Arcade racer short on reality

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

You've probably dreamed of being able to drive a powerful car as fast as you want on public highways, weaving through traffic, squealing tires and triggering accidents left and right.

Well, OK, it's always been my dream.

But you can get in on the fun with a copy of "Burnout," from Criterion Games and Acclaim for the Xbox. This arcade-style racer is short on automotive reality and long on frantic, high-speed action.

As with most arcade games, "Burnout" is as deep as a puddle and lacking in realism, but it's very fast. The action is nonstop.

You're racing against three other cars along crowded freeways, narrow mountain roads and busy harbor boulevards. Traffic is everywhere and, unlike track racing games where you can relax for a few seconds on straights, you must be focused every second.

If you don't, you'll be hearing the amazingly realistic sound of a collision, along with the image of your ruined car spinning around, windows smashed and steam rising from the radiator. While the driving experience might not be 100 percent accurate, if you've been in a car crash you'll recognize every detail, including the sounds of smashing glass and mangling metal.

If you're looking for a "Gran Turismo" experience, forget it. The cars are generic and can't be altered to improve handling.

They do seem to be able to repair themselves in record time, however. You'll often see an opponent slam into a tractor-trailer, only to find him on your tail again 30 seconds later.

Drive without crashing for an extended period and you'll see the turbo boost bar fill and start to blink. Hit the proper button and you get a huge speed boost, which is really useful at the end of races if you need to catch an opponent.

But don't wait too long to use the boost, since your next accident is just a turn away. The best way to fill that boost gauge fast -- drive crazily. Slipping into oncoming traffic, for instance, will give you the boost in no time.

There are plenty of options available. You can play in championship mode, in which you have to finish at least as well as the computer demands to move on. There's also a single race for those with short attention spans, a head-to-head split screen option and time attack, which pits you against the clock.

Graphics get a B. While the graphics aren't the most detailed, the cars and scenes look fine in this context.

Sound is a B, a mixed bag of fantastic sound effects and awful music. You can adjust the volume, so zero is the correct choice to drown out the tunes.

Control gets a B. The cars respond as quickly as your tangled synapses will allow. Weaving through traffic is as easy as a gentle push on the stick.

"Burnout" gets a B, for mindless racing fun with none of those annoying details like shock absorber settings and pit stops. It's not for racing purists, but even they will find themselves laughing insanely as they scream down the freeway into oncoming traffic at 140 mph.

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