Burnout 3: Takedown
Let’s slam this one straight into some form of context. Sega releases Outrun in 1986 and the modern arcade racer is born. All the arcade racers released between that point and the day Burnout 3 hits the shelves have just been rendered a waste of history. Forget about them. You never needed them – you only thought you did. But it’s not your fault, because you had never seen the genre perfected to such a level of supremacy than in the very soul of this game. To play is to know what has only been hinted at. This is what videogames are all about and this is as close to crazy as we’ve ever been about a racing game since we can remember. Our memories aren’t great, but some things will stick forever.
When a cheery PR brought the first Burnout into our office, for example, it was explained that the main intention behind the game was to bring the adrenaline rush of the chase scenes from the movie Ronin to your DualShock. Drive against oncoming traffic, drifting around corners and zipping as close to other cars without touching them and you’d get points in your Burnout bar. Once this bar had been filled to the hilt, you could activate a Burnout and your speed would demand that your brain ceased all higher functions or you’ll die. Game number one was an exciting endeavour that played well, though it demonstrated a smaller scope in regards to its size. Number two added extra modes while demonstrating that driving into a junction with the intention of causing the biggest pile-up could be a viable game in itself. Burnout 2: Point Of Impact is still an exceptionally tight game and showed a broadening of the ideas demonstrated in number one. Number three has been given full Electronic Arts production values as
well as a fundamental shift in emphasis from speed to kinetic violence, vampyric hunger and the driving equivalent of judo.
Though initially familiar, it doesn’t take long to feel the effect of this difference in onus because it’s fundamental to how the game now plays. A Burnout speed boost can be triggered whenever you want, whenever there is any energy in the Burnout bar. Sounds innocuous enough; here comes another difference – cause a rival to crash in a Takedown and the camera will swish to a slow-motion view of their car being ripped apart by physics and flame effects. The race is still going on, you’re still hurtling forward, but the game knows this. You’ll never flip back to your standard car view and find that you are going to crash. No, Burnout 3 loves you, it knows the primeval human instincts and it makes sure that you can wallow in the destruction of your enemies while it takes away any immediate danger. Then the game rewards you for their untimely demise by filling your Burnout bar to the brim. Their destruction is your gain, and so crashes have now become even more integral to race strategy. Rivals now remember your actions. Anger them and they will come looking for you. Pick a fight and you will face the consequences.
Deciding that an opponent must be taken down by being punched by a car-shaped fist so you can gain extra boost and a higher position is to know how an eagle feels when it has isolated a single bird from a flock. And hasn’t eaten for a month. Your reactions take note of the bends in the road, the speed difference of oncoming traffic and any obstacles, but your hunting instinct has flagged this one car and for them to lose you must persuade them into something hard and immovable. Thrusting through oncoming traffic during a Road Rage race (goal: get as many Takedowns as possible before time runs out or you’re destroyed) while other cars try their best to head you into the central reservation is something beyond what we’ve experienced before. The original game was a fair approximation of Robert De Niro snaking his was through Parisian traffic, number three makes film comparisons irrelevant. The sensation of speed and the instant appreciation of your own skill make this a unique videogame that has no parallel. A dip of the breaks, a drift around a tight corner and a boost away between two oncoming family cars and drunken angels couldn’t know such heaven. A collision after you have been ‘in the zone’ for a lap is to be woken from a dream by a bucket of ice water.
This one moment isn’t just one moment, it’s the texture of the entire game. Even if you shot the original digital tape of Star Wars Episode I’s pod race out of a magnetic rail gun you couldn’t beat it, you’d just be left with a melted cassette… but that’s not our point. To watch a film chase scene with knowledge of Burnout 3’s existence is to ignore film chase scenes from now on, and reach for the on switch of your PlayStation2. Film influences game, game goes on to take the idea of the cinematic race beyond anything you will ever get in a cinema. Games may still have issues with plot, character development and depth but they have nailed the race. This area belongs to videogames now, thank you for playing.
There are two types of games where cars are the heroes. On the one hand you get the game that goes for the simulation, where you get to play with your licensed vehicles engineering (ooh!), and on the other, you get the arcade treatment. Takedown couldn’t be firmer in the grasp of the second if hand number two’s knuckles had turned blue with tension. This should split the game’s audience like a deer on a butcher’s hook – hardcore racers and arcade racers. It should do, but we are dealing with universally appealing themes of speed, skill and reward that typify the racing genre as a whole. Themes common to all arcade games that have been developed with such skill and verve that enjoyment of the game doesn’t arouse itself from your particular interest in internal combustion engines. The cars on offer here are all ‘almost’ cars. There’s almost a Dodge, almost a Honda… it doesn’t matter. Each car only has two variables – speed and weight. The benefit of speed is obvious and a heavier car is therefore a trickier one to corner. It’s also going to have more va-va-voom because, as our beloved Physics teacher reminds us, vava- voom = (mass x 2velocity)/2. The heavier the machine, the more effective it becomes at taking down other drivers when you give them a good king’s broadside. You’re not selecting a car – you are selecting a weapon system.
Realism is all fine and dandy, but it negates one small fact: your TV screen is two-dimensional and you don’t drive a car with a peripheral. Okay, two small points. Realism can only go so far before the sorry frown of the reality from whence it came starts to inform you that you really aren’t in a real car at all. Here, just because you are watching an instant relay of the moment you decided to lose control at 190mph, doesn’t mean that you can’t still play. Hold down r and you can add Aftertouch and usher your tumbling lump of spent metal into the path of other cars. Aftertouch Takedowns aren’t realistic, but their addition to the game is another example of the genius that saturates the entire title, even making the added DJ voiceover acceptable – not that he’s too much trouble as you can turn him off in the option screen.
Burnout 3: Takedown is as pure a gaming experience as we have had the pleasure of kneeling before for longer than we can remember and we’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s the spring of the long winter of our discontent of bland racing games. It’s our shinning star. While everyone else is giving you more gonks, more bling, higher spoilers and more street attitude to add to your car, Criterion, through the cash-lined sphincter of Electronic Arts, have produced a shining gem that surpasses all. You don’t even have to be a racing fan, you just need a PlayStation2 and a soul that you don’t mind losing.