The Burnout series arrived on the scene in 2001, a fresh new intellectual property with no expectations that made quite an impact with gamers who hadn’t been treated to a new, original arcade racer for some time. Back then, sim-heavy experiences – such as Gran Turismo – were all the rage and even games such as Out Run 2 were still a few years away from being released.
Though the series hasn’t seen a new entry since Burnout Paradise in 2008, that game was remastered and re-released on current generation platforms in 2018.
It’s a shame that other titles in the series haven’t been treated to remasters or re-releases though – as you’ll see from this list, it’d be great to play them again on modern hardware. That said, if you have access to old consoles and can find copies of the original games, we at Retro Dodo can highly recommend checking them out.
Which are the best ones though? Start your engines and let’s boost through the list of the Best Burnout Games!
Though Burnout Legends was an excellent game on the PSP (it makes it onto the Best Burnout Games list below at number 4), the same can’t be said for the other handheld version of the game, on Nintendo’s DS.
Though the Burnout series is noted for its smooth, high speed carnage, the DS game is probably the only game in the series that really suffers from a lack of speed – and it’s a bit of a mess from a technical perspective too.
One of the few Burnout games not developed by Criterion – this port was farmed out to a company named Visual Impact – it doesn’t even try to make decent use of the DS hardware, with the unique capabilities of the platform going almost completely to waste; unfortunately, the digital control of the DS d-pad just isn’t good enough for a game of Burnout’s nature either. A real disappointment.
Wait…what? Isn’t this the list of the Best Burnout Games? What is this imposter doing here?
Well, here’s the thing: Dangerous Driving is a Burnout title in all but name. Fully intended as a spiritual sequel to the Burnout games – the last of which is, unbelievably, 2008’s Burnout Paradise, though it was remastered in 2018 (and for Switch as recently as 2020) – Dangerous Driving was created by Three Fields Entertainment, a development team headed up by three members of the original Burnout team.
Though created on a much lower budget than most other Burnout titles – which means that it even lacks in-game music – Dangerous Driving is an excellent example of a back-to-basics approach paying dividends for the franchise, which continually added on elements, sometimes detrimentally, to the basic and addictive arcade racing formula.
Featuring the option to race against AI or online players, Dangerous Driving even features Takedowns which increase Nitro boosts for the player; it really does feel like a ‘lost’ Burnout entry from a simpler time. Though the budget causes the game to be pretty stripped down feature-wise, that lends it a real arcade simplicity that had been slightly lacking in the later games in the Burnout series.
The only game in the main series to not be developed by Criterion, Burnout Dominator felt like a cash-in, prior to the release of Burnout Paradise.
It’s certainly not a bad game, but it definitely doesn’t feel complete – Burnout Dominator even lacks the then-standard Crash Mode, which was arguably one of the biggest and most satisfying parts of any Burnout game at that time; they even built an entire game out of Crash Mode, as you’ll see in the next entry – so its omission really is unforgivable.
Even stranger, the PS2 version didn’t even support USB steering wheels, yet the previous games did. A decent enough game, but both the PS2 and PSP both have much better options when it comes to Burnout.
A digital-only release, Burnout Crash! is the least ‘traditional’ game in the series on this list. It’s sadly no longer available either, so unless you were fortunate enough to purchase it back when it was on sale, there’s actually no way you can play this title.
However, it’s definitely worthy of inclusion on the Best Burnout Games list, despite the change in style and content. Taking the crash modes and Takedowns of other Burnout games and placing them in a top down viewpoint, players drive their chosen vehicle to a busy intersection and cause as much carnage as they can in a strict time limit, with extra explosions and aftertouch granted as cars pile up.
Special combos, power ups, crazy weather effects and gameshow-style events all feature, with the pinball-esque, physics-based destruction being unbelievably addictive. Its lack of availability is perhaps due to the amazing licensed soundtrack, which used songs such as Crash by The Primitives and Gold by Spandau Ballet to hilarious, compelling effect. A real outlier, but a genuinely brilliant game that really should be made available again. Come on EA, bring it back!
It’s hard to believe that the original Burnout is now more than 20 years old; when it arrived, the racing game world was mostly split between serious, more simulation-esque driving games and cartoony kart racers – more arcade style racers were decidedly thin on the ground.
Though lacking in features and finesse in comparison to later games in the series – which did well to refine the basic risk vs reward factor of gaining boost with dangerous moves such as driving on the wrong side of the road – this was a strong opening for the Burnout series, which went on to become a big influence on other games; even the ‘dangerous driving’ aspect of gathering boost can be seen in games such as Forza Horizon, which give players points as they build combos by chaining together risky manoeuvres.
