In my review of the first three racing games released for Xbox 360--Need for Speed Most Wanted (NFSMW), Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3), and Ridge Racer 6 (RR6)--I noted that none of those titles were fantastic. The best of the bunch, NFSMW, garnered only three out of five stars (or "three out of five Paul heads as the rating system here currently, amusingly, uses). That's good but not great, and I consider it a lost opportunity that the Xbox 360 didn't launch with a stronger racing title.

That's all changed. As I noted in the previously mentioned review, my favorite racing games of all time are part of the Burnout series, and my son and I have spent countless hours playing various Burnout games on the original Xbox. These games offer a nice combination of racing thrills with, well, the ability to crash into other cars on purpose in order to rack up points. I know that sounds horrible, but it's great fun. And now the Burnout series has arrived on the Xbox 360 in the form of Burnout Revenge. It's an excellent game and is, by far, the best racing game available for the Xbox 360. Step aside, pretenders.

Start your engines

Burnout Revenge is an arcade-style racing game that manages to combine the best features from NFSMW, PGR3, and RR6. That is, the play style falls somewhere between that of NFSMW and RR6, with fast action and simple controls that let realistic car control fall by the wayside in favor of thrilling arcade action. The graphics are topnotch. They're not quite as good as PGR3--heck, what is?--but they're as good or better than anything offered by NFSMW. And while the game offers fast, action-style racing similar to that in RR6, it's actually quite a bit more realistic and is much, much better looking.

What really sets Burnout Revenge apart from the pack, of course, is the adrenalin-boosting action of the race sequences and the sheer variety of the game types. There's no silly plot to suffer through as in NFSMW, which features bizarre video cut-scenes in which characters attempt to develop. There's nothing like that in Burnout Revenge, thank goodness.

Instead, what you get is pure racing action and a game so addictive that virtually any gamer type should find something to like. I mean, who doesn't like racing and high-speed collisions?

The Burnout Revenge single player experience is wrapped around a hierarchical structure of races that and race-like events in which you compete against computer-controlled cars. The name of the game provides some not-so-subtle hints about what you can expect: Burnouts and revenge both figure prominently in this title, and you can gain massive points by crashing into other cars--especially those of your opponents--sending them careening off the urban street-type courses in an orgy of schadenfreude. (Look it up.)

According to the instruction booklet, you're competing in a Burnout Revenge World Tour. During this tour, you'll move up through a series of revenge ranks, competing in different events in different locations. As you win races--or at least place in the top two or three depending on the event--you earn stars that add up to put you into the next rank. At each accomplishment, be it winning a race or achieving other certain goals, you earn more starts, more ranks, more cars, access to new events, and so on. To be honest, this bit is somewhat confusing: After you successfully complete an event, it's not clear where you are in the World Tour event hierarchy, and I sometimes had to back out a bit to try and remember where it was I was heading.

Game play

Burnout Revenge is fast and furious, which is what one should expect of a racing title. You're rewarded for being aggressive, so all you Nancy's will want to move over to Kameo or one of the other less testosterone-laden titles out there. In each racing event, you attempt to come in first place, or at least place in the top three, which will earn you a gold, silver, or bronze medal and, usually, a number of stars that go toward completion of your current rank. If you place in a given race, that race is considered completed, but you can always go back and try again in order to get a higher placement (and thus more stars and perhaps other achievements).

The racing events are quite varied. In addition to the typical "beat the other players"-type races, there are events in which your goal is simply to impart the most damage on your rivals (Road Rage) or, in sharp contrast with most of the game, you actually try to spare your car from damage on especially traffic-laden streets (Traffic Attack). A particularly fun variant called Eliminator times down to 30 seconds repeatedly; at each 30 second mark, the last place car is eliminated from the race. The goal, of course, is not to be that car.

