As driving games continue to flood the market, the genre seems to be splintering apart further and further. It used to be easy. Driving games were either attempting to simulate actual driving, or they were eschewing realism in favor of a more accessible, more instantly gratifying game. But now there are even more subsets to choose from. You've got the hardcore simulations that attempt to model cars and driving as accurately as possible. There are the open-road, "choose your own route"-style of racing games, which usually give you an entire city to race in. And, more recently, there are games that focus on the import tuning scene. With all these vastly different styles of driving games to choose from, it might be hard to figure out which type is the right one for you. With the release of Burnout 3: Takedown, developer Criterion Games makes the choice surprisingly easy. Put it this way: Even if driving games aren't normally your thing, Burnout 3 is still right for you. It's that good. It ranks among the best racing games ever made.
Still pictures can't do Burnout 3 justice.
The original Burnout, released back in 2001, was a great arcade-style racing game. It delivered a sense of speed that most games lacked, and it also showcased some pretty spectacular crashes. In fact, the crashes were so cool that they were spun off into their own mode of play in Burnout 2. The crash mode in Burnout 2 was totally separate from the main racing game, but the puzzle-like challenge of wrecking your car in the right spot and at the right time caused the most spectacular, most damaging multicar pileups, which represented an amazing addition to the game. Burnout 3 expertly combines the two main elements of the series while also adding some great, new gameplay modes, a career mode that ties all of these different modes together, good split-screen support, and online play that supports up to six players on the same racetrack. These changes and added features drastically improve a series that was already very impressive.
Burnout 3, like the previous games in the series, is mainly a racing game that rewards you for living dangerously. The game features simple, extremely responsive controls, so you can accelerate, steer, brake (around corners), and boost for a burst of speed. The courses in the game are open-road tracks on winding freeways and city streets, and, naturally, the streets are populated with a good amount of traffic. Driving dangerously comes in the form of driving in the wrong lane, getting close to (but not hitting) other cars, catching air, drifting around turns, and so on. When you pull such risky maneuvers, you're rewarded with boost. But the quickest way to fill your boost meter in a regular race is to make your opponents crash. Takedowns, as you might imagine from the game's subtitle, are a major part of Burnout 3. When you knock another car out, not only is your boost meter filled, but also it's extended up to a maximum of four times its original size. The downside is that you'll expose yourself to some pretty dangerous situations to earn all this boost, and crashing will eliminate much of your boost, chop off one of your bonus meter segments if you have any, and, more than likely, cause you to fall back one or two spots in a race. For an easy-to-play racing game, Burnout 3 actually gives you a lot to consider.
The other big gameplay mechanic in Burnout 3 makes the crashes much more exciting and interactive. When you crash, you can drop the game into a slow-motion mode called impact time, which makes for a very interesting and even innovative dynamic where the pacing of the game can drastically shift for a few moments if you crash. While this slow-motion look at cars getting mangled is beautiful in and of itself, you can actually make light adjustments to your car's trajectory using the left analog stick or d-pad, which is something the game calls "aftertouch." By applying aftertouch when you crash, not only can you stack your car into trucks, tankers, and other cars--just for the heck of it--but also you can attempt to knock into your opponents during a race. If you're successful, you'll earn an aftertouch takedown, which refills your boost meter and prevents you from losing any bonus meter segments. Basically, it functions as a recovery move. The fact that Burnout 3 makes crashing--which is usually the most undesirable part of competition in a racing game--a completely enjoyable part of the game is remarkable. Burnout 3's crash mode has also been completely redesigned to take advantage of aftertouch, so you'll have to do more than just wreck into the right spot this time around. Instead you'll need to maneuver your vehicle's carcass around for best results. It's a strange and surprisingly well-thought-out addition to the game.
There are several different types of events in Burnout 3 that build on the basic concepts of driving dangerously and making the most of your wrecks. Many of them can be played on their own or in an offline or online multiplayer setting, but a few of them only really come up during the game's world tour mode. The most standard mode of them all is the single race. A single race puts you and five opponents on the track, and, as the name suggests, you race. Some tracks feature multiple laps, while others are long enough to be one-lap affairs. The game has a good variety of environments, and multiple tracks are set up in each one by using the old Ridge Racer-style system of opening up certain paths while closing others to make the most of each section of road. The career mode occasionally strings three races together into a grand prix event, where you'll earn points at the end of each race based on your finishing position. There's definitely a good amount of variety here.
Burnout 3 delivers a sense of speed that other driving games can't even touch.
