Being a huge fan of the Burnout series I have to admit that I had some mixed feelings going into the newest entry for the PSP and PlayStation 2. On one hand I was happy to have another edition of one of the best racing franchises of all time on my PSP, but at the same time I was concerned about the loss of the crash mode and the lack of real innovation in the series. Thankfully I didn't have anything to worry about; Burnout Dominator is a phenomenal racing game that any PSP owner should feel honored to play. While it doesn't do anything particularly new or original, Dominator does offer a solid racing experience that is better than just about anything else on Sony's handheld.
Burnout Dominator is the pseudo-sequel to 2005's Burnout Legend, a game that acted as something of a compilation of the best tracks and game play elements from the first three games in the series. The good news is that almost every stage and location in Dominator is new; you won't have to put up with a lot of recycled material in this game. But while the levels may be new, Burnout Dominator does bring back some familiar modes from previous game, giving this game a strange mix of new and old content. While it all manages to mesh together flawlessly, those expecting a game more along the lines of Burnout Revenge will probably feel like this is a step backwards.
While it doesn't stray too far away from other Burnout games, Dominator does manage to reintroduce a number of features that have been missing for several years now. One of these features is something called "burnout," this is a special move you can perform when you have your turbo meter maxed. Basically how this works is you hold your turbo button down until your turbo is completely used up, but while you're speeding along you should be narrowly missing cars, running your competition off the road, driving into traffic and doing whatever you can to add marks to your burnout meter. The longer you hold down the button and keep your car from crashing you'll earn score multipliers which you can use until you let go of the turbo for whatever reason. This new (or old, depending on how you look at it) game play twist manages to change the game up and makes Dominator feel fresh.
Dominator works like most other Burnout games, you go from one race type to another trying to earn points or come in first place. What keeps this game from becoming repetitious is that there is a large variety of race types to keep you going. Fans of previous Burnout installments will no doubt recognize some of the modes found in Dominator, such as the standard race (where you battle three other cars for first), eliminator (where a timer counts down and the person in last place blows up) and road rage (where it's your job to crash as many different cars as possible before you either run out of time or run out of track).
But those aren't the only race types found in Dominator, Burnout fans will be excited to learn about a brand new mode and the return of a classic. The brand new mode is called Maniac and it requires you to drive like a mad man to collect points, that means that you have to drift all over the place, drive into traffic, narrowly miss other cars and do whatever you can to score as many points while driving like a reckless maniac. This is easily one of my favorite modes, and while it seems simple at first the scores you will have to beat by the end of the game will require not only a lot of crazy driving but a ton of skill on your part.
Other race types include a burnout mode that gives you points for successfully performing burnouts, a drift challenge that wants you to drift a certain distance in a short amount of time, and a near miss mode that is all about coming as close as you possibly can to crashing into other cars without actually crashing. With all of the different races it's hard to get bored of just doing the same thing over and over, this aspect alone will probably keep you going long after you would have put down most other "traditional" racing games.
For the most part the actual racing game play is exactly the same as it was in Burnout 3: Takedown. As a driver you're rewarded for driving dangerously and taking out your competition by pushing them into walls or ramming them into other cars. If you do manage to crash not all is lost, by holding the right shoulder button you can slow down time and move your car into a position where you'll be able to mess up your competition. And that's not all, even if you can't directly hit your enemies after you've crashed, you can still push the triangle button and blow your car up and take down one, two or even three cars in one single explosion. All this adds up to an insane racing experience that is full of balls to the wall action and more excitement than your heart can probably take.
Burnout Dominator is separated into seven different levels, each one includes a different set of cars and tracks. You start out in the Classic Series, but soon enough you're off to Factory, Tuned, Hotrod, Super, Race and all the way up to the Dominator Series. Each of these levels features thirteen different events, so if you're the type of person that enjoys math then you've already figured out that there are close to 100 events to complete. Needless to say Dominator will take a lot of time and effort if you're going to get gold and unlock everything possible.
In each series you have a number of cars you can unlock; to do this you will have to complete a secondary goal on a specific race. For example, while the event may want you to gain 20,000 points in maniac mode, to actually earn the extra car you're going to dodge a total of 25 cars or drift a certain distance. I had a lot of fun trying to earn these cars while at the same time hoping to get first, there's definitely a challenge here that should keep you busy for quite some time.
The levels themselves, while new, will probably feel familiar to anybody who has played the Burnout games before. None of the levels feel completely new and original, even if they are different from past courses. Having said that, these various locations are all fun and easy on the eyes, you'll be racing through mountains, plenty of cities and even the beach. While the courses are littered with multiple paths and shortcuts, there's no mistaking them for anything but Burnout tracks. There are plenty of narrow areas to navigate through and plenty of obstacles to get in your way (or shove your opponents into). While the look and feel may be all too familiar, there's no denying that they are a lot of fun and get the job done.
Along with a fun World Tour mode you will also have a chance to play the game against real life opponents in the Ad Hoc WiFi multiplayer mode. Unlike Burnout Legend, Dominator allows you to play the game with six people, so the races are even more exciting and crowded. There are a few different modes to choose from, but when it comes right down to it the standard race is the most exciting game you can play, if only because it's a lot of fun to run your friends off the road. Unfortunately Dominator isn't online, something that a lot of the other Burnout games have experimented with. This is disappointing as there just aren't enough solid online games currently available for the PSP.
While the game is as much fun as it's ever been, there's one thing that is sorely missing from Dominator -- the crash mode. I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but one of the most popular Burnout game modes has been completely removed. While the crash mode was often nothing more than a small diversion from the main course, it's painfully obvious that it's missing from this game. There's nothing quite like playing a few races and then jumping over and beating a few crash levels. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come for the Burnout series; I would hate to think that future installments will ditch one of my favorite modes.
Thankfully that's where the bad news ends, because pretty much every other aspect of Burnout remains intact. Dominator's presentation is second to none; it's easily one of the best looking PSP racers on the market. At first glance it may look like the Burnout Legend, but the longer you sit down with Dominator the more impressive it is. At top speeds the game just flies, sure there are a few minor graphic glitches but you'll hardly notice when everything is moving so fast. And it's not just when you're going fast, either. The game is also impressive in the early levels, the backgrounds are all full of details and there's a certain amount of life that is brought to the experience. Make no mistake about it, this is one beautiful game.
When it comes right down to it Burnout Dominator is an essential PSP racing game, even if it doesn't have some of the modes you've come to know and love in previous titles. The multiplayer is great, the graphics are full of life and it just feels like a Burnout game. I would argue that Burnout Legend is a slightly better game, but only because Dominator is missing the crash mode. If you've played Legend to death and are looking for another great racer for your PSP then you can't go wrong with Burnout Dominator. Hopefully next time EA decides to release a PSP Burnout game we'll see some major innovations and maybe even an online mode, that is the only thing keeping this from being one of the best PSP games to date.