For the record, I love Burnout 2: Point of Impact. In one session, Miscellenous G™ and I played for twelve hours straight this past spring. It was absolutely ridiculous. We spent hours and hours passing the controller back and forth, trying to complete the 30+ crash zones. We spent more hours unlocking races and vehicles or in furious competition with each other. The marathon session started at 0200 and concluded at 1400 hours (that’s right, we didn’t begin playing until 2am). There were times when I was falling asleep on the couch with the controller in my hands, but still we played on.
The unmatched sense of speed, the playful physics, the promise of unlocking better, faster vehicles, and – most of all – the wanton destruction puts Burnout 2 at the top of my list of racing games. To me, there was little room for improvement.
Then I rented Burnout 3: Takedown from Blockbuster. I’d played the game before, at the House of Baab, but we hadn’t even scratched the surface. We played the Party Crash mode, where one controller is passed around the room as each player attempts to create the mother of all traffic accidents in a busy city intersection. It was a lot of fun, and I could see the differences between this installment and its predecessor, but it wasn’t until I sat down in my own home and started playing from the beginning that the game really began to shine.
Everything that I like about Burnout 2 has been amplified in the sequel. The sensation of speed is now completely insane. When I kick in my boost, it feels like I’m controlling a barely-contained lightning bolt. The physics still give a wink and a nod to realism, but each car does handle differently. I can almost feel the difference in weight between the compact and the muscle car, in everything from acceleration to cornering to how each impacts other vehicles in a crash. Thus far, I’ve only played with these two types of cars, but there is a veritable automotive feast as yet undiscovered; everything from classic hot rods to Formula racers to fire engines and garbage trucks.
Throughout the single player game, barely a race goes by where something is not unlocked: a new event, a new course, a new vehicle. It’s not necessary to win a race to unlock something, either. There are dozens of different goals that open new content. Takedown goals, signature takedowns, crash totals, burnout totals, and more. The “score” in this game is measure in so many different ways that it seems I’m always hitting some milestone or another.
The big message in Burnout 3 is “risk = reward.” The more aggressively you drive, the more chances you take, the more stuff you unlock. Burnout points are gained by driving into oncoming traffic, almost hitting another car, smashing into your opponents, tailgating them, getting “air”, drifting around corners, and most of all, by forcing your opponents to crash.
When you manage this last feat (and it’s not terribly difficult to do), the game shifts into Impact Time. Everything slows down to show you the out-of-control heap of steel, fiberglass and rubber that is your opponent’s car smashing into a wall, plowing into another car, or flying off the road. You get big points and the all-important boost bar (more on that in a bit) gets bigger. If you manage to arrange a Signature Takedown (such as Pillar Driller, where your oppenent is forced to crash into a support pillar, or Gone Fishin’, where your opponent sails off the road and into a lake) the points are even bigger. Risk = reward.
But that’s not all. You can even take out opponents when you crash. Holding down the A button after you wreck triggers Impact Time and allows you to apply “Aftertouch,” affecting the direction in which your burning wreck moves. Steer it into one of your opponents and you’ll cause him to wreck too, getting points for an Aftertouch Takedown, and your boost multiplier continues to grow.
Boost is like nitro. When you do crazy stuff, your boost bar starts to fill (with flames, no less). Take out your opponents and it grows, allowing you to boost for a long, long time. Hold down the boost button anytime there’s even the slightest bit of fire in your boost bar and your car jumps forward like a rocket. Boosting anytime is a big change from Burnout 2, in which you could only boost when the bar was full. When the boost button is down, the sensation of speed is mind-boggling. Blue fire shoots out of your vehicle’s exhaust and every fiber of your being is concentrating on the road and what obstacle might be coming up next. The sound of bullets whizzing past your ears is actually the engines of other cars you overtake. One false move and you’re eating concrete.
Boost, as I said, is all-important. It seems impossible to win some events without the boost. Burning Lap events pit you against the clock. Medals are awarded at three different lap times. Even applying liberal doses of boost, I’ve found it extremely difficult to score better than a bronze on some courses. Burning Lap events must be run without error. A single wrong move and any hope of getting the gold is shattered as your car sails over a guardrail.
Other event types include Crash, Elimination and Road Rage. The first has already been discussed: drive your car into a busy intersection and cause havoc. Elimination is a five lap race with six contestants. After each lap, the trailing car is eliminated. Road Rage is just what you might expect: take down as many of your opponents as you possibly can. Each game mode (and there are others) is a different flavor of fun, but they all stick to the same “risk = reward” formula.
I’ve completed less than 10% of this game and I’ve only ventured outside the United States once (there are two other zones: Far East and Europe). I’ve unlocked two vehicle classes and a dozen or more vehicles. I have executed Signature Takedowns, Aftertouch Takedowns and basic Takedowns. I have crowed triumphantly as the only opponent between me and the finish line is forced into the back of a bus. I have marvelled at my luck after narrowly escaping certain doom. I have sworn at my opponents when they nudge me into a median and sparks fly as my car is reduced to a flaming scrapheap. I have sworn in frustration as I crossed the finish line seconds to slow to gain the silver and eons too slow to capture the coveted gold.
And I have enjoyed every last second of it.
The gameplay is simply incredible. No matter how many times I have to repeat a race or a crash zone to try to push my score into gold medal territory, the adrenaline still pumps with every drift, slam, crash and burn. The replay value is immense. Everything I loved about Burnout 2—everything that kept me coming back for more—is back and better in Burnout 3.
If I have one complaint, it is with the Crash Nav, which is to say the course/event selection menu. It seems rather clunky to me. Instead of lining up each course, the menu shows you a map with icons representing different tracks and events. Navigate to a track and you are presented with a list of events at that location. It makes quickly selecting a specific event something of a pain. Still, the gameplay is more than worth a few extra seconds spent navigating through the menu.