Confession time: I actually didn’t play Criterion Games’ Burnout 2: Point of Impact when it came out on the PS2 in 2002, nor did I get to try the Xbox and GameCube ports that followed a few months later in 2003. Why? Well, frankly I wasn’t all that enamored with the often punishing difficulty of the first game back then (I’d come to appreciate the original Burnout many years later, of course), especially the strict time limits, and I didn’t want to risk another disappointment.
The sequel looked better and I was slightly interested, but since I didn’t have much money to spend on new games back then I never picked it up until a couple of years ago. As it turns out, not playing the game until recently was a terrible mistake because Burnout 2: Point of Impact remains one of the best games in the series to this day.
Burnout 2: Point of Impact keeps everything that was good about the original and ramps up the intensity. The most notable change here is that the speeds are higher – if you’re going slower than 120 mph in Burnout 2, you’re doing it wrong. The increased speed isn’t only reflected on the speedometer, as the whole game feels faster than its predecessor, helped by the fact the track design now encourages driving at top speed and boosting.
When using boost in the faster cars, we’re basically in F-Zero territory, and everything still runs at a smooth 60 frames per second. The controls are less twitchy than in the previous game, and seem to have been rebalanced to allow for easier drifting. You also need to hit things a lot harder than before to actually crash; if you just graze a wall or vehicle, even at high speeds, it will not cause an accident.
The racing here is incredibly fun and a massive improvement over the already pretty solid original game, although the AI can still sometimes be frustrating. The rubberbanding isn’t too bad, but occasionally one of the opponents just zooms into the distance and laps five seconds faster than you even if you barely make mistakes.
The boost system has been slightly tweaked to suit the faster gameplay. You still earn boost by driving dangerously, but the boost meter fills up much faster and Burnouts are far easier to achieve this time around. If you manage to keep driving like a maniac while boosting, you can even chain Burnouts together as long as you can keep it up. This was apparently a mechanic in the first game as well, but I’ve never managed to get a Burnout chain in it because boosting around the relatively twisty and narrow tracks would usually result in a large crash.
Oh yes, the crashes. This is where Burnout really starts to lean on that part of the game. In the original, crashes often looked spectacular but were best avoided because too many wrecks meant running out of time and losing the race. In Point of Impact, the crashes look even better thanks to the improved damage model and more over-the-top physics, and while there still is a timer it’s practically inconsequential and running out of time in a race is nearly impossible.
Now obviously, you are still trying to win, so you don’t want to crash too often… well, unless you’re playing the new Crash Mode.
The Crash Mode puts you next to a busy intersection and tells you to cause as big of a pileup as you possibly can. The more mayhem you manage to cause, the better your score will be. The crash junctions are basically puzzles where you need to figure out the best way to block all the lanes and get the large vehicles (which are worth more points) involved in the chaos, and this mode is great fun. The PS2 version has 15 crash junctions, and another 15 were added in the Xbox and GameCube releases.
Crash has become a Burnout series staple and a central part of the series’ appeal and identity, appearing in most of the games released after Point of Impact. It’s also a popular multiplayer mode that can be played with up to four players, taking turns and seeing who can earn the biggest score.
The other new game mode introduced in Point of Impact is the Pursuit Mode. Here, you drive a police car and try to take down a racer by slamming into them and reducing their health to zero before they reach the goal. This is similar to the Hot Pursuit events in Need for Speed, and the takedown mechanics seen here serve as a small teaser for what Burnout would later become.
Pursuit can also be played in split-screen, with the second player taking on the role of the racer that must be stopped. Although the Pursuit mode informed some of the gameplay design in the later Burnout games, the mode itself would be absent until 2005’s Burnout Legends.
The single-player progression has been overhauled for Point of Impact. Along with the Grand Prix championship series, you now have Pursuit and Face-Off events integrated into the career, and you earn medals to unlock new cars and events. The championships no longer require you to finish in certain positions to continue to the next race, and the lives system is gone as well. Now, as long as you finish the championship with more points than your rivals, you win.
If you manage to win absolutely every race, you can unlock more cars and some bonus cheat options such as infinite boost, but the general progression is now a lot more forgiving than before. That kind of applies to the entire game, which feels more accessible and fun than the original Burnout. Criterion really found their groove here, and Burnout 2 is quite simply one of the best pure arcade racers ever made.
Despite all the improvements and the excellent overall quality of the game, it is still clear that Burnout 2 is a fairly low-budget release, which can at least partially be attributed to publisher Acclaim’s financial woes at the time. There aren’t that many different cars or tracks (albeit more than in the original game) and the single-player career is still a fairly bare-bones affair despite the fact you unlock the Custom Series Championship (with faster cars, tougher opponents and reverse tracks) when you complete the regular career.
The presentation also remains functional but unspectacular, with basic menus that are obviously designed for function over form. Mind you, that isn’t really a bad thing. At least these menus are simple to navigate and getting to the track doesn’t take long.
The graphics in Burnout 2: Point of Impact look very nice for the time and it’s clear Criterion was able to wring a lot more performance out of their RenderWare engine for Point of Impact. The cars and environments are much more detailed than in the original, and effects such as motion blur look more robust as well. This is a good-looking game overall, and the performance never falters at least on the GameCube version I’ve been playing.
The music was once again composed by Stephen Root and consists of instrumental rock and electronic tracks, which aren’t particularly memorable except for the main menu track. While a fairly simple hard rock track, it’s quite catchy and would show up in multiple other Burnout games in later years. During the races, the soundtrack plays fairly quietly in the background for the most part, but when you boost the music also gets cranked up as it swells up to its full glory. If you use the custom soundtrack feature on the Xbox, you obviously miss out on this effect.
While all the screenshots in this article are from the GameCube version (being played on the Wii in 480p mode), the Xbox release is arguably the best one as it features some extra content. Now, most of the Xbox version’s content is also in the GameCube release and only the PS2 misses out on the extra cars and those 15 new crash junctions I mentioned earlier. All the Xbox really has over the GameCube are some extra vehicle skins, custom soundtrack support (only on the original Xbox, obviously, although the game itself appears to run well enough on the 360 with occasional frame drops), and Xbox Live leaderboards which were taken down years ago.
The Xbox version has slightly nicer graphics as well (the biggest difference to the GameCube version I noticed when I booted up the game on the Xbox is the lack of dithering in alpha effects such as smoke), but that’s not a big deal because all versions look good. Even the PS2 release holds up quite well from what I’ve seen, the jaggy mess we saw in the original game is only a distant memory. All versions are stupidly cheap these days, so you can’t really go wrong with any of them. I would love to see this game remastered for the current generation, or at least made playable on the Xbox One whose backwards compatibility feature is capable of some rather amazing things.
Burnout 2: Point of Impact would be the last Burnout game published by Acclaim (who were in their “all publicity is good publicity” mode at the time, and briefly even had an ill-advised and ill-fated promotion where they offered to reimburse speeding tickets in the UK), as the company would sell Burnout to EA (who would also buy Criterion) after the release of Point of Impact, and eventually shut their doors in August 2004.
EA wanted some quality IPs around this time and Burnout fit the bill nicely, but how was the series going to change under these new corporate overlords? To that question, Criterion would soon provide a simple, one-word answer: Takedown. After two games that were fairly popular but not exactly blockbuster hits, Burnout was about to… well, crash into the mainstream.