing along danger's edge, but we'll get to that later. The meat and potatoes are all in the racing…and the avoidance of crashing. In previous Burnout games, hitting any amount of traffic would cause a collision; walls were only slightly more forgiving. This resulted in many, many crashes and swearing up and down the street; in Revenge, there's a new element called “checking” which allows you to ram same-way traffic into other cars and, thankfully, other opponents. Now that's what I call aggressive driving.
(This is where Chris chides me for the pun. But it was soooooo easy!)
Checking isn't the only new element in Revenge. A lot has been refined between the latest installment and its older brother, Takedown. Some things were an attempt to come back to basics - like how Criterion went back to designing the cars from scratch, rather than using real world models. Or how Crash Mode has ditched all the fancy pickups…but we'll get to that in a sec. Promise.
The biggest change is the Ranking system, which gives you more of a goal than coming in first on an event. How well you rank matters not only on how you place, but how aggressive you are too. Racing against traffic, power sliding, taking down opponents, and nearly missing death on a usual basis all increase you point tally for that race. Driving like a madman can earn 4 out of 5 points; the last point is only nabbed by earning a gold medal in an Event. Silver earns no new points and a Bronze will actually take a point away! The only way to go up in Rank is to earn points; and new Ranks open up new Events. So scoring well and rising in Rank is a vital new element.
Then there's Crash Mode, a mish-mash of old and new ideas served up on the strangest control scheme yet. The point of Crash is not to dance the edge of destruction, but embrace it fully, and take as many innocents with you in the process. Crash the car of your choice into the multitudes of traffic and watch the damage count soar. What makes this iteration so refreshing is that now the controls are handled like a game of golf. Yeah, you heard right – the speed and angle which your car starts at is determined by a pendulum power bar. Pick your power and “slice” and send that car flying into traffic! It's a really fun idea and once you get the hang of it, simplifies crashes to the point where you can plan your future wreck without worry of getting up to maximum speed.
New idea aside, the Crash Mode strips all the other ideas found in Takedown to get back to basics. Finding multipliers on the course is gone; now players have to earn Crashbreakers by causing enough damage; and now both are interlinked. The more Crashbreakers you pull off, the higher your multiplier. It adds a new element of strategy – no longer can you just aim for a few pickups and expect to take home the gold.
In addition to the fusion of old and new, there are the courses themselves which are an amazing sight themselves. A visual breath of fresh air coupled with some of the oldest Burnout conventions mixed with some new concepts, they're easily the stars of the show. Rip through Asian back alleys, tear through snowcapped mountains, or wreak terror on Italian locale; regardless of the racing locale, you'll be doing it in style. First things first, Criterion ditched the over-abundant reflections and lighting in Takedown for a more natural, grittier look, meaning you'll get to see more of the road (and traffic) without being blinded in the process. Throw in the fact that the tracks have more twists and turns than before, add in shortcuts that are more dangerous than any normal stretch of track, and you have the makings for the best Burnout yet.
Though Revenge falters and stalls in some places, leaving things a hair away from perfect. Checking traffic makes the game a little too easy; when in a pinch, just go with the traffic flow and cause chaos. Then there's the inclusion of Crashbreakers in some racing events, meaning even if you eat it, you can cause the same pain on all the opponents. These are good ideas, but only make the game easier than add to its overall feeling of fighting traffic and opposing racers.
At the end of the day, Burnout Revenge offers the most unique take on the series. They've always been about adrenaline and walking the fine line of insanity and destruction at 200mph, but now it's all been refined. Taking the best parts of old ideas and mixing it with some of the most ambitious new concepts, you get a game that not only feels like a successful sequel, but the start of a new direction for Criterion's pride and joy. And that is a very good thing…
Just watch out for those walls.