Since it was originally announced, Electronic Arts’ Burnout Dominator was billed as fan service, a gift meant as a tribute to those players who had purchased and followed the series that has, to this day, become synonymous with high octane console racing. However, like a gift given with more good intention than sense of style, Burnout Dominator is best accepted with a smile and a nod before quickly being exchanged for store credit when EA and developer Criterion turn away.
Without question, the Burnout series hit its stride with Burnout 3: Takedown, as the franchise’s visceral marriage of speed and explosive wreckage took console racing and player expectations to new heights. This has proved to be both a blessing and curse for Burnout, as even the follow up Revenge, while entirely competent in its own right, failed to surpass Takedown despite a number of tweaks and new gameplay additives. However while Revenge was called out for its somewhat unwelcome additions to the Takedown formula, in Dominator for both the PlayStation 2 and PSP Criterion has perhaps listened too closely to critics and cut too deep into its engineering, removing many of the features that make Burnout so attractive.
The game includes flashes of both Takedown and Revenge, with the inclusion of rivals and crashbreakers, though the latter feels ‘nerfed’ and largely inconsequential, lacking much of the impact felt in the previous two entries. In addition, while aftertouch has been left in, Revenge‘s controversial traffic checking has been cut out entirely. Also gone are crash events, which had become a fan favorite since Takedown with their almost tactical take on the game’s more destructive elements. Burnout Dominator feels like a rather experimental mishmash of features cobbled together over a weekend as a quick cash grab rather than a self proclaimed tribute to one of the industry’s most noteworthy racing franchises.
This isn’t to say that the game is terrible, just that it feels like an unnatural step backwards for the series. In fact, Dominator comes off as an evolutionary cast away, harboring many elements from the first two games in the series while still exhibiting bit and pieces of what was to come later.
The nuts and bolts of the game lie in the game’s World Tour mode, where a collection of series offer a handful of events to be completed in order to score points, unlock new cars, and earn trophies. Each of these series are broken out by a type of vehicle, beginning with older classics, and progressing through coupes, muscle cars, hot rods, and more. There is a healthy selection of cars to earn in each class, though by forcing the player to use only certain types of cars in every race makes even the most robust catalog of vehicles feel claustrophobic.
Dominator‘s one key contribution to the franchise is what is called Maniac mode, a play on the return of the burnout from earlier entries, whereby a player is encouraged to drive as dangerously as possible in order to build up the boost meter, and then burn through it all in a single go without letting up. Doing so while also continuing to drive erratic will build it up again, creating a burnout chain for more bonus points and multipliers. This makes for not only an intense experience, but also one that is constantly moving at blurring speeds. It’s all about testing your reaction time and ability to look ahead several car lengths while simultaneously keeping your car from ending up wrapped around a pole, ledge, or another car.
The problem is that this mode effectively deemphasizes Burnout‘s niche, and lacks the emotionally purging qualities for which the series’ destructive qualities are known. In fact, crashing in Dominator can spell certain defeat, whereas in the previous two games it could give you a strategic advantage. In some ways, this game is the anti-Burnout.
In addition, other negatives persist, such as the lack of any online multiplayer, an excusable omission for the PlayStation 2, but a glaring oversight on the PSP, which has only ad hoc support.
There is some fun to be had in Dominator, but it’s a pale offering compared to the games to come before it. Seemingly destined to be a footnote in the franchise rather than an entry of any real significance, most players are advised to pass this one up in favor of Burnout 3: Takedown, Burnout Legends, or Burnout Revenge, each of which can probably be had for less than what this game asks for brand new. Only series completionists need consider adding this one to their libraries; anyone else should consider Dominator as a rental if curiosity cannot be satiated, at least until the franchise’s next ‘real’ sequel emerges.