Burnout Retrospective, Part Six: Burnout Dominator (2007)

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Here’s another interesting one for me, because this is another Burnout game I hadn’t actually played prior to starting this series of articles. Burnout Dominator came out on the PlayStation 2 and PSP in March 2007, and by that point the next generation of home consoles was already in full swing. I had upgraded to an Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii by then as well, and while did still use my PS2 from time to time that was mostly for Guitar Hero, and it wasn’t until the PAL release of Persona 3 in early 2008 that the PS2 began to see more active use once again (including that time in mid-2008 when I played through every PS2 Shin Megami Tensei game).

Perhaps things would’ve been different if I had owned a PSP back in 2007, but that wouldn’t happen for another two years either. Coincidentally, what got me to pick up a PSP was Persona 3 Portable. I even imported the Japanese version, but more on that when the Persona articles get there sometime in the next 278 years. We’ve still got some Burnout (and another series I’ll also be doing) to get through first!

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To be completely honest, I will admit that there were more factors working against Burnout Dominator than simple unfortunate release timing. Along with the fact I had moved on, there were two major issues I had with this game at the time – one, it had no Crash mode; two, it was not developed by Criterion, no matter what the box or opening logos say.

As Criterion was busy working on Burnout Paradise at the time, Dominator’s development duties fell to another UK-based EA studio, creatively named EA UK. This studio, later rechristened EA Bright Light, had only developed four games, although Wikipedia suggests they also had a hand in Burnout Legends.

Two of EA UK’s releases were Harry Potter licensed games, one a cricket title they apparently co-developed with HB Studios, and the last (technically first) one was Catwoman, based on the 2004 film and receiving equally scathing reviews. Not exactly the most illustrious portfolio out there, is it?

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A franchise switching developers isn’t necessarily a bad thing and doesn’t automatically mean the result is Carmageddon TDR 2000, of course, especially when it’s temporary like this. Dominator was always meant to be a stopgap release to keep the Burnout name out there while Criterion developed their huge open world game, and EA UK also got to use the version of RenderWare engine that powered Burnout Revenge. It wasn’t like they were building a whole game from scratch.

However, knowing that EA had farmed out Dominator’s development to a studio with such a questionable track record did not exactly inspire confidence either, nor did the lack of the fan-favorite Crash Mode. Dominator was released at a budget price point, but so was basically every other PS2 game at the time as the system was winding down.

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Over a decade later, I finally got around to playing Burnout Dominator, and… what do you know? This is actually a good game! Not a match for Criterion’s best work, but definitely a very solid Burnout title that is well worth a look for everyone collecting PS2 games or even PSP ones. Despite the fact the US box art recycles the “Battle Racing Ignited” tagline from Revenge, and Dominator running on the same engine as that game, this is not a sequel to Revenge.

If anything, Burnout Dominator is a sequel to Burnout 2.

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I knew perfectly well back in 2007 that Dominator brought back the titular Burnout and the chain mechanic, even before Criterion resurrected them in Paradise, but at the time it wasn’t a selling point for me because I hadn’t really played the first two games. Now, though? It feels like coming back home after a long time away.

The game in general feels like a throwback to the first two Burnouts, because despite the fact the Takedowns are still here, Dominator is about racing first and foremost. The new Maniac mode really reflects this approach, and might as well have been called “Drive like you’re playing Burnout 2” mode.

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The longer you can keep driving like, well, a maniac, the higher your score will be. Multipliers are earned by chaining Burnouts together, and crashing can wreck your entire run. No more traffic checking to save your ass. You screw up, you face the consequences.

Some might argue (and indeed did when the game came out) that Burnouts and chains are now too important because everything in Dominator revolves around these mechanics, but after the last game was all about ramming into opponents and even random civilian traffic, I honestly could not care less. You’ve still got your Takedowns and Crashbreakers, but they’ve been taking center stage for long enough.

The Takedown system in Burnout has always been a bit dodgy about crediting your opponents for crashes that were 100% your fault, but Dominator is even more so than usual and I’ve been “taken out” in roughly 95% of my crashes so far. That doesn’t really matter, of course, but I just thought it was kind of silly.

