What do you do, as a software company, when you find you have a surprise original hit on your hands? Go write a sequel, that's what. And what is the first unwritten rule of writing a sequel? Don't change the formula too much, but add a few new bits in, tweak things around and spruce up the graphics somewhat. All of these could apply to Burnout 2, which in the main plays very much like its predecessor.
If you are familiar with the original Burnout, then there should be no real problem settling into playing the sequel. However first of all there is a mini-test to be taken, to prove your skills Gran Turismo like, before being allowed to race properly. Once that is out of the way, the most immediate choice would be the championship. Here a number of tracks are raced in a series whereby the object is not only to score medals in each of the races, but also to win the series overall and obtain the cup. Doing so then unlocks a number of bonus objectives such as the Pursuits and Face Offs, which enable additional bonus cars to be won. Completing all of the championship series then unlocks the Custom championship where driving an unlocked Custom souped-up car is mandatory for any chance of winning.
Also present are the ubiquitous one-race mode and time trial options, along with a special new mode for Burnout 2, the crash simulator. The crash camera has been improved massively over the original version, with far more realistic damage projection, bits flying about, dents and the vehicles sometimes doing impressions of Superman into the air. Upon crashing, the camera slows down to allow the player to witness just what carnage is about to be unleashed on the rest of the unsuspecting vehicles on the road. Whilst occasionally slightly time consuming, it is neither a hindrance or an annoyance for it to cut in, mostly a chance to swear as the leader tears further off into the distance. Keen to show off this new physics model, Criterion have created a whole new mode around it. Thirty custom set-ups have been created based on the tracks available in the game, where the object simply is to create as much insurance damage as possible from one crash. Naturally the big targets such as coaches and lorries are the ones to go for, plus a bonus multiplier is introduced that increases for each vehicle involved in the crash. Scores of over $50M are not hard to achieve in some circumstances, and this mode is a welcome addition and break from the hectic nature of competitive driving.
Control wise, the game is exactly the same as before, with A being the accelerator, B the brake, R the boost, and L the horn. Tapping the brake and turning at the same time puts the car into a power slide, which is quite necessary in certain parts of the track. All the cars from the original Burnout are included in the sequel together with Custom versions of each, and some special new ones including the McLaren F1. Each has its own stats for acceleration, top speed and handling so a careful choice must be made depending on the championship series being raced. Realistically though, the McLaren F1 is probably the best car in the game, with the highest top speed and tightest handling. It may not have quite the sharp turning arc as the Roadster, but overall it drives wonderfully and hardly slides out on the corners.
So what differences have been made between the two games then? First of all, let's focus on the Burnout meter, as that is the name of the game and why cars get to travel at stupidly high speeds within it. Besides earning boost from near misses, drifting and driving on the other side of the road, in Burnout 2 the boost bar is also increased by gaining air. Many circuits have hills and drops, allowing the cars to fly in the air Bullet-like and no doubt doing wonders to the suspension at the same time. A lot more focus has been put on this aspect, and certain factors have been deliberately tweaked to allow maximum usage of the boost during the game. The player is far more likely to be holding down R in Burnout 2 than in the first game, as not only does the boost bar increase quicker, but less of it is lost following a crash.
There is also the design of the tracks to consider. Obviously to allow more use of the boost (or to tempt players into using it), many of the tracks are of a faster, wider, and American nature in build. Personally, the tracks designed around the American freeway concept in the first Burnout were probably the weaker of the selection available. Fortunately the wide-open pedal-to-the-metal circuits in Burnout 2 are of a higher quality and do allow for a complete trail blaze of linked Burnouts around them. It requires a lot of skill, pre-knowledge and reactions to link even 10 of the boosts together, and this in itself is very enjoyable. However more enjoyment was found in the fewer tracks that required proper driving skills to negotiate and avoid traffic, rather than simply cruising at 150mph and weaving between oncoming traffic. Whilst none of the designs overall match the genius of some tracks in the first Burnout such as Gridlock and Twilight Harbour, they are of sufficient ingenuity to warrant repeated play and trying to better the lap times. Burnout 2 is almost all about speed and this is where the design of the game does deliver in spades for its goal.
Then there is the issue of the computer AI, both in the competing cars and the general traffic on the roads. Whilst there is far less traffic in general on most tracks compared to the original, making negotiating them a far easier prospect overall, sometimes there is a wonder if the designers have wanted to make this random concept more annoying. Quite often the computer traffic has an inane tendency to veer towards your car rather than away from it, perpetuating a completely unavoidable crash. After a while a precognition of when and where this can happen develops which helps matters enormously, but it is a niggle that is annoying overall. Also it is slightly in favour of being easier to predict as quite often similar patterns of traffic evolve at the same points each lap, whereas in the original Burnout they were usually quite different. It is also slightly harder to crash in general, ergo making it a more forgiving game overall. The computer competitors have also been turned down slightly, no longer are they always up your backside, and for the most part the races in the normal championship saw them way behind. Only when racing in the Custom championship and everyone has custom cars do the teeth come out and some real competition begin. However it is still far less vicious and challenging than the original, and despite having more championships to race, may well take far less time to complete them all.
Graphically the game has come on leaps and bounds since the first one. The generally visual tartiness of the cars sees them having more polygons to play with, and coupled with the new crash physics, allows the player to almost believe they are driving for real. Although for copyright sake none of the cars is actually called by their real name, all of them do look exactly like the proper article. The textures and colour design may look a bit bland some of the time, but the lighting and glint off the bodywork is superb for each period of the day, and little touches such as flames from the exhaust add to the realism. The detail and graphical design of the tracks is also on a new step, with more background objects and general track features such as hills, jumps, slopes, tunnels, traffic islands and massive hairpins. Now proper building fronts can be examined making them look like individual objects rather than just a plain texture over a wider block. The game rattles along at 60fps in single player mode, making it a very smooth and exhilarating experience, and the widescreen mode has been retained also. Sadly the game drops to 30fps for two-player mode and whilst still impressive, the halving of frame rate is noticeable and makes things slightly harder to control.
In tune with its slightly more Americanised roots, the soundtrack is suitably full of metal and high tempo tracks to listen as the mayhem ensues. Most of them are quite catchy, pumping and fully in time with the proceedings, somewhat urging the driver that they must go faster, must go faster. When engaging the burnout, instead of reducing the music and a heartbeat being heard, the music actually increases in volume to accentuate matters further. Sound effects are not as present but where needed, come over fully such as horns beeping, pneumatic gear changes, flames from the exhaust, and power sliding. Crash effects where needed are full-on affairs with a cornucopia of squeals, crunches and flips overlapping the ear like a concerto.
So what to say overall about Burnout 2? If it can be put simply, the game is not quite a sequel to the original, more a parallel driving experience. Both games offer divergent goals and experiences, and may appeal to different type of driving enthusiast. Whilst the original game focused more on tight control, driving skill and the ability to predict traffic, Burnout 2 offers a lot more high-speed thrills, fast open racing, pure Burnout exhilaration and the true feeling of speed. It is up to each person to decide which game is more suited to their nature. The original Burnout was under-rated by this site, and whilst the score here is the same as before (and less than the PS2 mark), that does not make Burnout 2 the lesser game. Merely an evolvement that for parts has been better, and for parts has been worse.