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Thursday, January 20, 2005

#1: Burnout 3: Takedown (Xbox and PS2)

Alright. Now we're talking.

I've had little luck explaining the appeal of this game to people. So I won't waste too many keystrokes attempting to do so here. But pretty much everyone (with the exception of the missus, I have to admit) who plays it is pretty much blown away. It even appeals to those who claim to hate racing games. Because most of it isn't one.

There's something truly inspired about the design of this game. They've taken the essence of what people enjoy about racing games, and distilled it down into its pure, freebase form. They've then removed all the boring annoying and unnecessary bits, that you always thought you couldn't do without, until you play this game and realise that you don't miss them at all.

I'm speaking in general terms here, so let's get a bit more specific. There's no fannying about with the way your car is set up. The cars aren't based on real ones. The physics is fairly, er, imaginative. You don't lose more than a few seconds for crashing, and you can always make the time back up later, by driving well. So, it's "realism" that's missing, basically. And some of the complexity.

So what are you left with? A game that concentrates on speed, aggressive driving and collisions.
"Speed" just doesn't seem to cover it. This game is the fastest I've ever seen, by a long shot. F-Zero and Wipeout look like a Sunday drive by comparison, much as I love 'em. You will actually get dry eyeballs over the course of a long race, because to blink is a luxury you can't afford while playing Burnout 3.

And when it all comes together: drifting through oncoming traffic, picking your way through the high-speed blurs that screech past you, while nudging the rival car brushing up against you into the upright support of an elevated train track as you careen though a pile of boxes and out onto the highway... frankly, that's priceless. There's no game that can match it for pure "in the zone" bliss-outs, adrenalin, honest-to-goodness impression of speed, or just out-and-out fun.

It really is just that good. There's nothing complicated or clever on offer here, just a whale of a time. And that's good enough for me. It's games like this that remind you of what it was like to pick up a controller for the first time, and why gaming as a medium is worthwhile and interesting. It's not about character development, narrative, weapon-balance, customisation, non-linearity, or any of that guff. It's about cool shit happening all around you, and enjoying being in total control of it - amazed at what you can do in this imagined but totally absorbing world. And for this jaded old hack, Burnout 3 brought that childhood sense of astonishment, wonder and excitement flooding right back.

I can't recommend this game highly enough. This is the one game of 2004 that you absolutely and without question MUST play. It's as simple as that.


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