Burnout 3 Review
Criterion Games have scored big with the Burnout games so far - the excellent graphics and solid racing have been the games' meat and potatoes, and the spectacular crashes give it that extra boost of eye candy that really pulls players in. One might have wondered exactly how Criterion would be able to top Burnout 2, but a few minutes with Burnout 3 will convince you that this is exactly how you beat your own benchmark.
Gaming juggernaut EA is on hand this year to publish the game, as they recently acquired Criterion in its entirety. Some of EA's overbearing marketing seeps into this game, but so far it seems that the deal has done more good than bad for Burnout 3.
The controls in Burnout 3 are about as simple as they can get - the right trigger is your gas pedal, the left trigger is your brake, and the A button supplies the boost that you get through doing risky maneuvers. If you crash during the single player mode, you can also hold down the A button to go into "impact time", which basically works as slow motion. It's not just for the eye candy, though!
The real innovation in this game is the ability to actually direct your car in impact time if you do crash. This way, you can send your car flying into the path of an enemy, causing him to crash as well; this is called an "Aftertouch Takedown". It's great fun to do this, and it really sets this game apart from just about every other racing title out right now.
The handling of each car is somewhat different, although this is undoubtedly less of a sim and more of an arcade game. You'll be hard pressed to find the subtle nuances between the variations of each car; weight and speed are the only variables that are even listed as the differences between the vehicles.
Put simply, Burnout 3 is one of the most gorgeous racing games ever made. Criterion are the guys behind the Renderware engine which has powered countless console games (Grand Theft Auto included), but they've really outdone themselves this time. The textures are sharp, the special effects are beautiful, and the frame rate is tip top. The environments are very nicely detailed, as your car can go flying off of a cliff to crash into rocks below. Even down there, the graphics still look pretty damn good.
The first thing you might notice, though, is that the cars all look excellent. You'll see reflections of any object you pass under on your roof, and the sun will glisten off the pavement in probably the most convincing way I've seen in a racing game yet. Combine this with the dizzying sense of speed (thanks to a couple of NFS Underground-style effects), and this game becomes a sight to be seen - even if you're only watching someone else play.
Then, there are the crashes. Burnout 3 models crashes to a very high detail, and are exceeded only by a few select sim games seen on the PC. The difference here, though, is that these crashes are encouraged and happen often - cause someone to crash in a race, and you'll get a slow-motion view of their car flipping, flying, and squashing itself to half of its length on a pillar. This is one of those instances where graphics add to gameplay; sure, Criterion didn't have to put this amount of effort forth, and they'd surely have a great game without the excellent crashes, but it simply makes playing the game that much more satisfying.
Burnout 3 includes a few major gameplay modes that work nicely in both single- and multiplayer action. There's the standard race (which, of course, still has plenty of crashing), a duel mode where you try to make as many opponents crash as you can, and then there's the dedicated Crash mode. Then there are the variants on each mode that you can play with, as well.
Some races will have you going one-on-one, and others do a knockout style of play. You'll be doing this across three continents (North America, Europe, and East Asia), each of which have a whole set of "tracks" for you to race on. Of course, these aren't exactly the traditional track, as you'll be racing on crowded highways and other streets with some innocent traffic in your way. This creates plenty of danger for you and your opponents, as you can easily be sent directly in the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Risky moves are rewarded with some extra boost which can send you literally rocketing down the road at silly speeds. Driving into oncoming traffic, nearly missing cars, and sending other racers hurtling to their deaths will all add to your boost - and you'll need the stuff to win after getting a few hours into the game. If you can redeem a crash by doing an Aftertouch Takedown, you'll wind up actually better off when it comes to your boost bar. On top of this, Burnout 3 makes sure that one crash won't completely ruin your chances at winning, so it's ok to keep going even if you do make a mistake.
