Burnout was originally designed using Criterion's Renderware middleware program, and this has made porting the game to other platforms relatively painless. What stands out most prominently in the game's visual presentation is the number of polygons being pushed. There are several times where you'll come around a bend in the road only for the course to open up into a seaside drive that allows you to see for what seems like a mile down the course. The amount of traffic on each course is also impressive, though the vehicle models leave a bit to be desired. Luckily, the cars you get to actually drive are handsomely modeled and feature smooth, flowing curves, though they do not approach Gran Turismo 3 or Project Gotham Racing quality. The courses have plenty of offtrack objects and feature a variety of settings such as urban areas and rural country lanes complete with cobblestone surfaces. But anyone who spends more than a minute playing the game will realize that the graphical highlight is the crashing.
The physics engine used in Burnout allows a variety of crashes to occur, and just when you think you've seen them all, a minivan will be left spinning on its roof like a top or a compact will shoot straight up into the sky. As amazing as the physics engine is, the small details applied to the wrecks are what really make them a joy to watch. Windows will spider-web before smashing out, fenders will crumple, and all the windows on busses will explode at once--sending a shower of glass all over the road. It's fairly impressive when you first begin playing the game, but eventually you tire of them and wish there were a way to skip through the automatic replays. But for those who just can't get enough, the game will save 10 wrecks from each race to watch later on.
Burnout also features a bevy of special effects that are pulled off quite well. Tires kick up dirt and will sometimes cause a complete whiteout, real-time lighting moves across the surface of your car as it moves in and out of the shadows, motion blurring is used for when your car is using turbo, and realistic skid marks are left on the pavement after each crash. Despite all its graphical trickery, the frame rates in Burnout are rock-solid and never stutter--even if the entire screen is filled with smoke in the multiplayer mode. The solid frame rates give the game an excellent sensation of speed, but not all is well. The game has a rather aliased look that makes things on the horizon hard to see, and shimmering textures give the game an overall grainy, flickering appearance. Unlike many ports from the PlayStation 2, both the Xbox and GameCube versions of Burnout look considerably better than the original. But telling the two versions apart is practically impossible. Both feature improved car models, more realistic lighting, and cleaner textures. But all these improvements still aren't enough to get Burnout into the upper echelon of graphical offerings on either console.
Burnout's audio features almost a dozen original tracks, so no one can fault Criterion for being lazy in that department. The track selection is predominantly made up of breakbeat trance and other electronic styles that tend to become repetitive after a few hours, but their mindless nature serves them well in a game with four-minute laps. While the different cars sound different, their engines sound more like lawnmowers than high-powered machines. Ambient sound effects are strangely absent throughout the game, so don't expect to hear seagulls crying or the sound of crashing waves while driving near the ocean. The Xbox version includes Dolby Digital support, which gives it a slight advantage over the GameCube version of the game, but it makes little difference in the overall package.
Burnout is a run-of-the-mill arcade driving game that features spectacular crashes. But after a few hours of playtime, the crashes will begin to grate on the nerves, and you're left with a game that can easily be completed in a day. With 14 tracks and just a few hidden cars to unlock, it also offers very little in the way of replay value. If you're desperate for a new driving game for your Xbox, rent Burnout and get it out of your system. For owners of multiple consoles trying to decide on one version of the game, the Xbox version's improved visuals put it ahead of the PlayStation 2 version, but it falls just short of the GameCube iteration because of its somewhat sluggish controls. With more original driving game options available for Microsoft's console, it's hard to recommend Burnout as a purchase because it simply repeats what has already been done in many games before it.