This game is the reason why they invented auto insurance. Just remember to pay up this month...
Most racing games will have you race against others on a closed-off track, with only you and your competitors on the road. They'll sometimes throw in the occasional obstacle on-track, but most of the time, it's you against the empty streets.
Burnout is different. Instead of removing traffic from tracks, it remains. Only problem is that you're going 140 miles an hour, and the traffic is obeying the speed limit. What's worse, there are three other cars racing against you, and most streets are only two lanes wide. All you need to do is be first to the finish. Easy, right?
You wish. It's this premise that makes Burnout such an incredible game. It's a race on roads filled with traffic (going both ways), and it's your job to finish without crashing into a car going on about its own business. You're going to find out really quick that this is damn near impossible to do during the course of a race, but it's part of the nature of the game.
The main part of the game is the Championship mode, where you need to finish high enough in a race to move on to the next. You'll earn new tracks to race on here. Other modes include Single Race, Time Attack, and others in the usual racing menu. There are also some special modes (once you earn them), such as the one-on-one Head-to-Head race where you can race against another car to win the right to use it, Free Run mode, where all tracks are traffic-free, and the nasty Survival mode, in where you need to do three laps on a track without crashing once. There's lots to do in this game, even though there are only really six main tracks, because the backwards tracks and long "marathon" tracks (where three tracks are linked together... 6 minute laps!) mix it up very nicely.
You won't have any problem controlling your car here, as car control is super responsive. You can nudge to the left or turn hard to the right very easily. It's also nice that you have two options for control: A and B or R and L for gas and brake. Both control schemes work well for the game (but using R for acceleration is better, since most racing games do it this way anyways), and they need to be, because you will be tapping the brake button quite a lot in the game, as turning and braking at the same time will cause your car to drift around a corner, an absolute must right from the beginning of the game. It's so easy to do it too, meaning anyone can pick it up and play it. You also have rear-view, shift up/down, and boost buttons at your disposal.
The boost factor adds more zing to an already thrilling game. You have the ability to earn boost during the course of a race by driving recklessly. Cutting off cars, doing long drifts, or driving into oncoming traffic will fill up your boost, and once your meter is full, you can increase your speed dramatically by activating the boost. You will be going fast, but you still need to avoid traffic, or else...
If you can't avoid a car, or a bus, or hit a wall too hard, you'll crash. Sometimes you'll simply bash-in a front fender, sometimes you'll completely crush your front end, and sometimes you'll flip end-over-end a few times before landing hundreds of feet away from the skid marks. The crashing factor of the game is what makes it that much more fun. If you're trading paint with one of your opponents, you can force him into oncoming traffic, causing him to crash hard. If you're in second place, the man in front could all of a sudden slam into the back end of a tanker truck, and glass shards will fly everywhere as you either zip by, or become part of the wreck. You could also risk driving into the left side of a tunnel (to gain boost), and either come out the other side with a full boost meter, or with a fully-deployed airbag and a shorter vehicle. It's a risk vs. reward situation every time you decide to do something risky, because a wreck not only slows you down, but it also cuts any boost you've earned in half.
But boy oh boy, the crashes look really pretty. Windows shatter, metal crunches, and skid marks dig into the ground. They're so good, you might want to crash on purpose once or twice to see how much insurance damage (what crashes are measured in) you can rack up in one bang-up. The rest of the game looks nice as well. There's absolutely no fog in the background. With the detail in the streets and the surrounding area, this is quite a feat. On top of that, there are a lot of cars out on the road, and with a rock-solid 60 fps added in, you've got one gorgeous looking game. It's easily one of the better looking GameCube games available, and Criterion knows it, offering both wide screen and progressive scan options.
Sound effects in the game are excellent. When you drive through the dirt, the sound effect is perfect. When you smash into the back of a minivan, the crunch is perfect. If you bump doors with another racer, it sounds perfect. The music on the other hand, is by no means bad, not at all. It's just that a few of the sound tracks could have been better, because you really don't notice the music in the background most of the time, since there's so much going on.
There's really only one weak point in this game, and that's the game's relative length. There are two main areas, with three tracks each (forwards and backwards), plus one long track within each of the areas (forwards and backwards as well), for a total of 16 different racing tracks. You unlock them three at a time via Champ mode (except the marathon tracks, which are unlocked alone). The problem with this is that you'll be racing through the exact same areas very often, which can get a bit boring at times. There are also only four new cars to win, and after you do all of the above, there's nothing new to earn. Sure, there are other modes to challenge yourself, but once the sense of completeness settles in, that's all there is to it. However, the 2-player mode is a good shot in the arm, because this game is twice as much fun with a friend. There's nothing more satisfying than running your pal face-first into the headlights of an 18-Wheeler while going 130 mph.
Well then, it really goes without saying: You really need to play this game. Make the trek down to the local games place or major rental chain, plop down the $6 to take it home, and play it. Enjoy the experience that this game brings, because it's pretty damn cool to do the things that this game does. It's a rush, for sure. As a whole, Burnout is a great racing experience, although a bit lacking in the extras area, which leaves a question mark for potential buyers. But still, it's a must-play, and it's the type of game that can be perfected with a really good sequel.