Graveyard: Burnout Dominator

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

The PS2 was an iconic system and one that had a surprisingly high amount of great games at the end of its lifespan due to the PSP. It’s rare that a portable system would lead to a mini-boom period for the end of a main console’s life, but that happened for the PS2 since publishers knew that not every one had a PSP, but wanted to keep using their PS2 for new adventures. Rockstar brought their Liberty City Stories/Vice City Stories games to the PS2 with some visual and control upgrades, while Sony brought Daxter and EA brought Burnout Dominator — yet strangely not Burnout Legends — to the PS2. Burnout Dominator was very much a swan son for the original Burnout formula where the burnout itself was a high point of the game.

While the series itself is largely known now for traffic checking thanks to Revenge and especially takedowns, the original game featured the boost gauge and the main goal was to race as dangerously as possible with a boost goal being to let the gauge build up fully. Doing so allows the Burnout bar to be used and the idea is to not crash until at least you finish using up the boost, because then you’ll be able to get into a Burnout chain and in playing this again, it reminds me of just how fun this format was and how that was largely-forgotten with Paradise and Revenge.

The original Burnout was a flawed game, but a thoroughly-satisfying one and one of the final game rentals I ever had at a Blockbuster. The always-forward amped-up mindset was something different and the sound design stood out with things like a heartbeat and heart monitor beeping as an undercurrent in the sound design with the music adding to the excitement and slowly building up fear in the player before a crash leads to all of that sound design coming to an end. A successful run showed that the slick sound design was the reward there and in ending the chain, you now have a punishment in the form of losing it while also an ever-present reward in regaining it.

Dominator serves as a sendoff to the original vision of the series from Criterion, despite being made by EA UK, with a blend of what made it great to start alongside what led to it going to the next level with both Burnout 2 and especially Burnout 3: Takedown. Despite coming out after the fourth game, which introduced traffic checking and added even more real-time excitement to the gameplay, that isn’t featured in Dominator. It’s a bit of a mixed blessing because for the PS2 and especially the PSP, it’s likely that game performance would suffer as while the Xbox and later 360 versions of Revenge worked nicely, the game performed poorly on the PS2 with a low framerate and iffy visuals — a trend that would continue with Dominator as a whole.

Dominator being more scaled-back compared to Revenge works better for the game as it delivers a lot of new things like a largely-new vehicle suite alongside a lot of new track designs. The mode selection revolves around the benefit of Burnouts with the supercharge boost being an exciting point in every race and something that plays into each mode available. Race, road rage, eliminator, burning lap (time trial), maniac mode, drift/near miss/burnout challenge alongside grand prix offer up a lot of variety. The record breaker mode mixes things up more by offering up combinations of modes and tracks that aren’t seen in the larger-scale world tour mode.

The only big issue the game had for me now from a concept of this being a then more-modern incarnation of what made the first two games work alongside with some of what made Burnout 3 work is that it’s an odd-starter. It’s one thing for Burnout Paradise to have a DJ expositing and it’s another to have Dominator star with screen-filling graphics and breaks in the core gameplay to constantly remind the player of what to do. It’s nice to have in a way because if you’re playing with no manual, or coming back to it after a long absence, it can be handy — but it’s also a problem solved by the game itself having a tutorial-style area in the menu.

A more crucial area that hurts the game are its grainy visuals that desperately need anti-aliasing to cut down on jagged edges. It’s legitimately tough to see where you’re going on some of the courses because things just blend together and unlike some entries like Revenge that allow you to power through guardrails, that isn’t the case here. They tend to be nearly invisible to the naked eye and that can go for traffic going in your direction. Thanks to their bright blue lights covering the front, it’s actually easier to go into oncoming traffic since you can see the headlights easier than the more-subdued taillights.

The Burnout series is long-known for having a rock-heavy soundtrack and while this does have a lot of rock in there from bands like Killswitch Engage, it also has more bizarre choices made in this regard. Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” is used in several languages and strangely gets the text for the “Best Damn Thing” album censored while the word “damn” is uncensored in the audio, so that’s just weird and the usage of multiple language tracks for it feels like they paid a licensing fee for the song in every form, so they were going to get their money’s worth out of it in every way. Dominator has the oddest soundtrack of any EA-era release in the franchise, but still has killer sound design thanks to vehicle crashes and collisions sounding violent in every mode and made even better with things like the environment being used to take foes out.

Despite its flaws, Burnout Dominator is a fascinating entry in the series and one that I honestly enjoyed a lot more with the benefit of hindsight as the last entry to try and keep the original spirit alive while also bringing a lot of what made Burnout 3 work to the table as well. The vehicle selection is fantastic and having the ability to put most of the cars in every race type and every track with the Record Breaker mode makes it easy to get makeshift practice in with higher-ranked vehicles or just mess around in ways you can’t quite with the main campaign. It’s a wonderful pickup and not too expensive — it’s a shame that licensing will likely prevent this from getting a re-release because a bit of a spit-shine on this would go a long way to helping it out.

Leave a Reply