It’s impossible to play or talk about Dangerous Driving without comparing it to Criterion’s seminal Burnout 3: Takedown. This is by design, of course, as developer Three Fields Entertainment–a small indie studio comprised of former Criterion alum–set out to create a spiritual successor to the dormant racer; latching onto the groundbreaking Burnout 3 as a clear and popular focal point. Everything about Dangerous Driving’s design, right down to small details like font selection and the phrasing used in its loading screens, is distinctly Burnout 3. It foregoes the advances made in its sequels–like traffic checking and the introduction of an open-world–to hone in on what made Takedown so special.
My first hour or so with Dangerous Driving was fraught with bewilderment, however. There’s a single song that plays on the main menu, but other than this there’s a complete absence of music throughout the entire game. Licensed tracks are a crucial component to the Burnout formula, and after playing a few events in near-complete silence, their monumental importance can’t be overstated. Obviously, this is true of most games, but particularly one where high-speed exhilaration is on the menu. After initially thinking this was either a bug or that music would eventually find its way into the game via a day one patch, I hopped into the audio settings and discovered the reason for its omission: Spotify integration.
This is a smart idea for an indie studio that might not have the budget to splash out on licensed music, and after finding something suitably upbeat and aggressive myself, the experience of tearing around the track and wrecking other cars was improved tenfold. Yet asking people to own a premium service just to get music in their game is a fairly excessive compromise. It’s an understandable trade-off for gaining access to popular music in a budget-priced game, but beyond the monetary requirement, it also has an effect on gameplay. Three Fields can’t manipulate Spotify music in any way, so songs will just play through from start to finish without the incorporation of any interactive elements. This means that the music doesn’t change its tone when you boost, or slow down and warp during takedowns, and that robs these moments of some of their potential impact.
When you’re out on the road, the handling of each car will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played Burnout before. While most contemporary racing games are wary of fully embracing an arcadey style without featuring some kind of simulation element, Dangerous Driving is a full-blooded, balls-to-the-wall arcade racer. You’ll hold down the accelerator ad infinitum until your finger aches, careen around corners by either scraping across the steel guard rails or tapping the brake button to effortlessly drift around, and weave between oncoming traffic at over 200-miles-per-hour as the nitrous oxide flames spewing out of each exhaust pipe propel your car forward.
Unfortunately, the physics can be fairly wonky at times, often bringing your vehicle to a complete stop because you brushed against a wall; while other times it will shoot you straight up into the air, or force your car into a complete 90-degree turn. This can be incredibly frustrating during the latter stages of an event when one mishap is enough to send you tumbling to the back of the pack. Collision detection is also inconsistent; numerous times a head-on crash resulted in my car clipping through the floor and appearing unscathed on the other side. The face-distorting sense of speed, though, is genuinely electric, and the PS4 Pro version maintains a stable 60 frames-per-second with one notable exception: It has a tendency to hitch rather egregiously when you’re driving through tunnels.
The crux of Dangerous Driving’s racing is centered around the need to drive recklessly and constantly put yourself in harm’s way. By hurtling towards incoming traffic, performing near misses, nailing drifts, tailgating, and taking down your opponents, you earn variable degrees of boost that will help fire your chosen vehicle towards the finish line. There isn’t a discernible difference in how each car handles, other than the fact that some go faster than others, but their pinpoint responsiveness coupled with the high framerate ensures that you’re fully capable of serpentining in and out of danger if your reactions are quick enough. Again, this is quintessential Burnout, with the destruction of your fellow drivers doubling your boost meter and incentivizing the most perilous behavior possible. These takedowns are reminiscent of those that debuted in Burnout 3, although the slow-motion crashes in Dangerous Driving are surprisingly underwhelming. They’re not bad, but they’re also not impactful enough–which the aforementioned issues with music contribute to–lacking in any real dynamism or metal-crunching detail.
There are exceptions to this rule, but vehicle collisions actually look a lot more violent when they occur near you in real time, with broken cars hurtling across the road in a furious cascade of fire and sparks. A wrecked car doesn’t signal the end of its lifespan either. While Dangerous Driving unabashedly riffs on Burnout, it has its own ideas, too, like persistent wrecks. Now, if you’re driving on a track with multiple laps, any takedowns that happen will leave the battered husk of that car out on the road as a smoke-billowing obstacle. This is rather ingenious, as subsequent laps gradually evolve the track until it’s veritable minefields of dead vehicles.
The slow-motion crashes are not impactful enough–which the aforementioned issues with music contribute to–lacking in any real dynamism or metal-crunching detail
The problem with this–and it’s not a problem with the mechanic itself, but rather one with the game’s overall structure–is that these multi-lap events, and the most stimulating moments within them, are too few and far between. Dangerous Driving excels when you’re in the middle of the pack, trading paint with other cars, and fighting tooth and nail to move up the field. It’s here where it’s at its most exciting, and really latches onto what made Burnout 3 so brilliant in the first place. But reaching first place is relatively easy–I was taken down by the AI twice in all my time playing–and once you’re there the rubber banding isn’t aggressive enough to ever compete with your driving unless you crash. Rivals drivers will hover just behind you, waiting to capitalize on any mistakes, but there are far too many instances where you can take a leisurely drive in first place, resulting in a feeling that you’re missing out on all the action.
It doesn’t help that the track design is bland. Visually there’s a lot of variety with a cohesive theme of North American National Parks that encompasses sunswept canyons, beachside cliffs, snowy mountain ranges, and so on, but the tracks themselves are made up of the same kinds of long, winding corners that it almost feels like they were copied and pasted from one track and into another. They rarely deviate from this standard blueprint, and there’s nothing that sets the tracks apart from one another either. This compounds the issues with difficulty and AI during race events, and also results in a dearth of engaging racing in other game modes. There are face-offs against a single opponent, the takedown-centric Road Rage, time trials, a survival event that tasks you with reaching checkpoints to stave off an ever-depleting timer, and even a nod to Criterion’s work on Need for Speed in the shape of police pursuits. Again, there’s a decent amount of variety here, with familiar modes returning from Burnout (including one that was previously its namesake, re-titled to Heatwave here), but the lack of interesting courses and a scarcity of racing events depletes much of the excitement.
Online multiplayer is being added in a future update, and playing against other people might allay some of these problems. But the more I played the more I began to realize Dangerous Driving lacks that magic spark the Burnout games had in abundance. That kinetic energy, palpable sense of danger, and the heart-racing thrill that something could and would go wrong at any moment. The AI was aggressive–competitive–and the satisfaction of taking them down was born of more than just getting to watch their car crumple against the nearest brick wall. The tracks were inventive, too, more interesting in their environments, and full of diverging paths and risky shortcuts.
Dangerous Driving nails the basic feeling of driving a car in Burnout, but the lack of small details quickly begin to add up and peel away at everything that doesn’t feel quite right. The most damning criticism I can level at it is that it’s often dull and lifeless. There are too many events that fail to capitalize on its strengths, and those that do can only reach those heights in fleeting moments. I was concerned that maybe I’d feel the same way about Burnout; that one of the greatest racing series ever made just doesn’t fit in 2019. So I went back and played Burnout 3 again and it quickly alleviated all of those fears with a rapid combustion of thrilling vehicular mayhem. The potential was there for Dangerous Driving to latch onto that magic, and there are brief moments when it feels like you’re playing a brand new Burnout. But the truth is, I’d rather play a 16-year-old game than pick up its spiritual successor again, and that’s a disheartening outcome.