Adrenaline Rush

 
By  |  October 24, 2005

 Burnout 3: Takedown
Published by Electronic Arts. Developed by Criterion Games. For PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Now this is what I'm talking about. In my review of NASCAR 2005, a game that offered all the excitement of old folks taking their morning stroll around the mall, I said there were other options available for those of us who demand more from a racing game. Although I didn't realize it at the time, the title I was talking about was the stellar Burnout 3: Takedown.

Burnout 3 springs from a simple assumption: driving is fun, but crashing is more fun. From this premise, Criterion Games has devised a staggering number of gameplay modes all centered around the idea that vehicular carnage is the only path to victory in this crazy world.

At the game's outset, a narrator informs you that "risk equals reward." In other words, the more lunatic your driving, the more points you earn. This means making a conscious effort to tailgate, drive into oncoming traffic, get air, and power-slide around turns. Even more importantly, risky driving fills up your boost meter, which you can then use to propel your car to insane speeds.

The sense of speed Burnout 3 offers is unparalleled. Hitting the boost initiates a vertiginous fisheye effect, which was likely ripped off directly from The Fast and the Furious. Buildings and traffic streak past so quickly, it's a small miracle that gauging spatial relationships in the game world is such a breeze. Almost every turn, no matter how obtuse, is signaled from afar by blazing neon signs, and oncoming traffic is similarly visible thanks to daytime running lights. It's a triumph of Burnout 3's game design that no matter how fast you're driving, you're never unfairly surprised by what comes next – and if you crash, you know it's no one's fault but your own.

Even when you do crash – and, believe me, you will crash Criterion Games has done something I've never seen any other developer do with a racing game: they've made collisions an integral part of the gaming experience. Upon crashing, you have the option to enter "crash time," in which you view your car in slow motion and can actually steer the direction of the burning wreckage. The idea is to maneuver your flaming heap into the path of other racers, thereby forcing them to wreck. It's called an "aftertouch takedown."

Ah, the takedown. That's the game's term for busting up another car, and it is truly the linchpin of the experience. Taking down another racer fills your boost meter to the limit, and also treats you to a cool Matrix-style shot of the poor sap's ride spinning through the air, bouncing off building facades and, if you're lucky, sailing over a guardrail into a canyon. You may not be able to help yourself from blurting out, "Boo-ya!" after a particularly nifty takedown.

I mentioned earlier the sheer variety of game types. For example, you can simply race five other cars through bustling city streets and hope to place first, but you're not likely to vanquish your competitors unless you're diligent about ramming them into walls, trees, and oncoming traffic. There are also "crash events," in which you have one chance to wreck your vehicle in the most catastrophic way possible (usually, jumps are involved). Your score is measured by the amount of damage you've done, in dollars. My favorite way to play was in the "road rage" events. These are timed circuits in which the goal is to take down as many cars as possible. You don't win, per se, but get a medal depending on how many takedowns you accomplish within the time limit.

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