Welcome to the Ultimate Driving Playground
Cars that seduce the eyes, the smell of burning rubber, the pulsing sounds of some great music and the wind in your hair. Okay, best two of four? Burnout trades in it's major crash-mode for a bit more of a street racer feel, bumping and grinding your competition out of the way in a no-holds barred race from location A to location B. Does it help that the soundtrack ranges from classical to Paradise City ? Yeah, it totally does.
There is no plot here, just the thrill of driving. The mechanics are simple: compete in events (such as races, "taking out" a specific number of opponents, performing a set score of stunts in a time limit, and getting from one location to another using a specific car before the time runs out) to earn points on your license. After you hit a certain number of points on your license, your rank upgrades, and you get access to new cars, as well as reset all the events you already did (outside of the car challenges) so that you can do them again for more points. Rinse, repeat, and enjoy the high octane street racing thrills.
For fans of racing games, that's all you should need. I honestly admit that I am not a fan of racing games, and tend to be bored with them to be blunt, but this one has had me sink countless hours (if it wasn't for the fact that Steam tracks how many hours) into it, full of enjoyment as I race and crash my way all over a huge mass of roadways from the grid-locked city to the open curves of the country. How you get from A to B is irrelevant to the game as long as you get there fast ! There is a stunning array of cars available - about 100 cars, as a matter of fact (although some of those are slightly up-tuned versions of existing cars unlocked via car challenges, and some are also DLC cars)- as well as about 250 miles of digital roads to zip around in.
Control of said cars is responsive, and although it took me a while to figure out which key to use to drift around corners, by the time I figured it out the cars available to me were moving fast enough that it was necessary to do to avoid smashing into turns. The actual button controls assigned are simple enough (and it works with a controller on the PC as well, which is what I used) with your standard car-game layouts - gas, brake/reverse, emergency brake, view toggle (first person or third), and a turbo. Turbo can be handy, and how you earn it depends on the type of car you drive - some require you to smash other cars to fill, some require tricks, and others only seem to refill if you go through a gas station to top off the tank (but are usually more than fast enough to make up for it).
Cars also have three different value categories - speed, boost, and strength (how hard it is to wreck your ride). The only customization you have (outside of picking your car) is applying a paint job (the option of which is unlocked by taking your car to a paint shop) - and this could be one of the bigger complaints for die-hard car fans I'm sure, although I didn't mind to much because it keeps the overall game feeling pretty simple, letting you get straight to the thrill of speeding around. To help aid this, the player is rewarded challenges to take down cars as they gain points on their license, which when completed adds that car to their garage (making for a large selection of cars happening relatively quickly).
I haven't delved much into the online versus racing (because I'm not a very competitive guy), but the Freeburn Online mode is fun to tool around in (such as making up mock-races with your friends, or competing in the various challenges such as getting everyone to land on a rooftop across a street), but very much follows a "create your own fun" feel to it, as it deactivates the majority of the challenges available in the single player mode. This creates a bit of a double-edged sword, as although it's fun to just roam around with a friend with no real intents or purpose, it also can lead those who are a bit less focused on things to getting easily distracted and having a bit less fun.
If ever I had a complaint about this game, however, its in just how free the sandbox is. When racing from one location to the next, you are free to take any road you want, with a simple mark on the compass to indicate which direction the destination is. This is great in theory, but it also means that you don't know which roads you want to take unless you plot it out on the pause-menu map before time, which easily can be messed up when you rip around a turn at high speed and miss the road you wanted to take. What I would have loved to see here was a waypoint system of some sort, where you could set a series of waypoints to help guide you towards "turn down this road" without needing to constantly pause the action and re-check the world map to make sure you are keeping your time competitive.
To really sum it up, this is the most fun I've had with a racing game since the original Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. I don't tend to play racing games, although the slight increase in focus towards crashing other cars helps make me desire to play this one (I tend to focus on doing those challenges over the others), and the inclusion of off-kilter challenges in freeburn mode helps keep it feel fresh ("jousting" over ramps was particularly entertaining, if not hard to pull off). The amount of available cars over time is dizzying to say the least, and the entire thing looks beautiful - the scenery changes from city to country, the cars are detailed both in damage and design, and the added slow-motion that takes effect when crashing or performing a jump is just a splendid flair to an already amusing game. It would have been nice to see more casual AI cars driving around in the city sections (sometimes it can feel very, very sparse for something that's a city) even though it does make sense when the time-of-day cycles to night. If you are a fan of racing games, or you find it for cheap, this is one that I would recommend you at the very least try out!