“I feel the need…The need for speed!” This catchphrase from Top Gun summed up the continual drive of any adrenaline junkie: the desire to constantly go faster and faster, pushing the envelope for the largest thrill possible. Well, 18 years later, EA’s latest racing title has captured the essence of this slogan, providing a greater rush than any other arcade driving game has. Even more shocking, it’s not their popular Need For Speed series. Burnout 3: Takedown, the latest game in the fast-paced franchise, is a wild, edge of your seat, white knuckle ride that fulfills any speed freak’s cravings. What’s more, it’s also one of the best games that’s been released this entire year.
Burnout 3’s premise is essentially simple, rooted in the basics of arcade gaming: the wilder the action, the greater the reward to the player. You see, players initially start off by accelerating down a street, freeway or other course, braking around tight corners (if you really want to) and drafting behind other cars for additional momentum. The game’s true sense of speed is generated via boosts, quick turbo charges that launch you down the road. These rewards are given to the driver on a scale relative to the action you pull off onscreen. Drive on the wrong side of the road, get some boost. Run a competitor into a rail or off the road entirely, get more boost. Narrowly avoid hitting a car head on, get even more boost. There’s plenty of ways to grab these enhancements to your speed, and you can even combine them to dramatically extend your boost meter, allowing you to achieve some breathtaking speeds. There is a potential risk of crashing due to this accelerated movement which can be disastrous to your driving plans, as crashes often reduce or completely eliminate any stored boosts that you have. This tricky balance of over the top offensive driving and careful defensive steering will keep you on your toes as you take on the numerous race events found in the game.
There are seven kinds of events that you’ll commonly enter in Burnout 3 across the USA, Europe and Asia. A Race is exactly what it sounds like: The first person to cross the finish line in any piece is the winner. The Grand Prix is a sequence of races that you qualify for, receiving points for each rank you receive over the course of the tournament. Eliminator races are often tension filled multiple stage affairs where the last driver on each lap is removed until only one car is left. For speed demons, Burning Lap events judge how quickly a player can navigate a level based on pre-existing time records. Face-off races let you go up against a computer challenger for possession of their car. Road Rages throws a score of computer opponents into a race, with the objective of destroying as many cars as you can before your own vehicle is rendered useless. And then there are the Crash events…
The most popular mode from Burnout 2 was the Crash mode, where players tried to run their cars into other vehicles in an attempt to cause the most damage possible. Well, this has returned with a vengeance. In Burnout 3, there are plenty more “crash junctions” for drivers to run into to cause a traffic jam. Players now have additional power-ups to achieve massive pileups. There are instant boost icons that provide you with an immediate shot of speed, monetary icons that quickly add money to your grand total and multiplier icons that truly ramp up the destruction. There are also crashbreaker icons that detonate stopped vehicles and provide additional opportunities to cause chaos. Your car has its own “crashbreaker” installed, which you can blow up at any time to attempt to hit any other vehicles in its projected path.
This brings me to the concept of “impact time,” a feature that happens in every mode whenever a car gets wrecked. Some people may take a quick glance at this mode and dismiss it as a bullet time knockoff, considering that the action slows down to isolate a specific moment. However, impact time also features the concept of aftertouch, which gives players the ability to manually direct the shattered remains of their car. Creatively, it’s possible to rack up a large score during a particularly destructive accident. For instance, catching lots of air will earn you a “flyboy” bonus based on how high and how far you go. With adept maneuvering of your car, you can string together huge combos of car splintering moves, even throwing off your opponents by moving your car into their path. In fact, if you manage to run your vehicle’s carcass into another racer, you will actually gain boost when you’re returned to the racecourse.
Most players who’ve ever gotten behind the wheel of a car know exactly how speed feels when you’ve literally put the pedal to the metal. Incredibly, Burnout 3 manages to impart that sense of speed throughout the motion blurs and the flying scenery in the background, which is incredibly detailed. In fact, you may not even pay too much attention to the surrounding environments until you wind up smashing your car (or an opponent’s) and watch the racing landscape slam into bright focus as cars disintegrate and fly apart. One of the things that Criterion managed to capture from the first title was the obscure yet innate fascination all humans have with viewing car accidents. For this third one, they’re completely raised the bar. It’s simply amazing to watch these cars explode into their requisite parts: fenders fly off, doors swinging akimbo and pieces of the car body hurled into the air on violent impacts.
