In 2008, Criterion Games released what is now their latest full AAA game to date. Burnout Paradise took the arcade racer series with humble origins to a whole new generation and with it, a vast new standard of open world racing games. The open world is a masterclass of design, the speed is still exhilarating and the soundtrack helps seal the deal.
Burnout Paradise today may not have some quality of life features but it’s legacy remains strong- 10 years later this is the first game EA decided to remaster after their firm stance against for years. It’s still as fun spinning up the tyres at traffic stops to start a race without any set tracks as it is today.
But what of 2007, when Burnout Dominator was released?
Who Made Dominator?
Dominator is an interesting title. It is the only one in the arcade racer series not to be developed directly by Criterion, done by a team called EA UK. It’s not a household name, the studio, later renamed to EA Bright Light was primarily working on the licensed Harry Potter games. But them developing a Burnout game of all things are not far from their usual wheel house, the team did made Shox, a rally racer under the EA Big label.
Burnout Dominator was released on the PS2 and PSP late in its life cycle, when the next generation (Xbox 360, PS3) was well on its way. So that may be why not many will remember this title. It’s a follow-up to Burnout Revenge, where the series went way edgy and introduced features such as vertical takedowns and the act of traffic checking- punting small traffic cars moving the same direction as you.
Bringing The Old To The New
Revenge is a far cry to what the original two game, before EA picked up the series, was about. In Burnout 1 and 2: Point Of Impact, it’s all about driving dangerously to build up your boost meter. Any dangerous driving actions- driving through oncoming, near miss the traffic and drifting will award you boost. Only when the bar’s full then you can use the boost, which significantly makes you go fast.
A Burnout here means that all your current boost has burned out. Any boost awards for dangerous driving while boosting will be added afterwards- if you fill it up enough you can trigger another boost. Drive crazy enough without crashing trigger these burnout chains over and over until you reach the finish line. Assuming you good enough to keep racking the boosts and not crash.
Burnout 3 Takedown redesigned the boost system. You can boost at any time and all awards for dangerous driving are added immediately. You also can takedown other racers, extending your maximum length of the boost meter by three times and instantly filled it up.
Now with Dominator, the idea was to bring the two systems together. The good-old burnout chains as well as persevering the new, aggressive takedowns. Dominator managed to do it, both systems apparently are compatible with each other. Sure, you can do infinite boost in Takedown and later Revenge, but getting rewarding by driving like a maniac and see those boost chains rack up serves a great kickback of satisfaction.
It’s not just a carbon copy of the old system too. One improvement Dominator made is by showing how much boost exactly you have collected with arrows lighting up in the background of the boost bar. See it blipping? That’s a guarantee boost chain. No more guess work needed.
Most of the series’ past mechanics remain. Takedowns (including the Vertical Takedowns) and Aftertouch are here. Though a few of new additions from Revenge like traffic checking and Crashbreaker are gone. There is also no Crash Mode.
Unique to Burnout Dominator is the Maniac Mode. Here, you only have you, the track, the traffic and a timer. Most score at the end of the run wins, with score being racked by dangerous driving. It’s the ultimate test on how long can you go, burnout-chaining as much as you can to keep your run going well over the time limit to chase that score.
A Brighter Sky And.. Isn’t That Kuala Lumpur?
A throwback to the Burnouts of old, Dominator ditches the edgy, dark and grim aesthetic Revenge had for a more brighter look. The UI is all brightly coloured with popping fonts. There are hints of raggedness thanks to its heavy use of black-and-yellow caution lines, skid marks and shattered glass. The tracks are all well lit this time around, with many big blue skyboxes filling up the screen.
Dominator has a unique set of tracks, just like previous games, and features the three regions- US, Europe and Asia. Interestingly, one of the tracks in Asia this time is unmistakably Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Usually, it’s just fictional locales but no Malaysian is going to argue that the Spiritual City is not Malaysia- it has the Sultan Abdul Samad Building! And there are flags of Malaysia everywhere as if it’s the Independence month! The name, Spiritual Towers, is a reference to the Petronas Twin Towers and it’s in there too!
It’s not a totally accurate representation, of course. The Petaling Street section is a full-blown Chinatown district but it keeps with the series’ tradition for having a Chinatown section.
