A crashing success.
When you get right down to it, there's only one reason anyone watches auto racing: crashes. Some may feign interest in seeing skilled drivers draft each other and execute last minute moves to pass their opponents, but the only thing that makes it exciting is the possibility of them screwing up so badly that a car jack-knifes through the air in a fireball. Twisted? You bet, and Sportscenter agrees.
Enter the Burnout series, which takes this morbid fascination to gloriously painful new heights. Burnout 3: Takedown managed to separate itself from the pack with its formula of blistering speed, numerous gameplay modes, and some of the most spectacular crashes you'll ever see in a racing game.
PSP owners, breathe a sigh of relief, because that's also what you get in Burnout Legends. Billed as a combination of the first three Burnouts, this port takes almost everything that was great about the console games and shrinks it down for the gamer on the go.
As in its console predecessors, Burnout Legends features an astonishing number of modes. Race, Eliminator, Face-Off and Burning Lap all make an appearance. Pursuit puts you in a cop car with one objective: taking out the target car. Grand Prix has you race on a series of tracks, collecting points for an overall win and ultimately unlock a new car class. Tthe best mode, Road Rage, has you racing against the clock to takedown as many opponents as possible before time runs out or your car is destroyed. As you play each mode in each car class (Compact, Muscle, Coupe, Sport, and Super), you unlock new tracks and new cars, further extending gameplay.
On top of all those modes sit the terrific Crash events. Each gives you a short track with a specific setup, and it's your duty to figure out the most reckless way to crash your car and cause the most damage. The early Crash events are remarkably straightforward and not worth the load time to play, but when you do, you unlock better events that show what joy can be found in mindless destruction.
Unlocking new cars and tracks happens all the time in Burnout Legends. With over 60 cars to accumulate across the 5 classes, it will take you a long time to see everything that this game has to offer. Different criteria apply to unlock the various vehicles and tracks. Some may be as simple as winning a medal; others may require your global takedown number (the total number of cars you've taken out) to reach a certain point. The staggering amount of content – particularly for a handheld game - makes Burnout Legends a pleasure to replay again and again.
Thanks to the built-in wireless technology of the PSP, that's not all the gameplay you have to enjoy. Although difficult to set up (as any multiplayer PSP game is nowadays), Burnout Legends does a good job providing new modes and unlockable content exclusive to multiplayer. Besides the obvious head-to-head racing modes, there are solo and team crash events that will have you and your friends screaming at one another as you watch your cars turn into so much burning metal.
Even more interesting is the fact that of the 25 "collector" cars available in the game, you'll only be able to unlock a random 5 by playing the single player game. In order to collect the others, you have to play the Collector Challenge multiplayer mode, in which you race against a friend who's unlocked a car that you don't have. Nice.
In what's becoming a pretty cool trend in PSP gaming, you can play against your friends even if they don't have Burnout Legends by uploading a race for them to download and play as a solo demo or against you head to head. The one drawback is it takes a pretty long time to upload all that information to your opponent's PSP.
And unfortunately, increased load times are exactly what this title doesn't need. While most of the game loads quickly, some tracks take a good minute or two to build each time you race. This is acceptable the first time around, but when you replay a race, the load time doesn't diminish. You inevitably end up replaying maps several times in a row in order to land gold medals and unlock certain items, so expect to stare at loading screens.
You'll also stare in awe at the graphics. Though console fans of the series may feel a bit disappointed at the removal of many particle effects, this is easily one of the best looking handheld racing games to date. The cars and tracks are detailed and slick, powered by a smooth engine that maintains a steady framerate. Yes, it's fast as hell, especially when you start using the faster cars. It finally feels as though developers are getting the hang of the power of the PSP, although the smaller screen and lack of particle effects does take it a step down from its console kin.
That being said, the cornerstone of gameplay in Burnout Legends - the crashes - are still just as fun and spectacular as they've always been. The takedowns are integral to winning any race, rewarding aggressive driving over wussy weaving. Taking out your opponents with a well-timed sideswipe still generates that warm feeling in your belly. Takedowns come in a variety of flavors, from the common wall takedowns to unique signature takedowns at specific points on specific tracks, and they always rule.
The sound does too, at least when it comes to effects. Cars skid, screech and roar appropriately. The soundtrack is another mater, filled with plenty of MTV punk pop fare, and gets a little annoying.
The only other notable problem with Burnout Legends is that it doesn't really offer anything new to fans of the series. If you've played Burnout 3: Takedown, expect a remarkably similar game. You still can't customize your cars very much, which may turn off the hardcore racers, although that doesn't really affect the gameplay. However, they've once again shunned a manual replay option, which is astonishing. The ability to revisit your greatest destructions seems like a no-brainer, but is once again a no-show.
That's small beans, though, on a giant platter of racing goodness. Burnout Legends is an excellent port and a great addition to the anemic PSP game library. Although we long for more unique games for the system (like Lumines), having to make do with a racer of this caliber is a sweet alternative.