Burnout 3: Takedown (B3) rewards dangerous driving and making your opponents crash. It's an arcade game for your Xbox, a real pick up and play title: easy to learn, immediately satisfying and a hell of a lot of fun.
The speed of the game is astonishing, the graphics are wonderful and the game play will have you gurning, yelling and punching the air. It challenges SNES Mario Kart for the most fun I've had with a racing game. It's also one of the best games I've ever played, full stop.
Of course you know most of this already. You've read the reviews on other sites and, if you don't have the game now, you're about to buy it. Rightly so, too. It's a wonderful game. However it's not without its faults. So, instead of doing you a disservice by continuing to praise B3 to high heaven, I'd better mention some of the bad bits. After all, they're what are really important, right?
Note: this article contains naughty words.
The Xbox Live experience is crap:
When I got B3 home I was stoked. The first thing I did was get on to Xbox Live – and the first thing Xbox live did was to connect really slowly. Next it connected to Electronics Arts's servers (though not before asking if I wanted to opt out of EA's marketing lists). Then it went a bit odd - and hasn't got much better since.
I can see people in my B3 friends list, but I can't scroll down to select them. What I've to do is enter the list, exit it and go back in again. After that I can select their names and join their games. Well, sometimes.
B3 likes to tell me they're not actually playing. Or decides it's had enough and stops working. When this happens you'll think there's a loose connection from your Xbox to your TV. Why? Because the TV is blank, but the game's music is audible.
However, when you see the music track name changing in the bottom left of the screen, you'll realise that your TV and Xbox are fine: it's just the game's online aspect that's borked.
When you do get to join someone's game – praise be - B3 sometimes thinks you've been rude and won't let you speak to them. So your friend will be saying "Hello? Anyone there? Hello?" and so will you! Fun for all the family. Except the mug who bought B3 to play online.
(That I'll put up with this horror to even try and play online gives you some idea how much fun it can be when you manage it.)
The braking is tepid:
The sensation of acceleration is great. The sensation of braking isn't. I've never driven a 200 MPH blancmange, but I guess it would stop about as well as the cars in B3. When you put the brakes full-on at speed, you should feel like you're about to go through the windscreen. You don't. There's no bite.
When you accelerate the camera pulls back a little. It's a good effect. Why didn't they do the reverse for breaking? Wip3Out did. It worked very well.
Also, why isn't there a handbrake ('parking break' for North Americans)? What if I want to careen across three lanes of oncoming traffic to let them broadside me? Or, more importantly, what if I have to go to the toilet and park on a hill? Should I piss out of the window?
(Actually, along with the brakes, the steering could also be tighter.)
The first-person view is needlessly limiting:
Situational awareness is incredibly important. Knowing opponents are flanking allows you to time to plan attacks or escape routes. However, unless you're in third person view, there's no easy way to tell what's around you.
In Project Gotham Racing 2 you could look to your left and right. Why wasn't this feature included here? In first-person view I only know where my opponents are if they edge ahead of, or slam into, me.
If looking sideways would have been difficult to implement, B3 should have aped FPSs and had danger-direction indicators. In FPSs these appear when you get shot. Here they could've appeared when danger was to the left, right or both. Play testing would have shown whether the indicators should be more or less obvious the faster one is going.
The music's crap:
"Hi. Nathaniel Leibowitz. I'm 32 and I'm doing an MA in Town Planning at community college. My band – Warriors of Angst – and I contributed a song to to the Burnout 3 soundtrack.
"We tried to tap into the fear that all men feel and write a song about turning the fear into something positive. What? You'd like to me to sing you the chorus? Sure!
'Hey mom and dad / f*ck you! / stop abusing me mom and dad / f*ck you! / I need more money for my new f*cking sneakers! / f*ck you! / high school sucks without new sneakers! - f*ck you!'
"Pretty hardcore eh? We rocked an Amish fÃªte the other day. We rocked them HARD."
Good grief. Couldn't EA have come up with something better? How expensive would a licence for Whitesnake or Krokus be? Also, when the song changes a little sign pops up that hides some of the turbo boost meter. Argh!
The civilian NPC cars are made and driven by robots:
Here's the situation. You're out for a drive. Suddenly you see a car tearing towards you. It is on the wrong side of the road.
A: Prepare to move out of the way
B: "Stay on target, stay on target!" ?
Now, call me a coward but I'd be considering the sh*t out of A. And the civilian drivers in Burnout 3? They're all B, baby.
I wouldn't want cars to always move out of the way, but at the very least more obvious movement than currently would have been appropriate. It'd have made for more interesting play (you swerve to avoid them, they swerve to avoid you, both of you swerve the same way) and added realism.
Because the cars seem to follow a set pattern - and so their position and timing can be predicted (at least in single player races) - they can actually feel like static objects, much the same way as bridge supports or traffic islands are.
I want to feel like I'm endangering lives, Goddammit!
The near misses don't always register:
Just how near is a near miss? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? The answer's actually a riddle: a near miss is the further away you are. Yes! Isn't that clever?
If I drive a foot away from a car, I'll get consistently get near miss points. If I drive 6" away from a car, sometimes I don't get get anything at all. How the hell does that work? The collision detection is normally fantastic, so why is it buggering up here?
What's the problem? Is my dangerous driving actually too dangerous? Give me a break, man. Who does B3 think I am, Super Dave?
The loading times are too long:
Good customer services is real easy. It's all about managing expectations. People will take a pineapple in the ass if you tell them it'll only be there for five minutes.
All EA had to do to calm people's annoyance at loading times was to have a bit of text on screen, or in the manual, explaining why they might be slow. "We're calculating the physics for the crashes". "We're connecting with our servers to calibrate with the hamsters".
In the absence of such a message, the only thing EA could've done to make the loading times more annoying would have been adding easy listening versions of the game's angst-rock. Of course had they done that, I'd have hunted down the executive responsible and killed him. But I'd make sure I had one more go at Burnout 3 just before I did.
You see despite the game's problems, inspite of its problems, it's still fantastic fun to play. It's just annoying that a game so good didn't have a bit more time spent on it to make it better. I suppose it's spoilt me; it's as if being nearly brilliant isn't enough.
No doubt I'll find more faults with the game the more I play it, but I think that could be said of any title. What can't be said of any title, though, is that at 0050hrs on a weekday, this Gamer With A Job wants to get back to playing it.
And you know what? I think I'll do that right now.