What’s even more impressive are the trails of sparks that shimmer and burst off cars as they grind along rails, other cars or the ground. If you’ve ever seen sparks fly in real life, you’d be hard pressed to not think that they were imported directly into the game. This and other physical effects are easily highlighted by the crash events, which are quite possibly the most dynamic demonstrations of physics and particles ever seen in a game. To hell with the XNA demos from earlier this year – Burnout 3 lets you pull those smash ups anytime you want, which is incredibly cathartic. There are almost seventy cars that you’ll wind up receiving over the course of the entire game. They’re pretty obviously modeled after realistic cars since there are no licensed vehicles in the game, but they also have given up some degree of detail to ensure that the sense of speed and the blazing frame rate remains consistent. It would’ve been great to see a licensed car here or there (though I can only imagine the wincing a manufacturer would’ve demonstrated during crash mode). Perhaps the most disappointing issue that you’ll find within Burnout is the inability to manipulate the camera during impact time. Granted, you get what is probably the best angle on the crash itself that shows off the damage to each car. However, when you need to figure out where the best placement of aftertouch might be to impact other vehicles, you can’t move the camera. This can turn part of aftertouch into light guesswork based on memory. It’s not a massive problem, but it can affect play at times.
The audio within the game is as good as the visuals. You’ll often hear your tires screech as they rip and bite around corners for traction. The growls of the engines as they accelerate through the gears are pretty impressive as well. I did expect more from the sounds of cars being hit or ground into rails or other objects, but what’s there isn’t too bad. You’re probably going to spend more time paying attention to the visuals. The soundtrack that’s included within Burnout is pretty solid for EA Trax, featuring the likes of the Von Bondies and the Ramones. It’s the typical Alt-Rock infusion for adrenaline titles, and while Xbox owners can create custom soundtracks for their game, PS2 owners may wind up hitting mute if they don’t like the songs. In fact, owners on both systems may opt to do so anyway to merely get rid of Stryker, the DJ on Crash Radio who introduces every race. If there was a detraction to the sound, it might be his delivery, which feels a little forced and is very repetitive. I don’t think they really gave Stryker a large enough script to be original and not grate on the nerves, which is somewhat unfortunate since he’s a decent DJ on KROQ where he usually plays music in L.A.
There are plenty of things that I haven’t touched upon in this review, such as the great system of unlocking new courses and vehicles. Every score, every point, every medal and every crash dollar you earn within the game goes towards unlocking new cars or courses, and it’s relatively easy to figure out what you need to acquire a new toy to race and crash. One slight hiccup that you may find within the game is the limited amount of customization once you’ve acquired a car. You basically get the choice of three separate paint schemes…that’s about it. No decals, not paint jobs, nothing else to make the car uniquely your own. This can sometimes be repetitive when it comes to multiplayer, where you’ll probably see the same color car from race to race. Offline games support split screen for players, and while you’ll have to unlock courses or crash junctions, you get access to most events, including Race, Crash and Road Rage modes. Online, however, you’ll find yourself sacrificing aftertouch, although both platforms support voice chat and quick match features to launch yourself and up to five other drivers into head to head or team based competition. The surprising thing about online is that it feels almost as seamless as playing offline, although Xbox owners may discover the same network problems that plagued NCAA and Madden hitting Burnout during peak network hours.
Regardless of the system or slight differences (soundtracks and online specifically), PS2 and Xbox owners both have outstanding racing awaiting them in Burnout 3: Takedown. The pictures accompanying this article just doesn’t do the game’s motion justice, and the sheer amount of racing options, tight controls, and satisfaction of crashes easily vaults this title into one of the best games of the year. If you own any of these consoles, go out, buy this game and get your crash on.