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Burnout 3: Takedown

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It’s 4 in the morning; outside in The Real World a car alarm is ringing (has been since the last race) and two dogs are arguing about who is going to bark at the monotonous beeping from the unseen vehicle the loudest. The timer clicks onto a big white “3” and Gamestyle is suddenly torn from the noise outside the window to the noise inside its souped-up custom coupe. A squeeze of the trigger brings the engine to life and a thunderous roar (louder than any dog) comes from the centre speaker. “2”. A quick pan outside the red and white avatar shows some opponents who, were this any more real, would be looking right back this way. But they’re not. “1”. The rev needle hovers midway around the clock aiming for a quick start, and the exhaust spits out unused fuel. Back to inside view and Gamestyle eyes the road ahead, already calculating the precise moment to knock the black vehicle to its right into the railing on the first bend. And all too sudden, we’re off.

Tyres squeal, torque literally throws the cars forward like an on-wheels F-Zero GX and the pack of six race off. Gamestyle veers into the oncoming traffic lane and grabs a quick near-miss combo before heading back towards the barrier it spotted before to attempt its first Takedown, the delicate yet massively rewarding process of totalling an opponent car by intention. Then there’s a shunt from behind, and as the analog stick flicks back and forth trying to correct the skid, another shunt – the black target car is ahead (and if this were any more real…) so it’s not him. In the next frame, we’re hurtling towards the railings on two wheels, and then the camera pans back and it has all gone bullet-time (or what Burnout 3 calls Impact Time) as Gamestyle’s coupe is smashed to pieces by another car entirely…

We’re back on the track, but it’s all too late as Gamestyle is now in sixth place, such is the pure unpredictability of Criterion’s latest. Whatever the long term effects of EA buying up Criterion (and thus, Renderware, which powers this game too) there’s certainly been enough time and effort invested to allow the developers to really go to town on fulfilling the dreams of racer fans – Burnout 3 is everything you wished for and so, so much more. It’s not this good at first, however – the initial half hour will see you rubber-banding around corners, crashing into cars you’ve not seen and having no idea what’s going on post-crash. In fact, there’s a little of this introduction each and every time the game is started but it’s only because Takedown is so utterly different from other games of it’s genre that it really does take some getting used to. Once you’ve unlocked a couple of cars and mastered the drift (don’t let go of the gas, just tap brake for a frame and lock the wheel left or right) and gathered your spatial awareness (those used to bumper cameras might have to resort to third person now and again to check your surroundings) Burnout 3 really does take hold and won’t let go until the sequel.

The sense of speed is inevitably quite thrilling, in part helped by the 60 frames per second update (and 60hz modes on PAL versions) but also due to the fish-eyed camera and the generous use of motion blurring, especially with the inside-car viewpoint. Cleverly, though, the progression from the slowest cars to the quickest is quite gradual, and so avoids what Gamestyle calls the Quantum Redshift-condition where the speeds are just too high too early on in the game. Although the World Tour mode allows tasters of high speed action throughout the career progress (via Super Series Invites scattered throughout the arc) most of the new vehicle rewards are just a little faster each time around. Racing these cars is a joy in itself – the tracks are expertly designed to give a subtle balance between all out speed, clever drift driving and the game’s touted risk/reward structure.

Familiar to Burnout veterans, the boost meter is filled more quickly the more dangerous you drive – oncoming traffic and near misses are a given, but scratching paintwork against rival cars and giving them a shunt up the exhaust are new to the series. Crucially, the eponymous Takedown – cause an opponent car to crash – not only instantly fills up your boost meter but also extends its length until your Takedown is ‘avenged’ when the computer takes it’s eventual revenge on you and returns the favour! It’s touches like this that take Burnout onto another level and moves the genre away from the convoy style ‘racing’ of Gran Turismo into the apparently intelligent AI seen here for the first time. Even when you’re not involved rival cars up ahead are just as likely to smash into each other causing huge pileups as they are when you’re at the centre of the action.

Crashes into stationary objects are less frequent and more forgiving this time around, meaning that for the most part the action only halts (the camera cuts away to focus on the Takedown for about 5 seconds, although that can be extended by entering Impact Time with the A button to try and cause even more damage with the new Aftertouch) when you hit another car. Traffic is still as common as in previous games but the player is most likely to hit oncoming vehicles or those passing the occasional crossroad junctions and not those travelling in the same direction, thankfully.

Speaking of crashes, Takedown’s new Crash Junctions (there are a hundred) take the game forward again – the inclusion of ramps, multipliers and cash tokens might make the mode more of a memory test than pure guesswork but that’s entirely the point. Getting Gold medals is much easier this time around but the challenge to continually better your own scores and those of your friends is timeless, providing a limitless lifespan. Along with the aforementioned Aftertouch (so you can control your burning wreck for just a second or two more) there’s another new feature – the Crashbreaker. Each crash junction has a pre-set number of impacts before the Crashbreaker is unlocked, but once you’ve caused enough damage a tap of the B button turns your lump of smouldering metal into a exploding bomb which timed perfectly can cause yet another set of devastating pile-ups throwing your score combos skyward. There’s even a multiplayer mode called Team Crush where you and a teammate work together offering a totally new dynamic to the gameplay.

Multiplayer features heavily throughout Burnout 3. Whilst race (and crash) modes force the game to 30 fps (jarring when compared to the single player) in split screen, this isn’t the case on Live where the game flows freely with numerous players, and that also includes traffic too; takedowns take on a whole new dimension when you can hear your opponents screaming back at you! Presentation wise it’s a little bit of a mixed bag – the graphics aren’t actually as impressive at those in Burnout 2 – there’s a lot of aliasing and the textures aren’t up to the normal Xbox standards: Gamestyle assumes they were ported directly from the PS2 version which would have had to keep things simple to maintain the frame rate. The announcer (on Radio Crash, natch) isn’t on par with SSX 3’s chirpy and relevant DJ (but can be switched off) and the music is mostly rock and punk which works well with the racing but won’t suit all tastes quite as well as EA likes to think.

But the rest is all good: we’ve not even mentioned the almost deathmatch-like Road Rage mode, which Gamestyle has marked on it’s notes (in red) with “Road Rage is brilliant” (and it’s ringed, too) or the signature Takedowns which remind us of the gaps in Tony Hawk Pro Skater or the compulsive collection aspect behind the continuous reward structure – cars, tracks and bonuses flow freely from the bottomless pit of treats. There really is nothing at all to fault with Burnout 3 that would seriously deter us from suggesting you rush out and grab a copy immediately. Now if you’ll excuse us, that was Gamestyle’s car outside, and we can put it off no longer, we’ll have to leave our seats – the dogs will be waking the neighbours…

Racing games have now changed forever, and entirely for the better – for that there can be no higher recommendation. It’s that good.