Game Description: Racing gamers and adrenaline junkies are invited to get behind the wheel and experience unprecedented speed and action. Burnout 3: Takedown takes the action racing series even further than previous installments, now featuring a unique 'crash and burn' racing concept and a one-of-a-kind special effects engine that delivers spectacular visuals. The intensity heats up as players race, and often crash, their way through oncoming traffic in an attempt to claim the top spot.
Racing games, more so than any other genre, have the power to physiologically transform me. My hands sweat. My heart rate doubles. My body temperature rises. I can actually feel adrenaline bubbling like soda water in my veins. Indeed, a well-crafted racing game can make me feel, even as I sit idly in front of my TV set, wholly alive. And no racing game made me feel more alive this year than Burnout 3: Takedown did. It's as if EA took Acclaim's competent Burnout franchise and fed it a steady diet of meat, potatoes, and steroids for the past two years. The result: one of the fastest, most gratifyingly visceral racing games I've ever experienced.
The trademark of the Burnout series has always been the sci-fi conceit of earning what the game refers to as "boost" (i.e. some vague kind of nitro) by taking risks. Weaving through oncoming traffic, drifting around corners, or veering dangerously close to other cars will "fill up" my boost meter. The more risks I take, the more boost I get. Holding down the A button engages the boost. Suddenly, the asphalt blurs beneath me, I'm streaking past cars, and the sound of crackling flames comes out of my TV speakers. My vehicle, for as long as I've still got boost in the tank, becomes a veritable land rocket (which makes controlling my car infinitely more difficult). As a result, the core challenges of the game are deciding when to earn boost and deciding when to use it. Both are risky endeavors. The farther behind I am in a race, the more risks I have to take, which poses an elegant little videogame conundrum.
Aside from the big, brassy graphics and eclectic soundtrack—yes, this game has been fully EA-ified—the newest addition to the series—and it's a doozy—is the concept of the "takedown." A properly timed, properly angled collision with an opponent's vehicle will "take him down," i.e., cause him to crash into other cars, leap guardrails, or to even T-bone into medians. (Taking down opponents, by the way, is also the quickest way to earn boost.) I cannot stress enough how absolutely exhilarating it is to take down opponents. It's visceral, violent, and outrageously gratifying. The physics in the game are superb, and recognizing when opponents are vulnerable becomes almost instinctual. Rumbling along the tracks in search of potential takedown victims is akin to playing a Quake deathmatch while going 195 mph.
The fetishized car crashes—another trademark of the Burnout series—are now more more detailed and stylized than ever. Never before have I seen crashes so lovingly articulated in a videogame. Every wobbling tire, every fractured front end, every pinwheeling bumper, every eye-searing spark—these are truly crashes of epic proportions. Crashing in Burnout has traditionally been a passive experience; whenever I crashed in previous installments in the series, I had no choice but to impatiently wait for the four-second crash animation to run its course. Burnout 3: Takedown remedies this flaw. Immediately after a crash, I can now hold down the A button which switches me into what the game calls "crash time." (Yes, this is yet another cliched Matrix-like slowing of time, but in this instance it's actually put to good use.) During crash time, I can actually steer my burning wreck—again, reality be damned—into my opponents as they attempt to circumvent me. Doing so causes them to crash, and thus prevents them from taking the lead in the race. As a result, even during the game's most chaotic moments, EA has brilliantly concocted a way to allow me the ability to participate in the chaos.
Unfortunately, Burnout 3: Takedown doesn't do everything right: the game's disaffected DJ aggravates (my advice: switch him off as soon as possible); the 170-plus single-player challenges feature far too many cause-as-much-damage-as-possible Crash Events for my taste; and the landscape of the game is still much too impersonal and sterile (making me long for the nuanced noir of Need For Speed: Underground). No matter. EA, by taking the series in a bigger and bolder direction, especially when considering the advent of "takedowns" and "crash time," has skillfully built upon what was a rock-solid foundation. As a result, Burnout 3: Takedown, whether it's making my heart pump or the hair stand up on the back of my neck, not only represents a dramatic step in the right direction for the series, but also for the racing game genre in general.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
Scenario 1: You've taken out the race leaders and now you're speeding down a lush seaside highway in first place, weaving in and out of the oncoming traffic, gaining boost from every car you pass (and so nearly clip) while the blaring radio fuels your speed addiction and helps widen the already broad smile on your face and moisten the maniacal glaze in your unblinking eyes. It's the full-on Burnout 3 experience: an exhilarating, gleeful gaming moment.
