Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 2004
Platform: PlayStation 2, XBox
Genre Keywords: Arcade, Racing, Non-licensed

Since this is a blazing fast arcade action racing game, I'll try to restrain myself and cut my usual wordiness down. Let's see if I can do it...

What's a Burnout?

It's a game that injected some nitro into the racing genre, adding ludicrous speed, traffic, and spectacular, nearly penalty-free crashes to what would otherwise be a very simplistic racer. There were no licensed vehicles, all cars were extremely simple archetypes (the Muscle Car, the Coupe, the Truck, the Sportscar, etc.), steering on all cars was entirely too grippy to be realistic - in short, it was nothing like Gran Turismo, and fans of arcade racing breathed relief. It was an awesome, if simple, game.

Fast forward a lackluster sequel, change from Acclaim to Electronic Arts as publisher, stir in a complete graphics overhaul and addition of a career-like mode (the beginnings of which were present in Burnout 2), influence of a few games like Need for Speed Underground and Midnight Club II which polished up the city-racing subgenre, and a more professional presentation, and you get Burnout 3.

What's new?

  • New graphics. Crashes now appear to have a bajillion more particles and sparks to them - crap flies everywhere after impact, creating an astonishingly busy scene (even on the PS2!) of auto carnage. Cars and tracks have more detailed textures.
  • New career-mode progression. Instead of picking from a simple list of events, you open up new events as you complete others. You can skip from a race to a Crash to a Burnout race at any point, making the entire game into a cohesive unit of racing progression.
  • Overhauled presentation. There are tutorials, overviews, neato spinny globe o' races and a smarmy sports commentator that can thankfully be turned off. He adds a bit of immediacy to the races as the comments are often race-specific and sometimes even give hints, but like all sports commentators he's also a bit annoying.
  • 67 cars. They're still not licensed, but there's a lot more variety in the style of NFS:U - that is, lots of ricing out. Since the cars aren't real, the designs have decent variation, and you know when you get a cool bonus car.
  • Revamped boost mechanics. You still rack up boost from drifting, near-misses and racing in oncoming traffic, but now you can use boost at any time (not just when it's full). This is a huge change, as it means you can earn boost while boosting, thus leading to an unending cycle of speed.
  • Revamped racing mechanics. You can now toy with your opponents by nudging, bumping, grinding or just flat out taking them down (hence the subtitle of the game). Taking an opponent down fills your boost right away and gives you lots of points.
  • Multiple ways of earning rewards. You can win rewards through winning races (and burnout points), staging spectacular crashes (which earns you dollars of damage), or performing takedowns (just the number of takedowns). In addition, certain scenarios are unlocked through secret combinations, like performing a special sort of takedown or reaching a hidden goal. This results in more or less constant rewards, and constant goals "just on the horizon".
  • Aftertouch. In simple terms, ability to control the car even after you've wrecked. Hold down R1 and use the control stick to alter your flaming wreck's path o' destruction. Invaluable for cutting off opponents, causing extra damage or getting that cash bonus in Crash mode.

What's old?

Very little! The basic modes are still there; you can race other cars (but now you can attempt to take them out, and they'll try to get you back!); you can do a head-to-head in an attempt to win the other car; you can set up elaborate crashes in Crash mode (but now there's a lot more to do even after you've crashed, thanks to aftertouch). The half-assed pursuit mode from Burnout 2 is gone, thankfully.

The cars are still archetypes, but as mentioned, are far more elaborate and there's a lot more models to pick from. Some cars are very close facsimiles of real makes and brands, with enough gloss thrown on them to avoid a lawsuit. You'll definitely see some familiar lines.

The steering is still very grippy. You'll be pulling off ridiculous drift moves with ease, slamming into opponents constantly to get a bit of extra boost, and weaving and dodging traffic like a pro within minutes of playing. The slight mechanical flaw only shows up at extremely low speeds (which only happens when you accelerate) - the car doesn't turn as much as it rotates.

You'll still get a few spots where a crash won't trigger. I can't pinpoint why this is, but occasionally you'll get a head-on collision and just slide off the other car. You may get one of these every 10 races or so, so it's nothing big.

The opponent cars still cheat heavily. They'll somehow manage to stay right on your tail, or right in front of you, even if the timer clearly tells you they're 4 seconds (an eternity, in standard racing!) behind. I assume this is done to keep the action close at hand - there's always someone to slam, shunt, bump, or takedown. You won't notice this unless you start dissecting the game's mechanics. The crazed grin as you take down opponents in a fury of sparks and explosions will probably get in the way of that.

Who should get it?

No fan of simulation driving. Nobody salivating over the ability to tweak their 4WD spring ratio in Gran Turismo 4. Nobody who has a hard time accepting arcade driving vs. realism.

Every fan of arcade racing. Anyone who just wants speed and more speed, and always wanted the ability to slam opponents into walls. Anyone who likes making very fast things impact at very high speeds.

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