It’s down to the last leg of the race and the leader is nowhere to be seen. Your current 3rd place position ain’t half bad, but you know where you should really be at. The fire within you begins to rage as you haphazardly zigzag from side to side, having just regained your composure after narrowly scraping past the side of an incoming Ford Mustang when you were aggressively nudged by the Blue Lightning Hotrod vying for the runner-up spot. You’ve had enough nonsense and you’re not going to tolerate it any more.
You jack up your engines and hit the high gear with a tremendous boost, tearing up the gravel at 150km/h and slamming head-first into that annoying Hotrod. The car is sent reeling and it flips over three times in the air before smashing into a nearby signboard. You chuckle to yourself savouring your sweet revenge. Suddenly you catch a glimpse of the vehicle in first place through the opening of the shattered signboard. It isn’t over yet, you can still take home pride and glory, and you have a full boost bar to do it with. Time to burnout!
If you have never played a Burnout game before, you’ve missed out on one of the most crash-intensive car racing games ever. You know those ads on TV that warn you about the dangers of speeding? (And for good reason too!) Well it looks like Criterion, the dudes that developed and refined this series over several killer games, have never been witness to any of them. Burnout is all about raw danger on the road. The aim of the game is still to finish the race first (most of the time), but there are no holds barred and anything goes.
Driving on the wrong side of the road has always been a series staple and it’s no different in Burnout: Dominator. Being a reckless motorist fills up your boost bar allowing you to juice up your car’s engine whenever you need that little extra edge. If you fill it all the way you can perform a supercharge boost, and if you are skilful enough to continue with the extreme driving and carry through that boost until it runs out (the so-called ‘Burnout’), you can link to another refuelled bar to keep your adrenaline pumping. These Burnout chains allow you to transcend physical speed barriers and when you’re going at near the speed of sound (or close enough for me!), it’s one of the most unreal experiences that the PSP has delivered yet!
Dominator isn’t really the next true Burnout game (that will be Burnout Paradise, currently reserved for the more meaty home consoles), in fact it’s quite a step back in gameplay mechanics from the last 2 numbered entries that we’ve seen thus far. The much lauded ‘traffic attack’ and crash modes are nowhere to be found in Dominator, instead the driving is more akin to Burnout 2: Point of Impact where it was more about proficient, but still insane dexterity at the wheel, as opposed the crash-fest that evolved from that point on. Nevertheless if you’re a Burnout freak/fan, you’ll lap up the new tracks, the new world tour and the chunky list of shiny new automobiles just asking to be torn asunder.
New to Dominator, and hopefully something that will continue on in future instalments, are the signature shortcuts. Put simply, you ram your rivals into destructible roadside barriers to not only put them out of commission temporarily, but to also create a new path for you to travel through. Never lose hope in any race even if it looks like you’re too far behind to catch up; as long as you’re in the heat of things with other competitors hugging each other tightly, you’ll always have a chance to blow open one of these babies and this is perhaps one of the most satisfying accomplishments you could possibly achieve in any racing game.
Dominator is yet another PS2 game ported over to Sony’s ‘port-able’. The transition is a very smooth one and all the elements that made the big-screen version a splash are brought out well on the down-sized end, from the super sharp visuals to the speedy framerate. Another rock-fuelled soundtrack provides the perfect accompaniment to the on-screen carnage, and although the voice commentary in the (lengthy) introductory segment may rub one the wrong way, everything after fits the bill nicely.
In the single-player mode, the ‘rubber-band’ effect - keeping all racers close to each other no matter how far apart they should really be - is back. This can be frustrating in some races where the CPU defies all logic and breaks past you in the last millisecond. It’s not a major problem, but it does make some of the later races more difficult to pass than they should be, and that means a lot of replays on your part. Multiplayer on the other hand, is as awesome is you can imagine, and being able to knock it up with up to 5 players via Ad-Hoc will see many fits of fury and cackling laughter as the smashes and crashes pile up.
You don’t get better than Burnout: Dominator if you’re looking for the most exciting racing experience for the PSP. There are a few tweaks that series veterans will love or hate, but everyone who has a penchant of total annihilation (c’mon, I know there’s some in all of us!) will be able to easily pick this up and instantly have a ball with it. Just remember that it is a game, and the rules of Burnout don’t apply out there on the streets. Knowing that, go takedown that disrespectful speedster now!