You can split the four Burnouts thus far into two categories: the racing ones (the first game and its sequel, Point Of Impact) and the crashing ones (Takedown and Revenge). After Revenge, however, some folk muttered about how far the series had strayed from its purist roots, moaning about how 'unrealistic' it was to plough through the back of thirteen trucks and emerge unscathed. Two camps emerged - one preferring knife-edge discipline, the other fun. And so now comes Dominator, which attempts to combine the straight-edged driving of old with the car-wrecking fizzbomb of the modern Burnout.
Dominator - named after the Dominator points you acquire by ace driving, used to unlock new tracks - strips everything back. No more smashing into almost anything. No Crash Junctions. No World Tour map. No Crash FM. Less jumps. Instead, it tries to place the emphasis on driving, not carnage. In among normal races and Eliminator contests and suchlike, there are Drift challenges and Maniac mode - which asks you to drive as wildly as you can without actually crashing. Burnout 2's Boost Chaining is back too, allowing you to link together boosts for eyeball-drying insane-o-speeds, but requiring you to drive skilfully without thrusting for quite a while to build up your boost bar. It's all very old-school Burnout.
Yet Takedowns remain as vital as ever in many of Dominator's events, and Impact Time remains - essential and fun in tracks involving said Takedowns, a bore in those without. It's a curious mix of old and new which doesn't gel easily.
New dog, old tricks
Boost Chaining, for instance, is only really effective on courses where you're asked to build up points via dangerous, high-speed driving. In an actual race, it's less so - given the speeds you're going at, you're bound to crash at some point and, no matter how far ahead you think you are, you'll always seem to end up near the back of the pack, although this problem is eased with the use of Crash Breakers. Boost Chaining is also prone to just stopping for no reason - you'll be racking up six, seven, eight consecutive chains and then - without reason - your chain will suddenly end. Odd.
The crashes, too, seem less exciting. Their comparative rarity when stood next to Revenge ought to make them even more thrilling, but you just don't seem to fly through the air as much as before, and they're often little more than apologetic skids along the ground. The camera angles of Impact Time are sometimes wonky too, making it hard to spot your rivals coming up as you ready a Crash Breaker.
Presentation-wise, it's a step back as well. Aside from the menus - much less eye-catching than the maps of Takedown and Revenge - graphically, it's just not as slick. Dominator just isn't as shiny and sharp as Revenge. The music, meanwhile - headed by The Fratellis and LCD Soundsystem - is as achingly fashionable as ever. it's like having your ears syringed with the contents of Zane Lowe's mind.
Two into one won't go
Christ, this is all a bit negative, isn't it? The truth is that Dominator is damn good - still full of all those impossibly exciting high-speed, all-or-nothing moments that Burnout does so well and still capable of getting the heart pumping like few other games can. But it's a bit of a compromise, trying to shoehorn two separate types of racer onto one disc to please everyone, and feels like Criterion patched it together while concentrating on Burnout on PS3.
Dominator is, truly, excellent fun and we've concentrated on the negatives because we're so disappointed it's not up to the stellar heights of previous games. But there's no doubt that this is easily the worst Burnout yet. Shame.
Two differing game styles sit uneasily together, like strangers stuck in a lift. Great fun, but the contrast never quite works.