Racing at its best - with more twists and turns than a roller coaster ride.
So much to do, so little time. Burnout has taken over almost every little inch of free time that I have had so far this week. I could barely find time to write this review... which may well a better comment about the game than anything else that I write here.
In case you're not familiar with the Burnout franchise, and the title didn't steer you in the right direction either: this is an arcade racing game. No tinkering with your car, customizing it for the race ahead of you, but off to the starting grid as soon as you've selected an event and a car. And we're not just talking simple "racing from A to B"-events, because Burnout 3 offers us an incredibly amount of vastly different challenges.
Let's start with perhaps the most innovative event: the crash. Here you start out on a vacated section of road that serves as a runup, so you can gain some speed before.... you guessed it, crash violently into the incoming traffic. The trick is to cause as much damage as possible, totaling as many vehicles as you can and picking up any possible cash multipliers along the way as well. And even though these events rarely take longer than 10 or 20 seconds, they are a blast to play. Where and when to hit that truck, but or car, how to bounce off them, you start thinking of tactical elements like that very early on, even though this is possibly the most extreme version of road rage you'll ever encounter.
These crash sequences also stress the importance of a new feature in Burnout 3: Aftertouch. Much like how you'd make a tennis or soccer ball change direction after it's left your racket or foot, you can make your car fly in a different direction after a crash too. It sounds silly, but works really well as a videogame feature (and let's not forget that this is not a simulation). As soon as you crash and/or become airborne, you can press R1 and enter a slow-motion mode where you can steer you car after the moment of impact. This works best when you're airborne, an important consideration during crash events.
Aftertouch also functions during the more traditional racing events, where you can use it to take out opponents after you've been taken down by them (or a nearby wall). This is important, because in Burnout 3, it pays to be bad! When you takedown other cars, you earn what I like to call "turbo". The same goes for driving on the wrong side of the road, near-collision with other cars, drifting around corners and staying on your competitor's tail. When you take down an opponent, your turbo bar (or turbo potential) grows longer, but when you get taken down or crash, it grows smaller. But by all means, drive dangerously, because you're going to need that turbo potential!
Other events include gran prix (a series of races where you accumulate points after every race), regular races (albeit with an excessive amount of violence) and time attacks, which we all well know because we've seen them in other arcade racers. The races involving other players have a distinct burnout-flavour to them though, as the crashes are an integral part of the racing experience. This is even more so during a "road rage" event, where it's your task to take down as many opponents as possible before you car finally given in to what you're doing to it (don't worry, this doesn't happen during the other events... you always start with a brand new shining car after a crash). While causing damage and earning point, you also unlock new events, new tracks and new cars. Another way of earning new cars is by going head to head with an opponent during a face off: winner takes loser's car.
All in all, Burnout 3 offers you 173 events, divided among the discliplines described above. 173 is a a huge number, and I have yet to unlock a few dozens worth of new events. Plenty of value for money if that's something you're gonna find in numbers. But it's not about numbers, it's about gameplay, and each and every one of the events here offers arcade racing action at its best. The only thing I had some minor issues with was the odd catchup logic employed when taking on computer opponents during a face off. No matter how many times you take him down, you can't shake him, he's always "right on your tail". But as soon as you crash, you're at least 5 seconds behind. Crash twice and your race is pretty much over. It can be a source of frustration at times, but maybe it's partly due to the fact that the game is rather forgiving is most of the other events. Or maybe it's just me.
Burnout 3's gameplay is supported by incredible graphics.... the sense of speed here is amazing (helped by blurring effects, especially when you press your turbo button) and the frame rate is as smooth as can be. Also, the crashes look absolutely spectacular, especially during crash mode, where I found my friends and I laughing out loud at how much carnage we could see on-screen. Wheels and other car parts flying around, explosions, glass shattering, it's all there. It's a big part of why the crash mode is so much fun to play, which I'm sure you'll agree on when you play burnout 3 (and you should!).
The soundtrack is very teen rock-oriented, which fits the high speed nature of the game but might not be everyone's favorite type of music. During menus and events, you'll also be hearing an announcer giving you information about upcoming events and opportunities. Last but not least, the sound effects are all spot on, everything sounds just about right. The best part about the audio, however, is that they all seem to complement each other nicely. The announcer never gets too annoying, and in general the music gets you pumped up even more, especially during a race.
So far I've only been able to play around with the single player portion of the game, but Burnout 3 offers support for up to 8 players online so the potential there is absolutely overwhelming. If you're interested in arcade racers, you can't go wrong with Burnout 3 heck. Heck, give it a try even if you're not generally into racers at all... you might be pleasantly surprised by one of the best games on the PS2 so far this year.