Some of the events are not racing events per se, but are rather crash events where the goal is to launch your vehicle into traffic and cause as much damage as you can. For example, in one particularly simple example, you drive perpendicularly into

The best part of Burnout Revenge is, perhaps, the takedowns. While racing, you can crash into vehicles that are heading in the same direction you are, including your opponents. Non-competing vehicles can be hit for points (and doing so will fill up your boost bar; see below). If you run into oncoming traffic, however, you'll crash, and find yourself quite a ways behind. Takedowns occur when you time a crash into a competitor such that he goes careening off the track. These sequences cause the game to slow down and blur so you can watch the takedown in slow motion, and then exalt with the knowledge that you've just set back the competition immeasurably. You're rewarded for particularly nice takedowns with various Motor City Trophies, which are presented in short cut scenes after applicable races.

As with previous Burnout titles, the racing events are augmented by your car's boost bar, which provides a temporary turbo boost at opportune times. Obviously, you want to engage boost on straightaways and when you can hurtle into a competing vehicle for a takedown. Properly-timed boosts are a thing of beauty, but if you're not careful, you'll find yourself careening into a wall or oncoming traffic.

The one lone issue with the game play is that you often have to wait quite a while for the action to start. Level load times are agonizingly slow, on the order of 20-30 seconds. That's a long time to wait when all you want to do is go fast.

Controls

The Burnout Revenge control system is simplicity itself and very similar to that of other racing titles. The right trigger is the gas, while the left trigger is the brake and the A button controls your boost. And there are of course buttons for changing the camera angle, which we never really got into, looking behind the vehicle, and so forth. Unique controls include the Aftertouch (left thumbstick) and Crashbreaker (B) combination, which lets you blow up your car in crash events or seek revenge for takedowns in race events by planting an explosive on the car that just took you down. Fans of the game's soundtrack can also use the right bumper (RB) to cycle through the song list during game play.

Graphics and sound

Burnout Revenge is a graphical wonder, with its high definition environments that speed by as you volley with competitors, your car sparking madly as you brush against any object, be it moving or immobile. For a racing title, the levels are nicely diverse, offering fitting backdrops for your racing fun. The cars are nicely defined if a little overly-shiny, and not quite as detailed as those in PGR3.

Sounds are excellent, and given the amount of crashing you'll be doing, you won't be disappointed in the explosion and crash sounds. In the crash events especially you'll find yourself eagerly awaiting the explosion of that quivering tanker truck. It's just good clean fun. There's also a modern rock soundtrack, but I always turn that stuff off. It's distracting to both me and my hearing-impaired son; we both need to focus on the task at hand, not annoying background music. That said, there are over 40 songs on the soundtrack, and I'm sure the teenage set that will be buying this game in droves will love it.

Multiplayer

Burnout Revenge offers a number of Xbox Live-related online activities. You can jump into Burnout Clips to view and share video clips of favorite races, or download clips that the Xbox Live community has rated as the best. And you can, of course, race against other players on the same Xbox 360 console in multiplayer mode in game versions such as Road Rage, Traffic Attack, Crash Battle, Crash Party, and Crash Tour. The truly aggressive can jump on Xbox Live and create and join ranked and non-ranked ("player match") race or crash matches, using the same multiplayer game types as referenced above.

Racing against humans is, naturally, a completely different experience and one that will dramatically lengthen the amount of time you'll enjoy this game. Humans can and will perform takedowns on your far more often than computer-controlled cars, and when this happens, that person becomes a "Revenge Rival" with whom you are now interlocked for life, if you want, forever trying to pay them pack. In one multiplayer game recently, I actually performed two takedowns in a row on the same driver. I can only imagine that he's sworn revenge for that.

My guess is that I'll be switching solely to multiplayer mode soon. It's just excellent.

Conclusions

Burnout Revenge is a near-perfect driving game and the best driving title on the Xbox 360 by far. Though it's somewhat hampered by slow load times, this game offers absolutely enjoyable race experiences, huge replay value, excellent multiplayer options, and a huge variety of environments, cars, and awards that will make you keep coming back for more. My son and I have wasted hours replaying and replaying the same crash events, for example, simply to achieve more damage points and, hopefully, unlock new rewards, medals, cars, and events. And the racing events are pure adrenalin, fast and fun. I was hugely disappointed in the first three Xbox 360 racing titles, but Burnout Revenge more than makes up for their transgressions. Highly recommended.