Retro Gaming: Burnout, Part 4 – Burnout Legends (2005)
When Sony launched the PlayStation Portable in 2004, there was a lot of positive buzz about the Japanese electronics giant's new handheld system. At the time, Sony was crushing the competition on the home console front with the PlayStation 2 flying off the shelves, and on paper the PSP seemed like another surefire winner.
While Nintendo had traditionally dominated the handheld market with the Game Boy line, their innovative touch-based dual-screen DS system didn't set the world on fire early on, with many observers considering the DS underpowered and overly gimmicky whereas the PSP promised console-quality gaming on the go. Sony's handheld certainly had the hardware to back up that promise, with its capabilities falling somewhere in between the first two PlayStations. It could even play original PlayStation games downloaded from the PlayStation Store, and the graphics on the PSP games were far beyond anything we had seen on portable systems at that point.
It seemed like the war of portable consoles could go either way, but it became evident after a couple of years that Nintendo was going to take the crown once again. While technically far superior to the DS, the PSP simply did not have enough quality software to keep mainstream audiences engaged, and even though the PSP had fairly robust multimedia capabilities for the time, its UMD media format never caught on due to its lengthy loading times, high costs and overall cumbersomeness. Rampant piracy eventually killed third-party developers' interest in the PSP, and while the system sold relatively well in its lifespan it couldn't compete with the DS once the latter came into its own.
One of the issues that really hurt the PSP was the lack of a second analog stick. There was an overall lack of buttons, really (no L2/R2 or L3/R3), but only one analog stick meant that porting console games to the PSP or creating proper console-style experiences for the handheld was problematic since by this point everyone was using the second stick for camera control. Developers tried different control schemes to get around the issue, but none of them worked and PSP users often had to resort to an awkward claw grip to control the camera in 3D action games.
Not all games suffered from these camera issues, of course. RPGs in particular thrived on the PSP, and racing games worked well enough too. Ridge Racer and even Gran Turismo made appearances on the system, the port of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast was extremely solid, and then there was Burnout. Two Burnout titles were released for the PSP, and today we're taking a look at the first one: Burnout Legends from 2005. Legends was released on the same day as Burnout Revenge on the PS2 and Xbox (in the US anyway, in the PAL region it came out a few days before Revenge), both on the PSP and the DS. Naturally, since the DS is a much less powerful system than the PSP, that version is very different and also completely inferior, bearing little to no resemblance to a proper Burnout game.
Burnout Legends on the PSP is basically Burnout 3: Takedown on a handheld system. I could end the article right there, but I'm paid by the hour so I shall keep going. Besides, there are certain differences here that deserve mention. As you may have inferred from the Legends subtitle, this release brings back some of the most popular cars and tracks from the first two Burnout games, mainly the second one, and combines them with the cars, tracks (with the exception of the point-to-point stages), and overall structure and presentation of Burnout 3. Once again, you're playing through the Burnout World Tour or Crash World Tour, unlocking new stuff as you go, and even many of the events (such as the crash junctions and several Burning Lap special events) are recycled from Burnout 3.
The music, on the other hand, is recycled from Burnout Revenge, although all the best tracks (excuse me, EA TRAX) are missing presumably due to disc space limitations. When one of the best remaining songs you've got is "Red Flag" by Billy Talent, your soundtrack has some problems. The PSP does technically support custom MP3 soundtracks, but only a handful of games use that feature and Burnout Legends isn't one of them. At least the music isn't actively annoying, I suppose, so that's already an improvement over the previous game.
When you get to the track, things are again very similar to Burnout 3. The main difference, aside from the downgraded graphics, simplified damage and visual effects, and lower frame rate (targeting 30 fps instead of 60, often dropping below that) is that there are only four cars in each race instead of six, making the races somewhat less hectic. To be fair, the first two Burnout games also had four cars on the track and so did Road Rage in Burnout 3, so it's not that big of an issue. The rest of the gameplay changes Criterion made for Burnout 3 carry over to Legends, so the focus is on Takedowns once again.
The Eliminator and Road Rage modes make their return, as does Pursuit from Burnout 2. I'm not a huge fan of the implementation here, though; Pursuit now has the same medal system as the other events, so you have to eliminate the target car extremely quickly in order to win the gold medal. That's fine and all, but in some Pursuit events it's seemingly impossible to do enough damage in time unless you actually speed ahead of the target car, crash and hit them with an Aftertouch Takedown. To me, this feels very counterintuitive. Occasionally, the targets even have other cars helping them.
