The team at Criterion Games, under EA’s broader banner of developers, is known for a number of games: the recent Need For Speed Hot Pursuit and upcoming Most Wanted reboots, the PS2 classic shooter Black, but above all else their fantastically chaotic Burnout series. Combining racing with goals including wiping out opponents and racking up cash and points in a unique Crash mode, it made an indelible mark on the minds of many gamers and, it could be argued, gaming itself.
Despite this, the last time that we saw a new, full-fledged entry in the series was back in 2008 when the series made its open-world debut with Burnout Paradise and since then the team at Criterion has been working on the aforementioned Need For Speed reboots, and last year’s poorly received downloadable Burnout Crash!. It may have been the design and presentation of that last game, but it seemed to prove, in its own way, that the formula that made the series a standout doesn’t really work on its own, and perhaps not at all in the modern gaming landscape.
Is this true though? Criterion evolved what they had created in the first instance in Paradise with Showtime mode, which brought the mentality of Crash mode into the boundless open-world format in fine fashion. It wasn’t without its flaws, including being lacking in excitement in comparison to its predecessor, but it was a great first effort. It was a concept that indicates that there are other paths to take to continue to iterate on this mechanic and bring it back to relevance. Of course, the problem could lie with Criterion themselves. Trying to bring something fresh to the table, particularly when following such a phenomenal effort as Burnout Paradise was, is difficult and adding new elements could detract from the singular balance that the aforementioned game was infused with. It could be a fear of failing to live up to expectations that has them balking at returning.
Perhaps this isn’t it at all though. Since 2007, with the sole exception of last year’s poorly received The Run, EA’s competing racer series Need For Speed has managed to outsell Burnout Paradise with every entry of this generation, and a similar picture is painted historically speaking. A part of this has to be the greater brand recognition and diversity, which allows a single aspect to be of a higher quality for each individual subseries. It simply serves to make Need For Speed a far more marketable brand, by applying to it the very same mentality that Activision has with Call of Duty. From a business perspective, the results are rather blatantly obvious.
And now, it seems as though the final nail may have been driven into the coffin of Burnout. It has recently come to light that EA has handed the reigns of Need For Speed to Criterion. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the games will be developed internally (EA has previously shared development duties among both owned and independent studios), it does mean that, unless Criterion has been expanded beyond what have heretofore been privy to, they will simply not have the time and resources to continue their original brand.
Surely I’m not the only one that sees this as an abortion of intellect. As profitable as Need For Speed has been in the past, and likely will be into the future, it simply doesn’t embody the same sense of fun and carnage that Burnout does. They are two very different beasts in terms of the experiences that are drawn from them and if only EA had been less vociferous in their attempts to expand a single brand, the bigwigs may have realised that it would have been better to trade the games out year over year, in much the same way they are doing with Battlefield and Medal of Honor.
Nevertheless, not all hope is lost. In the interview that confirmed Criterion’s new leadership role came the tantalising remark that the developer “[thinks] about [Burnout] all the time”. It is also mentioned that “something big will have to happen” to see them move on with some of their endeavours, but a glimmer of hope is better than none. For now though, we should doff our hats in respect for the Burnout that we may never see again.