The spectacular crashes that the series became known for also made their debut here, albeit without a dedicated ‘Crash Mode’. The immediacy of the game meant that players could jump in and enjoy the action straight away, with no messing around – which is especially refreshing these days, when even racing games are filled with tutorials and extra features that delay the sense of instant gratification that arcade games can provide. An excellent start for the series and a great springboard for the more fully-featured sequels.
Perhaps players weren’t quite ready to leave the bold and colourful destruction of Burnout 3: Takedown behind. Perhaps the ‘traffic checking’ feature, whereby players could nudge non-competing cars, was an extra feature that felt unnecessary in light of the perfect balance found in the previous Burnout games. Or maybe it was that the traffic checking also made Crash Mode feel like more luck than judgement this time around.
Whatever the reason, Burnout Revenge definitely felt like a slight disappointment after the brilliant highs of Burnout 3: Takedown. Though it was still a superb arcade racer with some great features, Revenge felt a little rushed (coming just a year after the excellent Takedown) – but it’s well worth your time if you can track down a copy (and it makes it onto our Best PS2 Racing Games list too!).
Despite the Nintendo DS version of Burnout Legends being the worst Burnout game there is, the PSP title is superb – and all the more impressive given that it’s on a handheld.
Almost magically, it doesn’t feel like a ‘cut down’ version of the game at all – it’s a testament to the developers at Criterion that Burnout Legends looks, sounds and feels almost as good as the non-portable console games in the series.
Though not strictly a full sequel, it takes the best elements of the three previous Burnout games that were available at that point and makes a ‘best of’ compilation of sorts. It’s surprisingly fully featured, with Crash Mode, Road Rage and Pursuit all making appearances – and it even features a still-functional ad-hoc multiplayer mode for turbo-charged competition on the go.
The last of the Burnout games to be published by Acclaim – who went bankrupt in 2004, leaving the series to be published by EA from then on – Burnout 2: Point of Impact is where the series truly found its feet and introduced arguably the most important element of the series overall: Crash Mode.
Interestingly, the Xbox version had more than 20 new car skins and doubled the number of Crash Mode stages available in comparison to the PS2 version (though the Gamecube port – which features on our list of Best Gamecube Games – did also include these extra stages). Online leaderboard functionality was also included on the Xbox but lacking from the other console versions; in 2002, this was quite an advanced feature for a console game!
The PS2 version does feature on our Best PS2 Racing Games list though, so it was clearly no slouch!
It’s a hugely addictive game even today due to its immediacy and simplicity – with modes including the aforementioned Crash Mode, Pursuit and splitscreen multiplayer, which was eventually lost in favour of online multiplayer later in the series.
An ambitious game that was way ahead of its time, Burnout Paradise paved the way for huge, non-linear open world racers such as the Forza Horizon series.
Removing the event-based stage structure of its predecessors, Burnout Paradise allowed players to explore the fictional Paradise City at their own pace, entering an array of events at junctions in the city whenever they felt like it.
With a huge variety of secrets to uncover, vehicles to collect and events to master, Burnout Paradise was near enough the perfect template for open world racing games. It was let down only by the lifeless, often bland and samey open world, annoying in-game DJ (an aspect the series struggles with, unfortunately) and, initially at least, a lack of instant restarts for its events (this was patched into the game despite initial pushback from the developers).
Despite those admittedly minor disappointments, it’s inarguable that Burnout Paradise was a hugely influential game that – thanks also to a remastered version, released a decade (!) after the original game, which included all DLC vehicles (motorbikes too!) and an extra island area – still plays beautifully today.
Sure, it had an annoyingly over the top DJ. No, it wasn’t an open world racer like Burnout Paradise. Yet Burnout 3: Takedown’s gameplay was fine tuned to such an extent that the series arguably didn’t hit the same heights again.
Takedowns, which became a staple of the Burnout series, were introduced in this third entry – and the satisfying, slow motion cutaways to see your rivals crashing with detailed particle and debris effects were incredibly impressive in their day.
The risk vs reward element of trying to take down increasingly aggressive and determined AI drivers was superbly done – though the game as a whole was much more than just the standout element of taking down rival racers.
Crash Mode – again, with impressive destruction elements – made a return, but the addition of elements such as aftertouch gave these addictive set piece stages an incredible allure, with lengthy combos and chains possible when timed just right.
Crash Mode was so addictive and compelling that it could have become a standalone game in its own right (and sort of did, with Burnout Crash!).
Bold, colourful, arcade-style visuals and presentation completed the package; though many racing games at the time were moving towards more and more realistic structures and visual styles, Burnout 3: Takedown was a reminder that games didn’t have to strive for ultra realism to be fun or satisfying – this arcade-style racer, with brilliant physics and multiple modes that were each fine-tuned for maximum enjoyment, reminded us that there was still plenty of enjoyment to be had from daft, over the top automotive action.
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.