Near every video game genre has a franchise that’s helped define it. Fighting games have Mortal Kombat; Resident Evil is the king of horror; and Burnout is the people’s champion of arcade racing.
The difference in the latter is that Burnout – and by extension arcade racing – hasn’t seen the light of day in quite some time. Not counting remasters, there hasn’t been a mainline release in over a decade; a sad fact that Three Fields Entertainment seeks to rectify through their spiritual reboot Dangerous Driving. The explosive crashes, the blistering high-octane racing, the death-defying weaving through traffic: all the staples of the original classic are back in this heavily-inspired arcade racer, but do they meet Burnout’s standards?
Sadly for the ambitious studio, while Dangerous Driving certainly retains elements of what makes Burnout such an iconic staple of arcade racing, it’s ultimately a bare-bones clone of its idol that can’t help but feel the technical brunt of the small team behind it. From game-breaking bugs to repetitive mission structure, there’s simply not enough polish or variety in Dangerous Driving to part you from your cash, or worse, to carry the prestigious cachet of being labelled Burnout’s successor.
That’s not to say there aren’t glimpses of satisfying Burnout-esque brilliance. The core mechanics, for example, can be a hell of a lot of fun. Smashing into cars to send them cascading into barriers, environmental hazards, and each other, is just as chaotically mesmerising now as ever, and with the game rewarding spectacular crashes with extra boost power, it creates a flashy racing system that rewards aggressive play. Partnering this with intense, high-octane driving that sees you hazardously weave between regular traffic and attempt to rack up boost points through putting your vehicle in precarious positions means that the core gameplay of Dangerous Driving is great fun to start with.
There are also some pretty visuals mixed in to keep things interesting. Whether through starry nights, scorching deserts, or snow-covered mountain tops, the map backdrops make even the dullest track more engaging to traverse. Meanwhile, a brilliant audio feature that allows you to sync up with your Spotify account, so you can cue your own music to play while you’re out racing. It’s a clever touch that allows you to listen to great soundtracks without the studio breaking the bank on licensing.
Unfortunately, these initial moments of enjoyment turn out to be surface deep. After a few early races, Dangerous Driving’s design turns from satisfying to frustrating, its gimmicky mechanics making any attempt to play it as more than a simple car destruction simulator feel maddening.
The crashes, for one, come with an instant highlight reel that pulls you out of the action to watch a crash you incited. While impressive, these replays become a frequent hindrance. The game takes control of your car until the highlight is over, and often drops you into perilous situations that you can’t manoeuvre out of. This becomes more frustrating when a single crash can send you spiralling back into last place, while the AI maintains top speed, hardly ever crashes (without your help), and respawns instantaneously.
Sure, an arcade racer that gives you so much speed and power needs to test you, and when the game plants you in tricky scenarios the difficulty can be rewarding, but Dangerous Driving’s most frustrating areas are more often down to the game being unbalanced and slightly broken than they are due to fair challenge.
Another of the game’s more annoying elements is its lack of consistent variety. Upon starting Dangerous Driving, its selection of game types seem pretty vast. There’s a mode that sees you wreck as many cars as possible within a time limit, one where the game consistently removes the racer in last place each lap, and another where each player has limitless boost. More often than not, these are just slight variants on the typical gameplay.
Some make you focus on tactics you might not always use in a typical race. The time trials, for instance, force you drive in the opposite lane and drift around corners to generate boost. Others, such as the heatwave mode, are good for helping you learn how best to handle high-speeds while some teach you the strongest way to take down other cars. If Dangerous Driving were to use these game types frequently, it might keep things interesting. Sadly, that’s not the case.
In truth, these alternate game types are so rarely on show in the campaign that it quickly becomes a slog. Organising levels into different car-types, you’ll find yourself running through the same races, time trials and face-offs for 80% of the lengthy ‘Dangerous Driving Tour’ campaign mode. There’s no way to jump into these game types outside the main set of missions either, meaning that you’ll have to grind through the first two vehicle categories to even attempt the more interesting race types.
This makes the game frustrating enough without even mentioning the various technical faults. From random frame drops to crashes – the whole game, not the cars – and even points where cars spontaneously drop through the map, Dangerous Driving has some serious issues that need patching. When you’re playing a level that’s so dependent on smooth gameplay and timing, these bugs can ruin progress and are ultimately a massive pain when it comes to acing time trials or tough races.
All these issues culminate in an experience that feels stripped down; a hollow racer that lacks depth or variety. The track variation gets dull, featuring pretty new backdrops but lacking secrets, jumps, or short cuts to make learning them fun. There are a few different cars to unlock, yet they largely play identically bar their different design. There’s a long campaign mode, but it contains repetitive game types which become stale after the first few hours. There’s not even a split screen mode to jump in and play with your friends, a feature that was crucial to Burnout’s success as a franchise.
While there is a strong base for a fun arcade racer here, it simply can’t match the polish and depth that saw Burnout carve such a sublime balance between explosive chaos and addictive racing.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Three Fields Entertainment
Publisher: Maximum Games
Release Date: Out now
While Dangerous Driving desperately wants to declare itself Burnout’s successor, it’s simply too hollow to ever truly earn that title. It’s buggy, repetitive and lacks all the depth that made Criterion Software’s acclaimed franchise such a phenomenal hit. There are the fundamentals for an explosively fun driving game within this barebones arcade racer, but ultimately Dangerous Driving is more a knock-off Burnout clone than a worthy spiritual reboot.