Crash mode returns to Burnout 3 with the same goal as in Burnout 2--to create the largest, most expensive pileup possible. The crash junctions still have a puzzle-like quality to them in that you'll have to figure out the most efficient crash spot in each level. However, with the addition of aftertouch and a series of on-track power-ups, the mode feels totally different from how it did in Burnout 2. Controlling your crash brings a lot of depth to the mode. Some power-ups are merely cash bonuses, whereas others are score multipliers, which are very important. Also, you won't have infinite boost right out of the gate here. You'll have to pick up a boost icon, at which point you'll boost whether you like it or not.
Crash mode also benefits from a new function called the "crashbreaker." This basically lets you make your car spectacularly explode on command. However, you can only trigger it after a certain number of cars have become involved in the wreck. There are also instant crashbreaker power-ups on the track that, as you might expect, cause an instant crashbreaker, effectively letting you blow up twice in the same level. This makes the basic progression much deeper than simply wrecking you car and watching the fun unfold. Now, a common crash junction has you getting the boost icon, maneuvering to wreck into something big, then aftertouching over to a score multiplier or other bonus. Once you reach the crashbreaker threshold, pop that sucker, and use your second wind to aftertouch over to both some cars you may have missed and another power-up. And if you're really looking to break stuff, there's an instant crashbreaker power-up. The junctions get pretty elaborate, and you really have to think on your feet to cause the biggest wrecks. The results tend to be immensely satisfying in ways that are unique to Burnout 3 in particular, since its crash mode is so bizarre and yet so good.
There are also a few different multiplayer crash options to choose from. You can play two-player games online or offline, and you can either cooperate to cause an even bigger crash, or you can work against each other to see who can cause the biggest pileup. The party crash mode--which is the game's only online mode that goes all the way up to eight players--is a simple score competition where each player crashes in the same junction, and then scores are compared. At the end of each round, the most damaging crash is replayed for all to see. This is an interesting mode, online, but since you aren't exactly interacting with the other players beyond voice chatting during your wrecks, it's not the most impressive mode the game has to offer.
The game's six-player online support works very well.
The other modes in the game are standard variants on the basic format. You'll face off against one other car in a race that, if won, unlocks the opposing vehicle for your own use. The burning lap is a solo race against the clock that gives you the maximum boost meter length and essentially challenges you to boost your way around the entire track to meet or beat some pretty challenging lap times. Road rage gives you a time limit and a never-ending stream of opponent cars. The gold medal is won by achieving a specific number of takedowns before time--or before your banged-up car--expires. Online, you can play road rage in teams, where the blue team tries to escape while the red team, often with infinite boost, tries to catch up to take the drivers out before a certain number of miles have been logged. Eliminator races are five lap races that disqualify the last-place car at the end of every lap, making the final lap a one-on-one showdown.
Tying all of the single-player modes together is the world tour mode, which is essentially a large map full of different events. This career-type mode is good at letting you do what you want to do, since you'll usually have a great deal of races available at any given time. Single races eventually lead to grand prix events, burning laps, road rage, crash junctions, eliminator races, face-offs, and so on. The goal in each event is to earn a medal. You can earn bronze medals and still progress through the game, but to unlock the most cars and events, you'll want to take the time to go for the gold. The world tour mode is very good at throwing a lot of unlockable content at you right off the bat, though as you progress, the new cars start to dry up a bit.
The world tour mode is fantastic at ramping up the difficulty at a manageable pace. The first set of cars you get--the compact series--already feels like its cars go incredibly fast. But at this speed, beginners will still feel like they have just enough time to react to little things like, say, an oncoming semi truck. Then you'll move up to the muscle series, which is a little faster and looser but is still manageable--once you get used to the upgrade. These performance boosts keep coming until you hit the super series, which is faster still--and is significantly harder than the early portions of the game. But since you've been working your way up through the ranks little by little, the difficulty never feels too hard.
Your computer-controlled opponents add to the mayhem quite well. Usually, at the start of a race, they'll drive in a fairly passive manner. But they don't take kindly to aggressive drivers such as you. If you knock one of them around, the icon above his or her car will change color, eventually becoming a deep red, at which point the driver will be out for blood--yours. Angered artificial intelligence will knock you around, attempt to force you into walls or oncoming traffic, and generally make your life more difficult (just as a human player would). But it's also to your advantage to fight with your foes, because the boost bonuses are significant. Additionally, the races are kept challenging by AI that is designed to keep races close. While most games use this "rubber band" effect in a noticeably negative way, here it works very well. In fact, Burnout 3 wouldn't be as intense if you could sustain a comfortable lead. You'll occasionally pull ahead of the pack and get into a situation where you can crash once or twice without losing the lead, but for the most part, you need to stay on your toes and race well to win. This works in reverse too, so it's possible for you to come back from worst to first, provided you're driving in a risky enough fashion to earn sufficient boost to catch up to the pack.