Never before in the history of video games has a series improved like Criterion’s “Burnout.” The original was a nice but unremarkable arcade style racer, while the sequel added in addictive qualities with the spectacular crash junctions. Now published by EA but developed by the same team, “Burnout 3″ is the best racer this week, this month, this year, this decade, and possibly of all time.
Instead of just selecting various modes from the start-up menu, everything now takes place in the World Tour (though you can tackle each mode individually, most of the game remains locked until it is completed in the main game). Blending together all the featured events, players tackle what is as close to a career mode as this series will come. As events are passed, players will earn various awards and cars, some of which will take months to unlock, significantly adding to the replay value.
There are a wider variety of race styles this time around. “Road Rage” requires players to knock off as many opponent cars as they can within a set time limit. “Face Off” is a player versus AI race with the opponent’s car on the line. “Burning Lap” is a like a trial run for the course where points can be earned and the “GP” is a set of races, much like a mini-tournament between four opponents.
Much like the first sequel, it is once again the crash junctions that steal the show, though things have changed since we last visited. Power-ups now litter the track to increase your score, double or quadruple it, blow your car up (causing an insane amount of damage), and there is one that will even decrease the end level score if you run over it. There are other ways to blow the player-controlled car up than just an icon on the track. Should enough cars meet their fate (this number is determined on a stage by stage basis), the unfortunate soul inside the car will end up as a pile of ashes along with the surrounding vehicles.
New not only to the crash mode, but in every other style of play as well, is the ability to maneuver the car after the initial accident (though they are not always accidental in “Burnout”). The idea behind it is not only to cause more damage, but also to intercept opponents in races so they don’t gain a huge lead. It seems like such a minor tweak to the gameplay engine, but its essence adds another layer to an already deep racer. Keep in mind that just about every mode can be taken online, including the crash mode that lets multiple players attempt to rack up a larger damage amount.
Key to just about every race you enter is boosting, something which has remained with the series since its inception. Driving recklessly fills up the meter, which lets players achieve an insane amount of speed, but also increases the risk and fun factor. New to this edition is the ability to actually lose a section of the bar, caused by opposing drivers crashing into the player’s vehicle. It can of course be gained back by slaughtering the AI in various ways. Slam the same driver that caused your wipeout and earn revenge points, the games largest boost increase.
All of this is lost unless the game handles well, and here it performs admirably. Each style of vehicle (none officially licensed) has its own feel; the F-1 series especially changes the way you play the game. Weaving in and out of traffic is hardly a problem and you’ll amaze yourself by some of the moves you can pull off once a rhythm is established. Sadly, the ability to save replays or change the camera angle has been cut, a strange decision for a game that relies on such visual thrills.
With the budget obviously increased thanks to EA’s pocketbook, “Burnout 3″ becomes the best looking racing game on the console. This is major praise with games like Rallisport and Project Gotham sitting alongside this one. Crashes look just stunning, the added spark particle effect being the most spectacular edition. Reflections on the vehicles are cleaner, more realistic, and the cities are just sprawling with detail. The frame rate never drops below 60 (except in split-screen mutli-player, but this is hardly a problem), a stunning achievement when the screen becomes filled with traffic and car pieces. Those with HDTV’s get the full effect thanks to 480p support. If you still play games with either a RF unit or composite cables, you really can’t imagine how much detail is being lost.
“EA Trax” fill the menus and races, though custom soundtracks are available. A mix of punk rock with a dash of metal, it will obviously not satisfy everyone, but it gives the game a fast paced beat to go along with the races. True audio buffs get superb use of 5.1 surround that allows them to hear opponents approaching from behind and traffic whizzing by. The included DJ on the other hand (who calls himself Striker), wears out his welcome within the first five minutes and should be turned off immediately after creating a profile.
The games largest flaw is, well, itself. Crashing is such an exhilarating experience, you will constantly find yourself aiming for a head-on collision with a tanker truck regardless of what position you may be in. Resisting this temptation is useless. Sometimes the crash junctions just don’t do enough for bloodthirsty gamers. Adding in some sort of free-roaming mode in the obligatory sequel would be the perfect solution.
This is a game just shy of absolute perfection. Hardly any other title on the current market can test a player’s reaction time like this one. Not a single new addition disappoints and the tweaks to the old ones only improve upon the concepts. “Burnout 3″ becomes an instant classic immediately after the disc drive shuts on your console.