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Dominator certainly isn’t perfect, and its budget nature is rather obvious from the bare-bones (but functional) presentation and relatively short World Tour mode. While 88 events sounds like quite a lot, many of those are merely simpler variations of the Maniac mode and just task you with performing a bunch of near misses or Burnouts. The Crash mode would definitely have been a fun distraction, but at least single events are back and you can once again play Road Rage for as long as you can keep going.

The structure of the World Tour is nothing to get excited about, it’s the same sort of thing as the last couple of games and the only things that have really changed are the names of the series. Completing the Dominator events in each series unlocks, wait for it, the Dominator series that can only be contested with Dominator-class cars.

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All roads lead to Ausfahrt! Yes, I know I already made this joke when I talked about Euro Truck Simulator 2, and I don’t care.

While the driving gameplay itself feels fantastic, I’m not entirely sure about EA UK’s track design chops. Sure, the tracks in Dominator are decent overall, with a nice selection of courses spanning the globe, and they all look great.

There are both short and long versions of each track, with each also available to be driven in reverse. However, while I certainly don’t dislike any of these courses, I don’t find anything particularly memorable about them either.

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The track design feels as if EA UK had a checklist of things Burnout tracks should have. For the most part, they managed to include all that, but the courses themselves are very generic and often feel indistinguishable from one another despite looking nice.

The fact the World Tour is frontloaded with tracks consisting largely of mountain roads and taking place in the evening or late afternoon doesn’t really help either. Granted, one of them features Colorado mountain roads and another has Japanese mountain roads, and the background scenery obviously reflects that if you ever have time to look at it. For the majority of these courses, though, all you see are the trees and cliff faces you’re trying not to smash your face against at 200 mph.

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Probably my favorite track in Dominator is the one set in and around Florence, because at least it looks completely different from all the others. It also has a really enjoyable downhill section towards the end of the lap, where you race through the narrow streets of the old town at a blistering speed.

Plus, of course, racing at 200 mph past buildings you’ve climbed as Ezio Auditore da Firenze (and through the Arca di Lorena which hadn’t been built yet in Ezio’s time, see below) is always fun.

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Instead of Signature Takedowns, Dominator features Signature Shortcuts which… well, they’re basically just Signature Takedowns, to be honest, with silly names and everything. However, now they actually have a purpose beyond merely making you cringe at horrible puns and unlocking new cars once you collect all of them.

Signature Shortcuts are marked with flimsy-looking orange barriers that are basically begging you to smash a hapless opponent into them. Doing so sends the opponent crashing right through the barrier. No prizes are awarded for guessing what you unlock when the barrier is gone.

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Speaking of shortcuts, Dominator has multiple routes through each track, and my feelings on them are largely the same as they were in the last game. Shortcuts are fine and all, but they take away some of the requirement for pure racing skill and replace that with memorizing the best spots to skip portions of the race track. You can argue that this is an arcade game and therefore must have shortcuts, but games such as Daytona USA and OutRun 2 don’t have shortcuts. Neither did Burnout before Revenge came out, for that matter.

In addition, when playing modes like Road Rage you’ll always want the pack of cars around you, and the track offering multiple routes just needlessly complicates things. To be fair, it doesn’t seem like any of the non-Signature routes are noticeably faster than others, and Burning Laps are far easier this time as long as you’re decent at chaining Burnouts.

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From an audiovisual standpoint, Burnout Dominator holds up well enough for a title that seems to have been developed with the PSP as the lead platform. The overblown bloom filter from Revenge is gone, but the PS2 version still has this slight yellow tint I’m not exactly a fan of as it makes the tracks look more samey than they should. It’s actually quite reminiscent of the filter Obsidian used in Fallout: New Vegas.

I initially played Dominator on the PSP and enjoyed it well enough, but soon figured that if I was going to actually give this game a proper go, I’d have to do it on the home console version. The PSP version is definitely no slouch in any way, shape or form and is actually an improvement over Burnout Legends when it comes to visuals and even performance, but the PS2 has the edge here by a large margin and is the way to play this game. You can even change the control scheme in both versions, so no more accelerating with the X button (not that R1 is a whole lot more comfortable). The button in that spot on the controller should always be boost in Burnout.

