The first Burnout title arrived in 2001, the PlayStation 2 era, and established what the series was all about right off the bat. Driving dangerously and on the wrong side of the road to accumulate boost, controls that sat firmly in the arcade realm, and intense head-to-head races where mistakes or risks were often met with spectacular car crashes. Where after watching a display of crumpled metal and fireworks made-up of sparks and broken glass you got back on the road.
Over the years the size and scope and quality of each subsequent Burnout release improved, the whole crash stuff became a game-with-a-game, and the final Burnout title from developer Criterion Games, called Burnout Paradise, was in many ways the first true open-world racer. Dangerous Driving comes from independent UK studio Three Fields Entertainment, a small team comprised of some of the original talent that developed and refined the Burnout series over several years. And it’s essentially a Burnout spiritual successor.
Except, not a good one.
From the arcade handling to driving on the wrong side of the road to fill up your ‘Heatwave’ meter, to watching the outcome of a digital head-on collision, all the stuff that someone might consider Burnout is here. And it mostly works fine. With races, takedown modes, and even Need for Speed Hot Pursuit-style car chases. But the basic presentation, repetitive and generic track design, simplistic and overly shiny car models, inconsistent handling, last-last-gen looking crashes, the lack of in-race music, and AI racers that suffer from an extreme case of ‘catch-up logic’ make Dangerous Driving feel budget and, well, cut-rate.
And that’s budget not in the sense of price-point. The ‘catch-up logic’ particularly grates, and often results in races lost if you happen to crash near the finish line. Even after being ahead for several minutes. Restarting and then going through the motions on the same lacklustre tracks gets boring quick. Where races often feel like they tend to drag out for minutes longer than they should, based on the simple Outrun approach to long straights and the odd turn here or there.
Dangerous Driving is worth championing though, for the fact that such a small team was able to create a lengthy and varied arcade racer in the style of classic Burnout. But also lament, based on the outcome erring on the side of generic. And worst of all for such a revered fast-paced series, boring.
Right, so the talk about no in-game music isn’t entirely true. In order to experience Dangerous Driving with music, you’ll need a Spotify Premium subscription account. And if you don’t, like us, you’ll immediately notice just how much music can impact a racing game. So much so we had to immediately put on some music on a nearby device. As for the reasoning, it probably comes down to budget – which can no doubt become rather scarce for an indie project. That said, it would have been nice to see the developers tap some talented and affordable unsigned music talent for Dangerous Driving as an alternative.
For all its Burnout heritage Dangerous Driving doesn’t come packed with crash mode, ala Three Fields Entertainment’s previous Danger Zone releases. Although an obvious omission it means that a greater focus is placed on the racing side, which does convey an impressive sense of speed. And technically speaking, runs well across PC and consoles with only minor performance issues here and there. Stuff that doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Variety is also here with events spread across several different modes and vehicles, each having its own look and feel or specific objective. Due to the sometimes-sporadic nature of the physics and car-handling, the non-straight-up pure racing modes tend to be the most fun.
But even here some of the design and UI choices feel so basic as to be sometimes completely at odds with the underlying goals. With each vehicle type, say Sedan or SUV, featuring various versions with strengths and weaknesses; being able to compare them is a complete chore. Stats scroll across the screen in a news-ticker fashion that takes upwards of 20 seconds or more just to see a basic statistic. Also, failing a time trial race there’s no indication at all so see how far you were from completion – which leads to confusion. That then sits next to frustration.
A somewhat random point of contention but one that highlights how Dangerous Driving fails to meet the excitement and sheer spectacle of the Burnout series. Diehard fans will no doubt stick with it, and over time the simple formula of race, boost, and narrowly avoiding collision can lead to several thrilling moments. But with so much of it being, well, not that at all – Dangerous Driving ends up being a Monotonous Bore. An arcade racer that doesn’t do anything particularly new or different. And really, when the crashes look like simple physics experiments from the late-90s that can trigger from the slightest of scrapes – it was destined to fall short of hitting its lofty Burnout spiritual successor goal.