Also, the Wikipedia page for Burnout Dominator in Bahasa Malaysia has some work put into it, more than the English version. We also discussed the locale depiction in a past episode of dia.log – The Gamer Matters Podcast.
Aside from that, the blue skies are also seen in a lot more tracks. The countryside of Glacier Falls, the hillside touge routes of Bushido Mountain and the bright countryside of Tuscany among the list. Though the orange and dark tints from Revenge such as in Black Gold Valley is still present, but nothing as dark as the previous game.
The lighter aesthetic is also reflected on its soundtrack.
Hey, Hey, You, You!
The aughts (00’s) were the peak of EA Trax. EA made it a big deal to sign licensed songs for their games which not only reflects on the current time’s taste of mainstream music, but also what fits to the games. Burnout 3 Takedown is still one of the best examples of this, featuring a major list of rock, punk, metal and anything in-between that fits the high-octane racing at thrilling speeds. Revenge doubles down with the aggressive themes by putting in heavier songs. Even the Yellowcard song that featured in the soundtrack is the poppy rock band’s heavier outputs in their history.
So with Dominator, it’s back to a good mix of poppy cheery music and some heavy metal here and there. But let’s all remember the defining songs of Dominator’s soundtrack: Avril Lavinge’s Girlfriend.
That’s songs. Apparently there’s 4 versions of the song (English, French, Mandarin and Japanese) in the soundtrack. And it was a big deal, at the time, the album was to be released one month after the game with Girlfriend, as a single, was just released the month before. Speaking to Livewire, Steve Schnur, EA’s Worldwide Executive of Music at the time said:
“The Burnout series is an amazing, proven platform for launching the world’s biggest songs and artists, and we’re thrilled to be working with Avril Lavigne this year to help debut her new song Girlfriend’.
“From pop to rock to metal Burnout Dominator is all about attitude and rebellion, which makes it a perfect fit for the 33 artists.”
Other more light-hearted, but still adrenaline pumping tunes that are a highlight includes Hot Hot Heat’s Give Up?, Block Out The World by Maxeen and The Photo Atlas’ Red Orange Yellow among many others.
There are still tracks of heavy metal. Anthem (We Are The Fire) by Trivium is a great metal anthem, hopefully EA use it again to promote their upcoming shooter-RPG Anthem. Killswitch Engage’s My Curse is has the growling vocals you expect from a metal song. B’z, a Japanese metal band, was an unexpected choice but its song Friction totally meshes well with the game.
Burnout Dominator also feature the new Burnout theme- a reprise of Burnout 2’s menu music but heavier.
Burnout Dominator may have slipped under many radars, for good reasons. A glance at Metacritic shows that many critics at the time was not fond of just more Burnout. With Revenge being a major step with adding new mechanics, Dominator was seen as a step backwards for going back to its roots. It’s understandable, there were fewer modes and a lot of mechanics introduced in Revenge was removed.
EA UK only got to work one racing game since: a PSP port of Need For Speed Shift. The studio kept working on the Harry Potter licensed games. After a restructure where they became EA Bright Light, the studio was given some freedom with making new IPs, and a promise of having them resurrect older EA IPs such as the catalog from Bullfrog- a former studio based in the UK. All hope was lost when in 2012, EA Bright Light was turned off.
The new boosting mechanics made by EA UK lived on. Burnout Paradise adopted a class system for the cars. The Speed class cars function similarly to the older Burnouts and by extension, Dominator, albeit not exactly that. Many songs from Dominator’s soundtrack reappeared in Paradise though thankfully only one Girlfriend song made the jump. Same goes to the new Burnout theme first debuted here.
It’s not the best Burnout game by any means, but it’s proof that you can bring back ideas from past games and reintegrate back to the series. Need For Speed: Most Wanted 2005, which predates Dominator, did this in a more spectacular way. It brought back the iconic cop chases and exotic cars into its new tuner culture racer DNA. Sometimes, looking at the past and attempt to capture that magic again is worth the effort. Just look at the many remasters and remakes today.
And hey, that’s a good depiction of Malaysia, alongside Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, so that’s major points on our book.