**Review copy provided by publisher**
Developer Three Fields Entertainment—a small studio consisting of mainly ex-Criterion devs—has been trying to bring back that Burnout magic for a couple of years now. Its last two games, Danger Zone and Danger Zone 2, focused on imitating the crash mode from Burnout Revenge, which wasn’t one of my favorites. Dangerous Driving, however, attempts to be a greatest hits collection of the early Burnout games, mainly Burnout 2 and Burnout 3.
The inspirations aren’t exactly subtle and in many cases even the terminology is the same. The “takedowns” from Burnout 3 are in Dangerous Driving, complete with slow-motion shots of the car you just sent flying, the car selection menu looks similar, and the term “trading paint” is used when you brush up against another car. There’s a road-rage mode where you try to takedown as many cars as possible within a time limit and a heatwave mode where your boost keeps multiplying so long as you never slow down. There are so many similarities that if I were to mention every one this review would be even longer and more tedious than it already is. Instead, I’ll just mention the few areas where it differs as they come up.
Dangerous Driving has nine different race modes, but in most of them the goal is similar: drive dangerously to build boost which you can then burn to drive faster and win the race. You earn boost for driving against oncoming traffic, near misses with other vehicles, drifting around corners, and most notably, by performing a takedown on a rival car.
Dangerous Driving absolutely nails the sense of speed when you engage the boosters. Drifting around a corner and then boosting out is incredibly satisfying. You can practically feel the g-force as you pull away and on anything but the straightest pieces of road, you’ll struggle to stay on the track while at top speed. Dangerous Driving wants you to go fast as much as possible. Once you have a full boost bar, it’s possible to maintain it for the entire race if you keep driving against traffic and drifting around corners. You aren’t overly punished for hitting the barriers because there’s no damage system of note and you don’t slow down much. This acts as an excellent incentive to keep the boost going for as long as possible. Sure, you won’t be able to see what’s around the corner, but the odd crash is worth it for all the exhilarating near misses you’ll have through sheer luck.
Presumably due to the high speed of all the cars, they have to be incredibly light and floaty to handle. This could well just be my Burnout nostalgia speaking, but I prefer the cars to be a little weightier, even if the speed has to be reduced slightly to compensate.
Of the nine modes on offer, five of them focus on takedowns and these were generally my favorites. There are standard races against five cars or one rival car, grand prixs, which are just a collection of three six-car races, elimination matches where the person in last place at the end of each lap is eliminated, and road rage where you have to takedown a certain number of rival cars in a given time.
The takedowns are great, so unsurprisingly I loved the road rage mode. In addition to just looking good and taking an opponent out of the action briefly, the takedowns have a few tactical elements that you can use to your advantage. When you perform a takedown, the camera pulls away from your vehicle to show the victim crashing out in all their messy glory. The way you’re taken out of the action is a little jarring at first, however, you always resume at a sensible point and you often benefit from the AI taking over your vehicle for a few seconds.
If you perform a takedown on a rival just before a corner, the game doesn’t want to put you back in control halfway around that corner, so it pushes you forward to the exit. It’s quite generous and with a bit of practice you can engineer it so that you gain a position or two, in addition to getting a full boost bar from the takedown. Perhaps as punishment for this slightly devious behavior, I did get screwed over with positioning a couple of times and it’s not unusual for cars to overtake you during these moments which feels a touch unfair. Swings and roundabouts I suppose. I eventually turned the slow-motion takedown camera off because it became annoying in the road rage mode where you have to takedown over 20 cars in the space of a few minutes.
I never noticed rival cars perform takedowns on me although they do crash out of their own accord, making for the odd spectacular moment in front of you. This is especially prevalent in longer races because the wrecks of previous crashes stay on the track for subsequent laps. Sure, it might be fun to plow through the pack, taking down one car after another, but you’d better make sure you remember where those wrecks are or you’ll be in trouble on the next lap. A minor complaint is that the wrecked cars are practically solid, immovable objects as far as the collision detection is concerned. Even grazing the edge counts as a crash. I once practically drove right through another car without it being a crash, only to clip a wrecked car a second later and go flying.
