EA, the industry's biggest publisher, isn't exactly thought of favourably by the so called 'hardcore' gamers. Destined to hate them forever, these people hang around internet forums determined to dismiss each and every EA release as a rehash, cash-in, movie license, yearly update or worse. What are these people to do when the most entertaining racer this generation of consoles has seen is released by EA? They'll probably stick to their guns, wanting to play no part in the continued success of a company they hate, but that's their loss. The rest of us don't need their endorsement to have a cracking good time.
As with every game in the series, Burnout Revenge builds on the previous game and brings something entirely new to the series. New this year is traffic checking; quite simply, you can now bulldoze your way through any traffic that isn't oncoming, stationary, crossing you or too large (bus size). While Burnout 3 was near bursting with action, Revenge has spilled its load all over the road, causing more damage and devastation than you could ever imagine.
The takedowns from Burnout 3 are still here, but now benefit from the traffic checking. There's nothing quite as satisfying as sending a non-racing car flying across numerous lanes into the side of an opponent. Plus, thanks to the new emphasis on shortcuts and jumps, you can perform vertical take downs, making that grin on your face stretch round to your ears. There's obviously still a race to be won most of the time, but Revenge makes getting to the finish line so much more fun.
If you've played Burnout 3 you'll be familiar with most the race types that make up Revenge's World Tour. The way it is presented has been changed a little, and the menus are a little sleeker, but it's still pretty familiar stuff. You've got your burning laps (a single lap driven to a time limit), Road Rage events (take down as many opponents as possible), Eliminator races (the last placed car after each 30 second interval is eliminated) single races and grand prix events (multiple races per event). Then there's the new and improved Crash mode and Traffic Attack mode, which I'll get to later.
The World Tour is presented to you via eleven ranks. Each of these ranks corresponds to a rank you can achieve in the game, which is determined by the number of stars you have earned for completing races. The goal is to complete each race with an Awesome rating, giving you four stars, and then adding a bonus star for completing the race with a gold medal. However, completing a race with a bronze medal will take away a star. This makes it worthwhile replaying a number of races in order to get maximum stars, and the game's user interface makes it perfectly clear about which races have stars available to be won.
Crash mode has been a fan favourite ever since it was introduced in Burnout 2, and while it was great in Burnout 3, Revenge takes it one stage further. What you have now is a totally unique game mode that has been tailored perfectly for party play (while still fitting into the main World Tour). I've seen the redesigned mode likened to golf, and in a way that is correct. A flyover of the course is shown to begin with, and spotting the ideal crash zone is vital to racking up lots of damage. Starting stationary, a power metre arcs around the left hand-side of the screen, with timed button presses at the top and bottom giving you a nice fast boosted start. You'll usually need to propel your car from a conveniently placed ramp, and here the game gives you control over the car's direction (in mid air) and makes you fight against wind direction, before sending you crashing - hopefully - into a congested crossroad or something similar.
There's more to it than that though. The wind will affect cars differently depending on their weight, and some cars aren't fast enough to get over the chasms that must be crossed. If only the game would indicate wind strength prior to choosing a vehicle, this would have been far less about trial and error. Then there's the new target car that gives you a nice bonus if it's taken out in the crash, and the new multiple crash breakers that allow you to detonate your car on more than one occasion, depending on the amount of damage that is ensuing. Gone are the multiplier icons from Burnout 3, making the crash mode more about careful planning and good timing, and less about homing in on the biggest multipliers. It's still not perfect, with the camera often changing to give you a less than ideal view on the action, and traffic still ploughs into a huge pile-up even though the drivers have had plenty of time to break and avoid the disaster. Still, Crash mode has improved once again, and is becoming the series' trademark game mode.
Traffic Attack isn't quite the innovation that Crash mode was back in Burnout 2, but it's still an entertaining addition to the World Tour. A timer ticks down while you plough through as many vehicles as possible, taking them down yourself, or by sending them flying into other lanes of traffic and doing the dirty work for you. Once the timer hits 20 seconds you're up against it, with every take down adding vital seconds to the timer. It's a constant struggle, moving from one car to the next, like some crazed bull in Santo Domingo during July. It's fast, intense, action-packed stuff, that's for sure.
There's support for two-player split screen on both versions of the game, but online play also returns and it's the best way to play the game against real people. Road Rage is a team game online, and gives one team the task of finishing the race, while the other team must prevent them. The Crash mode is also fun online, but suffers slightly because of the lack of pre-crash flyover. Without this view of the road, unless you are intimately familiar with each course, you'll be winning on luck more than skill. The other modes work well, and the inclusion of traffic checking makes the online experience far more entertaining than that of Burnout 3.
Playing with a group of friends is also easier this year, with a group system that has been borrowed from Halo 2. This allows you to move from challenge to challenge and remain in the same group. There's also a nice amount of stat tracking and online scoreboards, but the experience isn't without its problems. The biggest of which is the need to unlock everything again online. Even if you're an expert at the game, and have played the single-player mode for hours and hours, you start from scratch online. You have limited cars and courses available to you, and must increase your rank to open things up. You can increase your rank pretty quickly, but it's still something that experienced offline players will be frustrated by.
I think it's safe to say that we won't get a better looking game on current-gen systems. Burnout Revenge simply looks phenomenal. The game moves at a blisteringly fast pace, aided by a brilliant motion blur, and the frame rate rarely takes a hit, even on the PlayStation 2 version. Colours literally smack you in the face, they are so vivid, crashes look more spectacular than ever, and course variation is a step above previous games in the series. The new shortcuts make the tracks more believable and car models are more realistic in design than before, despite still being fictional. It's hard to do the game justice in words, it's just staggeringly good looking.
The game's soundtrack is a huge improvement over Burnout 3, with a collection of tunes that fit the game far better. I haven't felt the need to use it, but the Xbox version also supports custom soundtracks for those who can't get into the aggressive mix on offer. Gladly, the awful DJ from Burnout 3 no longer offers his words of wisdom during races, rounding off a great audio package.
Something that must be mentioned is the rubber-band AI. This means that your opposition rarely stretch that far ahead or fall too far behind. In most games this would be a huge problem, as no matter your skill, you could be punished on the final corner. In Burnout the best part of the game comes from taking down the opposition, so, had you been able to pull large distances ahead this element of the game would have been lost. Sure, a last second crash can be costly, but keeping things close makes races thrilling from start to finish.
I'm glad I don't judge games by who publishes them. EA have an absolute gem of a game in Burnout Revenge, and anyone foolish enough to disregard it based on where it comes from is going to miss out on the pinnacle of gaming on current generation consoles. Despite being four games into the series, it's strange that no other game has come close to matching the sheer thrill that Burnout delivers. Revenge simply sets the bar that bit higher, to a level that will be hard to beat.