The frame rate on PS2 version isn’t a locked 60 by any means (the PAL release also supports 60Hz, which is nice), but it’s definitely a smoother experience than the portable release. Content-wise, the two are identical. Well, almost — the PSP has some local Wi-Fi multiplayer modes, and the PS2 version also lacks the two bonus tracks that were released on EA’s website as sort of DLC for the PSP edition, including one where you drove around Moscow at night. A bit unfortunate, but what can you do. The official downloads for the two tracks are long gone, naturally, but you can still find them floating around on the internet.

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The soundtrack here is quite similar to that of Burnout Paradise, albeit with certain songs missing (no “Paradise City” or “Rusty Cage” to be found, for example) and others not making the cut for Paradise. While Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” is commonly associated with Paradise and is basically a meme among fans of that game for reasons that continue to elude me to this day, the song actually made its debut in Burnout Dominator.

That’s not just its Burnout soundtrack debut, by the way, but the song’s debut in general as this was apparently its world premiere. In four different languages, too! That’d be English, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin, depending on your region. My PAL version has the English and Spanish ones.

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Regardless of your feelings on Ms. Lavigne’s magnum opus, the soundtrack is decent overall and features some solid tracks from bands such as Alice in Chains, LCD SoundsystemFilter and Trivium. As in the previous games, you can disable any of the EA TRAX that might annoy you. Speaking of annoyances, there’s thankfully still no DJ voice here, and the sultry robot lady from Revenge narrates the introduction again.

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If you’re a fan of Burnout but missed Dominator when it came out because it wasn’t made by Criterion or because it lacks the Crash Mode, or simply because you had moved on to newer consoles, I highly recommend you find a copy and give it a whirl because there’s a lot to like here. That goes double if you’re a fan of Burnout 2 like I am. As is the case with every classic Burnout game, Dominator is easy to find used and probably costs less than a pint of decent beer.

This may not be a Criterion game or even considered part of the main series by Criterion, but don’t let that put you off or you’ll miss out on an excellent arcade racer.

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As I mentioned last time, I won’t be covering Burnout Paradise again since I already wrote about it when the remaster came out in March. I’m also limiting the scope of this series to the actual Burnout racing games, so the Burnout Crash! spinoff from 2011 is not getting more than a mention here.

Well, that and this one screenshot:

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Yeah, I’ll pass. (Image source: PlayStation Blog)

Then, of course, there is Danger Zone. Go ahead and insert your own Top Gun and Archer references, I’m not going to bother. Released in 2017 on the PS4 and Xbox One, this was an attempt by Three Fields Entertainment to create a spiritual successor to Burnout, or at least its Crash Mode.

Despite the fact Danger Zone was made by the very same people who formed Criterion and created Burnout in the first place –  Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry – the game itself met with a mixed reception. I haven’t played it yet, but plan to pick it up on sale at some stage and see how it is. At this point I can only say that the visual presentation is rather unappealing and the damage model is somehow less detailed than that of Burnout 2.

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Image source: PlayStation Store

With the recent release of Paradise Remastered and Burnout Revenge now compatible with the Xbox One, Burnout fans have had more cause for cheer than in many years because at least EA has shown they remember we exist. Maybe, just maybe, this once proud series will return.

In any event, that is the end of the Burnout retrospective. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane, I certainly liked revisiting my old favorites and discovering new ones. Who knows, perhaps I’ve even inspired someone to play a Burnout game for the first time, or at least try one they’ve missed. That’d be quite lovely indeed.

As for what comes next… Well, I’ve still got a few hundred hours of Persona to play, don’t I? To be honest, that retrospective is on the back burner right now because I’m just too busy to replay the entire damn series, but I’m still planning to get back to it some day.

What I am going to do next, however, is another retrospective of a long-running series. This is a series of games that traditionally hasn’t seen much in the way of global success over the years due to rather poor marketing and other strange publisher decisions, but has recently found more attention and gained plenty of new fans with its latest releases. Maybe you already know what I’m referring to, and if not, here’s a little hint…

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