At least you can salvage some pride from your own mistakes. After you’ve crashed, you enter “danger time” which slows down time and lets you guide your wreck slowly in the way of oncoming cars, in a gentle Luke Skywalker learning how to use the force on Dagobah kind of way. If a rival hits your wrecked car it will crash out as well and you’ll start back on the track with a full boost bar.
The takedowns are a lot of fun, as is driving dangerously by racing towards oncoming traffic and drifting around corners. As you might expect, this kind of behavior comes with large risks attached, which is why you are rewarded with boost meter for performing these actions. It’s a shame, therefore, that the rubber banding detracts from this risk/reward approach so significantly.
I do understand why the rubber banding is in place. Without it, you would be able to crash into your opponents early on, pick up a load of boost and pull into a nearly unassailable lead. Also, performing takedowns is the best part of the game, so it’s only natural for the AI to catch up and give you more chances to do this.
The real problem comes when you notice how painfully artificial and obvious it all is, especially with regards to the boost meter. While this is a bit of an oversimplification, it feels like when you’re boosting, so are the other cars, and when you aren’t, they aren’t either. If you’re chasing the pack and your boost suddenly runs out, don’t worry so will theirs. That exhilarating sense of speed I mentioned earlier becomes a lot less exhilarating when your opponents kindly slow down with you. Worst of all, if you take the lead, you’re actually better off driving more carefully and not bothering with the boost. The chasing pack of three, for some reason it’s always a pack of three, stays a roughly similar distance from you regardless of whether you’re in full boost or not using any, and the slower you go the less chance you have of crashing out. It goes from risk/reward to just risk.
This isn’t a consistent problem across all the modes. The one on one rival races cut out a lot of the rubber banding. If you race well, then you can expect to win by a wide margin and vice versa. Ultimately, this mode was the only one in which I felt like I was truly racing against a genuine competitor with their own predetermined skill level and, as a result, these wins were always the most satisfying.
Rubber banding is less of an issue with the modes that don’t focus on takedowns. In Heatwave, you get a new full boost bar every time you use the previous one without taking your finger off the boost button. In the tuned vehicles, you get a boost to your max speed of two miles per hour for every consecutive boost you string together. That may not sound like a lot, however, you can get the multiplier into the thirties quite comfortably on some tracks so we’re talking an extra sixty miles per hour at that point. Don’t expect to maintain this speed for long though because any bump in the road sees you flying into the air and off the track.
Heatwave mode doesn’t have rubber banding, but it still suffers from a lack of fair competition. This time it works to your benefit. If you chain together a lot of boosts, you pull well out in front. The rival cars don’t seem to be playing by the same rules and continue to race normally. They stay in a pack and never get close to the speeds you can achieve. The heatwave races end up feeling like time trials in all but name.
Speaking of which, there is a separate time trial mode called shakedown which would be rather dull if it weren’t for the fact that you get to try out a type of car you haven’t unlocked yet. Then there’s survival mode which is horrible. It doesn’t sound too bad on paper. You just have to race a certain distance without crashing. I regularly went for long stretches of time without crashing, so I figured how hard can it possibly be. Well, I don’t know whether it’s the added pressure or the increase in the number of cars on the track, but the second I’m not allowed to crash, all I can do is crash. Those races are the toughest.
The final mode is pursuit where you play as a cop who has to chase down anywhere from one to five criminals and stop them escaping by wrecking their cars first. This one is fairly easy. Most of my platinum medals came in this mode. It’s not that exciting though. Regardless of whether you hit the cars hard or soft, it only ever does one bar of damage. You can’t wreck them and if you try to all that happens is they end up behind you and you waste time waiting for them to catch up. Your best tactic is to race alongside them, or preferably between two cars, and just keep nudging them.
The modes aren’t of equal quality, but the variety keeps things interesting and you do have to adjust your racing style slightly for most of them. For example, in heatwave, you don’t have to worry about driving on the wrong side of the road to gain boost because you will always get more if you keep it activated. In road rage, it doesn’t really matter how fast you drive because there will always be a drip feed of cars to takedown, and pursuit has you focusing on a couple of cars and not worrying about racing to the finish line.
