Every iteration of Burnout so far has had it's flaws, but the amount of surrounding good stuff has always been sufficiently high to make each title playable. And when you first sit down with Burnout Revenge, everything seems to be in place; over the top presentation, fast cars, annoying music and of course, the speed. But after just a couple of races, the fun just isn't there anymore, instead it feels vapid, clinical even. They've made a checklist of requirements, particular things they need to hit to create a proper sequel, and they've simply ticked them off one by one. The resulting game feels like it's been created to fill a commercial requirement rather than the developers having any love for the project.
I started playing these games with Burnout 2, which I enjoyed a lot, but Burnout 3 has been my favourite of the series. The increased attention on takedowns, the online play, and the sheer sense of insanity as you flew through some of the tracks made the game an experience to play. But amazingly, even with the requisite increase in graphical splendour that Burnout Revenge brings to the table, that sense of incredible momentum doesn't seem to be there anymore. There's no doubt it's still fast, but there's something that makes it feel slower. Maybe it's that the game now relies on you having an almost constant stream of boost to complete some of the time challenges, so you get used to the turbo moments more easily.
The one thing I've always found incredibly dull about the Burnout games was the crash mode, which I believe puts me in the minority among other players. I never quite saw the point, finding them much more about pure luck than any sense of skill. There was never any achievement in making things crash into each other, especially since most of the resulting carnage seemed to happen indepedent of you being anywhere near. None of the factors that made crash mode so dull in previous games has been fixed here, but rather than let me ignore it like before, it's now been included in the World Tour mode that the single player mode has you progress through. Each of these crash modes now starts with a golf swingometer, causing your car to explode if you get it wrong, or giving you a boost start when you get it right. There's nothing wrong with the idea of a boost start based on some skill requirement (it's about the most skillful part of the crash mode), but making my car blow up so that I have to restart the section again is nothing short of tedious. In the next game I'd like to see a proper golf mode, with the car on a platform getting hit by a giant mechanical golf club.
The tracks are now heavily bias towards cities, with an almost never ending supply of right angled turns. New this time are alternative routes and more vertical based tracks, so that sometimes you can hit a ramp and fly over the opposition. The alternate routes are indicated by flashing blue lights on either side of their entrance, but the game doesn't see fit to switch these off in race types where the shortcut is unavailable, so one time I found myself up an alley faced with a red cross covered wall. But the biggest problem with the track design is that you never feel like you're going to be able to learn them properly, appearing more like static backdrops in a game of holding down two buttons on a joypad. The joy of games like Sega Rally 2 or Rallisport Challenge, where you master particular tracks, shaving precious seconds off your best lap time in subsequent runs is not something you're likely to be doing here. Braking points are not something that matters here, nor is remembering the correct places to boost, you'll be doing that constantly anyway.
Like a house of cards, it's not long before the rest of Burnout Revenge comes tumbling down once you realise the problems. It's absolutely filled with bad design decisions, many of which have been in previous releases, but which are no longer forgivable. The aforementioned World Tour mode is still lacking any obvious sense of progression, with far too many sub-menus and lists instead of a simple linear progression graph of what I've completed and what I haven't, although it is a slight improvement on Legends' world map. The number of screens before and after each race is still too many, with the pointless awards (pointless because most of them are based on luck, rather than skill), trophies, 3D renderings of new cars (they all feel the same but faster anyway) and rankings just getting in the way of the next challenge. The game also still takes great pride in telling me that it's auto-saving, instead of just doing it behind the scenes, as if it's important to me.
Thankfully the DJ from the previous game is gone, but the music is still of the same sub-par quality as before. It takes the time to tell you before the start of each tune what it is you're listening to, but then changes it again as you move between front-end and race. This means that a lot of the time you only ever hear the first ten or fifteen seconds of a song before it's onto the next one, so even if there are any good songs in there, you probably won't get the chance to hear them. On the other hand, the sound effects are nice enough, with some great whoosing noises as you pass underneath bridges and walkways.
It's disappointing that a game I was looking forward to turns out to be so unexciting, and it's also surprising considering the PSP release is still a lot of fun. But what we're faced with here is a racing game whose soul has been removed, instead trying too hard to be cool, to hard to be mainstream. It's the Jessica Simpson of videogames, pretty to look at, worth banging at for a couple of hours, but completely void of any substance.