As for the old tracks, the ones from Burnout 2 fit in absolutely fine because they were always designed with fast speeds in mind. For some reason, the tracks feel shorter and narrower than they did in Burnout 2, but that may just be my imagination. The one and only original Burnout track that made it into Legends is Harbour Town, and that doesn't fare quite as well as the tracks from the sequel. Burnout had a very different approach to racing and some of the tracks were a lot narrower and twistier than those in the sequels. Indeed, Harbour Town is simply too twisty to be enjoyable to race on in the Burnout 3 engine. It does lend itself nicely to Road Rage, but they maybe should've opted for Interstate or River City instead.
The Crash Mode, while overall very similar to its Burnout 3 iteration, has received one very welcome adjustment that more than makes up for the simplified vehicle damage and the lack of that cool helicopter fly-by view of the crash after you're done. The multiplier tokens have been eliminated altogether, so now you actually need to focus on having a proper crash instead of just aftertouching your way to the 4x multiplier every time.
While it is commendable how Criterion were able to squeeze Burnout 3 onto a portable system in near-complete form, there are certain issues here that drag down the experience. Mainly, there is the visibility. Despite the fact the graphics look sharp and crisp on the PSP screen (sadly, my PSP-2000's screen is dying, so there are ugly vertical lines all over), the screen is so small and the action is so fast it's often very difficult to see what's in front of you.
Traffic headlights and taillights have had their bloom effect enhanced to be more visible, which would be more helpful if the draw distance for the traffic itself was longer. As it is, cars pop into existence much closer to you than you'd probably prefer, and this may cause some issues. The PSP is also not the most comfortable thing in the world to play games on for extended periods of time, so you may want to take breaks every so often.
If you play on one of the later PSP models, you can connect to a TV and play that way. Unfortunately, the game (any game on the PSP, not just this one) appears in a very small window on the screen, so you need to use the TV's zoom function or preferably a scaler like the XRGB-mini Framemeister (which is what I'm using) if you don't want to squint too much.
As you might expect, though, blowing up a 480x272 image onto a large HD or 4K TV doesn't look that great either, even with one of the best video scalers on the market doing a pixel-perfect 4x scale of the image (which, since 4x the PSP's resolution is 1920x1088, cuts off four pixels from the top and bottom on a 1080p screen as you may notice in the screenshots). Visibility can still be an issue because you just can't make out what's up ahead.
Furthermore, unless you're using a PSP Go which supports PS3 controllers via Bluetooth (but lacks a UMD drive so you must buy games digitally, and as such you probably aren't using a PSP Go), you're still stuck using the PSP itself to control the game. As we established, that's a quick and efficient way to give yourself carpal tunnel syndrome with a game like this that makes heavy use of the shoulder buttons.
Burnout Legends has ad-hoc multiplayer over Wi-Fi, but I didn't get to try that because I don't know anyone else who owns a copy of this game (and even if I did, the PSP-2000's Wi-Fi doesn't seem to work with the encryption on my router so... yeah). If you do manage to find someone to play with and beat them enough times, you can unlock a handful of otherwise unobtainable "collector" cars.
There is also a turn-based Party Crash mode just like in the console games, and a game sharing demo mode if you only have one copy of the game. But yeah, sadly I didn't get the opportunity to test out the multiplayer.
Even though I've spent most of this article complaining about various things, the truth is that Burnout Legends is an excellent game and would be one of the greatest in the series if not for the PSP's inherent limitations holding back its potential, and even then it is absolutely a victory for the hardware and shows what the PSP could do in the right hands. For whatever reason, Legends has never been ported to home consoles, which is a shame because I feel it would've thrived if EA had decided to free it from its handheld shackles.
Almost all of the issues I listed are entirely hardware-related, and an Xbox or PS2 port back in 2006 or so would've been perfect. Maybe that didn't happen because EA didn't want to cannibalize Burnout Revenge's sales. Or perhaps they thought Legends was too similar to Burnout 3. Which it probably was, to be honest, but when has that ever stopped EA?
Hell, they could re-release this game on the PS4 and Xbox One right now with some upgrades to get it closer to modern technical standards, and market it as an improved re-release of Burnout 3. Better yet, re-release it on the Nintendo Switch! There hasn't been a Burnout game on a Nintendo system since the abysmal DS version of Legends, and I bet Nintendo fans would love a Switch Burnout. I know I would.
Next time, we'll take a look at the other Burnout game that came out in 2005. To be perfectly honest, I kind of prefer this one, and you'll find out why when we check out Burnout Revenge!