And then we have what was my favorite mode from Burnout 2, Crash mode. The object is simple: start off a short ways before a busy intersection, and smash into it to cause the most amount of damage possible. It sounds simple, but there are all kinds of tactics to use on each course. There are several ways to do Crash mode in Burnout 3, and Criterion has also taken it into the main "World Tour" so that you can mix up your racing and crashing however you like. It plays out almost like a puzzle game, as the various bonus icons will need to be hit in order for you to do enough damage and get the gold medals. Add to this the ability to direct your car in mid-air or even after an explosion, and you can kick on a bit of extra damage or nudge over to pick up a bonus icon as well.
The AI opponents are fairly well done in this game, as they will become more aggressive if you continue to smash into them during a race. They do seem to lag back if they're way ahead of you, though, and if you get a substantial lead, they'll suddenly be only a second behind you as well. I've heard this referred to as a Rubber Band effect, and, well, I've never liked it. Even in Burnout 3 I'd rather not have this happen, but the rest of the game is so much fun that I simply can't complain about it for too long.
The game includes a ton of unlockable vehicles, all of which can be acquired by simply playing the game more and more. Accumulate the right amount of cash in Crash mode, and the game will unlock the next car. Get enough Burnout points or career Takedowns, and you'll get something completely different. This way, you can play whatever races or events you want and still work towards unlocking vehicles. The only thing I don't like is that I can't go into the single player mode and pick any vehicle I want - I'm still stuck in the specific type of car (although there are several variations on each type at the least) designated for that race.
Burnout 3 includes full online play via Xbox Live!, and there are quite a few variations on the usual modes to choose from. While I felt the multiplayer Crash modes were a bit weak (both online and in split-screen mode), the other racing modes were great fun to get into.
The online play itself works very nicely in the Xbox version of Burnout 3, as the gameplay is smooth even with six players all going at it at once. Of course, voice chat is available, and you can also set up games how you like with specific car classes. One thing I should note is that impact time only works when a crash involves every player in the game, so that means you'll generally need fast reactions to do Aftertouch Takedowns in multiplayer.
I do wish that EA would clean up their Live! online system. As you may or may not know, EA only recently started doing Live!, and it was only on the condition that they were able to set their own netowrk up separate from Microsoft's. The problem is simply that EA's network is nowhere near as slick or mature as the standard Xbox lobby. We get plenty of disconnects, too much signing in and out, and other issues and it starts to eat into the gameplay. Hopefully EA's working on ironing these issues out and will deliver a fix of some sort for Burnout 3 players.
I do want to mention that EA has slapped up a ton of billboards throughout the game advertising stuff including their other games, and it just feels a bit too much like I'm being targeted for advertisements. I wouldn't mind a few, but this is just overbearing. I also have no idea why the Xbox version didn't have some form of replay that I could save. It probably has something to do with keeping the codebase as close to the PS2 version's as possible, but I really would have liked to keep replays of some of my best racing.
I really found only a few minor issues with Burnout 3, and they were only because I saw something fun and wished they had reworked it to make it even better. No matter how you look at it, though, this is still an excellent title that even people who hate racing games can get into.
Most of the sound effects in Burnout 3 are very well done, with some excellent engine sounds and nice feedback from driving on various surfaces. I'd like to have heard a larger range of crash noises, as the game seems to only use a few to model some very different crashes.
While EA included over forty tracks from various rock groups in the Burnout 3 soundtrack, I do have to take issue with their selections. The line up consists almost entirely of independent rock bands (with The Ramones' "I Wanna be Sedated" as the token retro track), and I simply didn't like most of the music. I'd like to have seen a wider range of music in the game, with a bit of techno, rock, and maybe some rap thrown in too. At the very least, one can set up their own custom music, although you can only pick one album at a time to listen to.
Criterion has done it again with Burnout 3, as this is about the best you can get when it comes to arcade racing. The graphics are outdone only by the satisfying gameplay, tight controls, and superb crashes. Add in the full complement of online play, and this one becomes a must-have even with the few minor issues I found. Don't hestitate to check this game out.