Scenario 2: After crashing into a bus that just drove through the trackside barrier as you skimmed along it, you're now desperately trying to catch up with the single car (faster than yours) that you've been pitted against in this Face-Off event. But he's nowhere to be seen in your speed-hampered field of vision, and an unhelpful on-screen message only increases your exasperation by informing you (at effectively random intervals) that you're now 11 seconds behind (but where's the on-screen timer?) as you try to boost off of the oncoming vehicles whose headlights you can't properly make out because the sun is glaring violently off of the tarmac ahead of you. Suddenly, you see a set of "sharp turn" arrows pointing left and powerslide in anticipation. But it's not really a sharp turn at all; the road just veers to the left slightly. How slightly it's impossible to tell until it's too late. Crash!
That's risk and reward gameplay for you I guess, and to be fair both scenarios conjure up some thrilling moments (of the kind praised in Scott's review), but Burnout 3 never loses its potential to frustrate in the blink of an eye. Literally, because this is one fast game. While I wouldn't want to say that it were too fast, it's worth noting that its breakthrough predecessor (Burnout 2: Point of Impact) managed to create an effective sensation of speed—and still does—without ever reaching the brain-numbing velocities capable in Burnout 3. Certainly, not since F-Zero GX has such a big-name game's appeal rested on such a thrilling/infuriating knife-edge.
Still, if nothing else the blistering speed is at least proof of Burnout 3's considerable technical achievement. The colors are vivid, the textures distinct, and the real-time reflections are way beyond what PS2 gamers are usually treated to. The fact that it all flies past at such a fantastic lick must really be quite humbling for the other racing game developers out there. And yet, as with all console racing games, these elements soon fade into insignificance while the most prominent aspect gets put under the microscope, namely the structure.
And unfortunately, Burnout 3's structure approaches sheer ineptitude. Players will spend their first few hours unlocking something for every single race they finish (accompanied by over-long and unskippable "You have unlocked …" screens), a process that becomes tiresome very quickly indeed. In fact, as the player slavishly plays catch-up to the ever-unfolding roster of new events, it's ironic that the most palpable sense of progress is achieved after winning a race in which no new features are unlocked (an all-too-rare respite).
Furthermore, the overly easy—and in my opinion hugely over-estimated—Crash Mode is too heavily weighted in the structure, offering some 100 of the total 173 medals, with each event lasting under a minute. And just when you think to condemn Burnout 3 as a game of cheap thrills for short attention spans, those enthusiasm-sapping load times and unskippable screens butt in to dispute even this. It's a game that could have been the ultimate stress-reliever, but it just comes with too many of its own frustrations attached.
I even found the multiplayer mode to be significantly underwhelming. The races lose much of their sensorial impact when stripped of the (predictable but appropriate) rock soundtrack and the excellent slow-motion 'Takedown Camera' cutaways. Meanwhile, Crash Party mode is hampered by the aforementioned loading screens (which last as long as the events themselves) and a reliance on power-ups to drastically increase a player's score. Online modes offer more promise, but even these have been beset by early technical problems.
So what saves it? Well, the fact that I've been hooked to the game enough for me to notice all of the above must count for something. After all, the biggest critics are typically the biggest fans too.
Don't get me wrong, Burnout 3 is a triumph, and it's doubtful that the next EA-backed instalment will advance the series as dramatically (and successfully) as this one. But this is a review of my personal experience of the game, one in which the quality of the gameplay was frequently overridden by those niggling little annoyances that all too often dictate how we remember a game in the long run.
Reading my two opening paragraphs again, it is clear that whilst the second scenario attempts to articulate the game's frustration factor and design imbalances, both descriptions are evidence that, through the good times and the bad, Burnout 3 has kept me nothing less than enthralled and addicted. Although I found it to be a lesser racing game than its predecessor (in which skilful driving was rewarded over aggressive driving), Criterion ought to be applauded for the bold design choices that have turned the third title into a wholly unique and brilliantly realised game on its own terms. It may not seem like the most flattering analogy, but Burnout 3 is much like the crunching high-speed crashes it depicts so ruthlessly: a little unsavoury at times, but utterly impossible to ignore.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Violence
The crashes are certainly violent, but remain cartoonish enough to make younger children realize that this is all fictional. Parents are mildly cautioned. The lightning-quick reflexes required during the later races might be enough to turn off more casual gamers.
Automobile aficionados hoping to drive a 360 Spider will be disappointed to learn that the game features no licensed vehicles whatsoever. A solid online component means that the game has plenty of life beyond its meaty 173-event single-player mode.
Fans of first-person shooters might find the game appealing.
Fans of arcade-style racing games will absolutely be in heaven, as this game represents the apex of all arcade racing games. Fans of the Need for Speed and Midnight Club series will be right in their glory.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing fans should be fine, although in the Eliminator races a helpful audio cue lets racers know when they are in last place (and in danger of being eliminated).