Get Your Drive On: Burnout 3: Takedown: Is that an axle in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?
The least "fully-customizable illegal street racing game" and the most "sheer insane arcade goodness" of the bunch, Burnout 3 takes the awesome originality of the first game of the series, the great concepts of the second and throws them all into the most polished and exhilarating package yet.
Burnout 2 was all about the wrecks ? the racing was well done, to be sure, but it wasn't amazing enough to compete with the incredible eye candy to be found in the destructive crash mode. Sure, there weren't too many sparks or explosions, logs didn't come off of trailers, trailers didn't separate from their semi truck counterparts and nothing REALLY blew up. But that's a little bit much to ask for, don't you think? Criterion Games didn't think so this time around.
Burnout 2 had the kind of crashes you really needed to see to understand, as trying to describe them is like trying to describe the wonders of a Churro to a chimp. Having said that and looking back now, it becomes apparent that the statement seems rather inadequate to relate just how astounding the latest ones are ? complete with rotating cameras, slow motion, colossal explosions and pure and utter chaos everywhere you look, you REALLY have to see Burnout 3 in action to appreciate the utter genius of it. The attention to detail is astounding and believe me, many hours are going to be spent destroying your car of choice over and over and over.
Adding to the strategy of a proper crash (and believe me, there certainly is a lot of strategy required) is the "Aftermath" mode ? once you've nailed your target, you'll have limited control over where you vehicle is headed (call it the drivers weight being thrown around if you're looking to rationalize it) meaning if you didn't hit that semi quite right you can adjust your course enough to make sure you smash into those propane tanks across the way on your journey back down from the heavens above. Sweet.
Having said that, the folks over at Criterion Games decided that crashes weren't enough ? granted, they're amazingly fun, but no one's trying to invent a new genre; Burnout was always intended as a racing game. And now, more than ever, a racing game is what Burnout 3 is.
With an uncanny sense of speed (look out Underground) and of course the trade mark encouragement of suicidal driving (near misses, speeding through oncoming traffic, that sort of thing) is truly going to take Burnout 3 to the next level and beyond. Set up as a goal-based game of sorts, you'll have to complete a certain set of criteria to advance throughout the game, unlocking new tracks, cars and continents (you race throughout Europe, the Far East and of course the USA). By earning points (through dangerous driving), finishing first and completing other specific conditions you'll progress through the 173 events, receiving special challenges along the way, as well as almost 70 cars and as many tracks.
The interface is an intuitive GPS-type system, pointing out troublesome traffic areas, naturally the kind of spots that entice you to engage in some not-so-safe driving. With race types varying almost every round (so you never play too many of the same type of race in a row) you'll not soon get tired of the aggressive design approach. Interestingly enough, each race will only allow a certain class (of which there are five) of car entry, meaning you can't roar through the game gunning for bronzes and come back later on with a sweeter ride to grab your gold ? Burnout 3's all about skill, hard work and fast reflexes, and it's going to take nothing short of those three (and a bit of luck) to truly ace the experience. Furthermore, you won't be able to win races by driving safe as you need burnout to win, meaning you'll have to smash your enemies and drive on the edge.
Adding to the challenge of winning your races is the revenge meter: enemies will keep track of who wrecks them and how often and then aggressively attack accordingly. This is all part of Criterion's effort to make the AI as realistic as possible (given the racing situation), and to help prepare players for what the online experience will likely be like. The revenge meter only lasts for the duration of the current race, but should an enemy nail you with a full meter he (or she)'s gonna grab revenge points, giving them a boost, and nobody wants that, meaning you'll have to wreck, but wreck strategically to win your races.
For the short tempered driver in all of us, Burnout 3 offers a Road Rage mode, the goal in which is to take out all of the other races while avoiding certain (visually stunning) destruction. There was nothing like whipping down the wrong side of a freeway at 100+ MPH in Burnout 2 and bumping your opponents into oncoming traffic, and Burnout 3 is going to take it a step further by combining the even more incredible crashes, intense speed and gorgeous replays with poles, walls, railings, other vehicles and of course, your opponents. The other racers, however, are going to be more aggressive than ever before, so you'll have to count on fast reflexes, a mostly cool head, and some poor civilian vehicles to get in their way. The most encouraging part of course is that it's your goal to wreck the other racers, not just to win the race, and this should make for an excessively fun and addicting multiplayer mode to boot.
The added wrench in the equation is that you only get one car ? you're not going to magically re-appear with brand new wheels once your ride's done, and of course you can't continually smash other vehicles without damaging your own, so it may not be as easy as you might think. Anticipating that this wouldn't make for the best multiplayer, Criterion elected a team approach for the online version ? one team's goal is to destroy, the other's is to survive. Not what I would have done, but then again I just play the games, they make them.
Seeking online support, Criterion elected a different publisher this time around, and EA has given them that ability. Luckily for us, we're getting the real goods this time around too ? every race mode the game has to offer will also be available online for some six-player action. Best of all are perhaps the co-op/competitive crash modes ? you can either work with a pal to create the most havoc physically possible or try to outdo your foes for the title of most property damage.
On-Target: Possibly the best arcade racing game to ever be released on the Xbox; Amazing sense of speed; Great graphics; Intuitive career mode.
Hit or Miss: It may be hazardous to your health - putting down your controller will be exceptionally difficult. Modifications of the Road Rage mode for multiplayer may not as big of a hit as intended? and worst of all, you CAN'T SAVE REPLAYS!!! WHAT MADNESS IS THIS???
Dead Center: Have you SEEN these crashes???
Interlude: Next on the list is one of my most anticipated racers of the past year, Need For Speed Underground 2. It's got a lot a to live up to, a lot to beat, but with online support and a whole raft of new features, it may just be the game that demands the most praise of the bunch.