There’s a decent variety of car types, such as SUVs, hypercars, and even F1 cars, although there aren’t huge differences in their handling beyond the later cars generally being faster and harder to control. Each type of car has four versions to unlock: regular, tuned, advanced, and prototype. At the start, you have to race in sedans, and as you gain medals you unlock more races and eventually a grand prix which requires a third-place finish to unlock the next vehicle type. As a campaign, it’s a little barebone, with no difficulty modes that I’ve noticed although perhaps one unlocks if you get a gold medal in all the races.
There’s a decent amount of track variety, with technically 31 in total, however, there are only seven different environments and all racing is on road in dry weather. Some light off-road racing wouldn’t have gone amiss and I would have loved to race through cities. However, what we have looks great and there’s enough content for the $30 price tag.
Music is a tricky issue for games attempting to sell at a reduced price. Dangerous Driving gets around it by not having any. There’s none at all. Well okay, there’s one song that plays on the title screen but nothing playing during the races themselves. Given the cost of licensing music, together with the general hassle of dealing with the expiration of those licenses, the decision to skip it altogether in a budget release is understandable. If you have a Spotify premium membership you’re in luck, because you can sync it up to the game and change tracks at the tap of a directional button on the d-pad. Otherwise, you’ll just have to use your own setup. At least you only have yourself to blame if you don’t like what you hear.
If the lack of music is understandable, the lack of basic information presented to the player is less forgivable. We aren’t even given basic information about how the cars perform. Why isn’t there a basic bar chart showing the respective features of each car, like acceleration, top speed, weight, etc? Some of this information very slowly scrolls along the bottom of the screen, however, you’d need the patience of a saint to wait to see all the info this way and compare it across vehicles.
You’re also not told how to unlock other content or what difference gold medals make compared to silver or bronze, and I only knew how to do boost starts because, funnily enough, they are the same as in Burnout. You hold throttle and keep tapping the brake, before releasing the throttle and reapplying it again just before the start. Then there are weird things like how you can only scroll through paint options in one direction so if you pass one you like then you have to cycle all the way back around.
These are nitpicks that can be easily fixed, but it begs the question why weren’t they fixed before release? Knowing that Three Fields Entertainment’s last game came out just nine months ago, I can’t help but wonder if Dangerous Driving was a touch rushed, especially considering the lack of an online mode which is coming a month after launch. Given how short a lifespan many games have these days, not to mention what happened to OnRush last year, I have to question the wisdom of withholding such a big feature from launch. Waiting a month or two for online to be ready and polishing up the menus would have been worth the wait in my opinion.
At least there aren’t too many bugs in the core racing experience. The performance was excellent on PC with maybe some slight pop-in, but nothing too distracting. I only dropped frames when entering tunnels, which I suspect is because these areas are used as loading zones in the longer tracks that transition from one region to another. I only played the PC version, however, it should be noted that according to the developer, the base PS4 and Xbox versions are only targetting 30 frames per second. The Pro and X supposedly run at 60.
Over the course of around 12 hours play, there were a few spotty moments when cars would weirdly ragdoll around—if that term can be applied to cars—and a couple of times they would overtake me at physically impossible speeds which is presumably the rubber banding going a bit wrong. I also ended up underneath the track a couple of times and in the water once, but this was only when I crashed so it didn’t make a lot of difference.
Dangerous Driving has moments where it absolutely captures the brilliance of classics like Burnout 3. In fact, due to the intense sense of speed on offer, the high points probably surpass those of its inspiration. However, Dangerous Driving is too inconsistent for my tastes, with too many modes that I didn’t look forward to playing, and rubber banding that borders on broken at times. It’s great that Dangerous Driving only costs $30 compared to $60 racing games like The Crew 2, but you know what else costs $30? The Crew 2 about a month after release, along with every other racing game. With the number of great games demanding our time these days, you can only get so far by coming in at a budget price.
With each new game, Three Fields Entertainment comes a little closer to capturing what made the early Burnout games so special. I can imagine a sequel to Dangerous Driving being a must play title; this one, though, is fun, but not essential.