Burnout 3: Takedown Review (Xbox)
If you're like me, you have friends that are really into "sim" racing games. With each new release they will try to convert you into their secret fraternity. They will begin to teach you their coded language: "gear ratios", "turn apex", and "throttle control". They indoctrinate you into their etiquette of careful passes, respect for other's driver's "lines". They make sure you understand that you're to avoid contact at all costs.
If you're like me, as soon as they leave the room, you punch the gas and fly down the raceway, mercilessly taking out any sucker who dares to get near you. You wreak destruction and havoc as you fly around the course at breakneck speeds until you flame out in a spectacular crash that belongs in a summer blockbuster.
Well, now there is a racing game for you and me. It's "Burnout 3: Takedown", and it's the racing game for the rest of us.
The "Burnout" series will never be confused with "Gran Turismo" or the upcoming "Forza Motorsport". If you want your cars to behave like cars if you are looking for something even close to a "sim" racer, just pretend the numbers at the bottom read "1/5", and move along.
If you take away realism as a criterion for judging the racing model, what are we left with? A driving model that works well, without any reference to the thing it describes. The fact it's not like real driving doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, it's just the opposite. Without any reference to realistic physics, Criterion (the series' developer) has crafted an excellent driving model that "feels" right. It's almost as if this is a perfect "sim" of an alternate universe where cars handle as they do in a big budget action movie. The most important thing is the tight control - a crippling flaw in any driving game is a sense that you're not in complete control. In "Burnout 3", you never feel like the game has taken over. There is always something you could have done to avoid that gasoline tanker ... if only you were fast enough.
Did I say "fast"? That's the understatement of the year. The excellent control is absolutely necessary, because you'll have a hard time even twitching fast enough - any lag would make the game impossible. "Fast" doesn't come close to describing the warp speeds at which you'll hurtle through opposing freeway traffic, navigate busy intersections, and slalom through off-road rally sections. In the fastest vehicles available, it's an astounding achievement that a person can navigate at all. The speed is so incredible that you've already gotten through a potential accident before your conscious mind even registers it's there.
Of course, "Burnout 2" had some pretty great racing physics, as well. Though "Burnout 3" sees an improvement in that area, it wouldn't be enough if the game play modes were as limited as they were previously. However, besides the obvious longevity that the game gets from the addition of online play, the developers completely revamped the World Tour Mode. There are over 150 events ranging over three continents. They range from straight up races, to "Road Rage" (where you must take out a certain number of cars in a short time), to "Elimination" (where the person in last place each lap explodes), to straight-up Crash Mode (where you create as much destruction as possible).
If you're the type of gamer who is motivated by unlocking things, then "Burnout 3" will sate your appetite. From "Signature Takedowns", where you take out your opponent on a certain landmark, to racking up cumulative point totals through playing both online and offline, to special "Headlines" if you create enough destruction in Crash Mode.... it seems like every time you play, you achieve some new toy or another. I think the scheme is excellent, as it definitely helps to motivate you to get "one more gold" or "5000 more Burnout points" in order to get to the next new, shiny goodie.
With "Burnout 3", EA continues to use the Live Server Protocol to use it's own servers and online setup. As was seen with the launches of both “NCAA 2005” and “Madden 2005”, this does not come without it's own set of problems. While the standard Xbox Live service has proven an efficient means of organizing online gaming for almost two years now, EA decided to reinvent the wheel and offer a customized interface. Unfortunately, the wheel they came up with was square.
Through the first few days of the game, the online service was glitch filled - to say the least. Friends Lists would not load, users would get randomly disconnected from Xbox Live or their game lobby, or features like Optimatch simply would not work. With these obvious problems sitting on top of an already confusing online setup - where you need to go into a geographical lobby to even create a private game - it's a wonder that you could find players getting through to the good stuff: the online games themselves. As I write this review, a patch has been made to increase the stability of the servers, but it does not seem to have fixed the core issues. Be warned: you can easily exhaust your patience before you even get to the racing.
To those online explorers intrepid enough to soldier through and find games, they find what may be one of the great Xbox Live games so far. This thing that makes “Burnout 3” work so well online is that it makes a point of what often ruins most other racing games. Whereas other titles can be destroyed by overaggressive drivers who drive too fast, and look to wreck instead of race, that’s the whole point of the online experience in "Burnout 3”.
There are a number of different games encompassing both the race and crash modes, but the online highlight is that "Road Rage" is included, as a sort of racing death match. This may be the most fun of the online modes, as the Red Team tries to chase down and take out the Blue Team before they can complete the circuit. The excellent addition here is that as Blue Team members get taken out, they are not reduced to spectators. They are dropped back in the race as a sort of phantom car: able to pass through the CPU traffic, but able to make contact with the Red Team (and the Red Team can make contact with them). It's a brilliant idea, as those in the Blue Team who get taken out can continue to play, trying to cover their remaining teammates.
While you will still earn points and unlockables fastest in the offline World Tour, you can also accumulate points in the online modes. Even if your primary play mode is online, you'll still be able to unlock new vehicles. Since you need unlocked vehicles to really compete online, it makes perfect sense. I've often been frustrated with games that require me to unlock things offline, just so I could be competitive online - and Criterion has solved that issue elegantly.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO
The graphics are stunning - I don't know any other word for it. The cities are complex and riddled with detail. It helps to increase the sense of speed, as there is so much more flying by as you are also trying to pick out the moving traffic from the background. These are not empty backgrounds, but living cities where people are going about their business - the visual noise adds to the sense that if you wanted to be safe, you'd really slow down.
While the EA Trax are utterly forgettable as usual, they do set the tone well. This game plays like vapid alterna-rock, and the soundtrack fits in well. It's not life-changing, but it's fun. The game does support custom soundtracks on the Xbox, though. So if you want to send shrapnel flying to the strains of Mozart's "Requiem" that's your choice.
If you are looking for a simulation racer, do yourself a favor and look elsewhere. Don't let the fact that these vehicles have wheels dupe you into believing that this is any sort of simulation of a car's real-world behavior. This is only marginally a racing game - it's a game of destruction and chaos that holds more in common with a first person shooter than with a true racer.
Though I have some pretty serious reservations about the design and implementation of the online interface, I don’t think it detracts from the game enough to change the score. And the online interface is really the only issue I have, as I think the rest of the game executes perfectly.