Burnout 3: Takedown

Pinback 11/20/2004 

There's two kinds of donuts in San Andreas: the kind that CJ can make and the kind that CJ can eat.
I'd like to tell you about a video game I've recently purchased.

But before I do that, I must tell you about another video game I've recently purchased.

But before I do that, I must tell you about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

But before I do that, I must tell you about how I was prepping to have a major surgical procedure a couple weeks ago, and knew that I was gonna be laid out with nothing to do for quite awhile other than drink and take pain medications, which you're definitely not supposed to do, but which you definitely gotta try, because whoooooo!

Anyway, I didn't want to invest in any more computer games, because my ol' laptop can't handle it anyway, and I was starting to get jealous of of the kids today and their consoles, all happy enough to just pop a disc in some machine, fire up the big TV, and just have a big old stupid time.

The release of GTA:SA, and its summarily fantastic reviews, and the memories of all the good times I had with GTA3 (which reminded me of conversations I had with ICJ and why he's a big idiot, and still is, judging by his decision to sell his copy of GTA:SA on eBay) made my decision of a console simple. I'd get a PS2, I'd get GTA:SA, and I'd be happily gaming away, high on pain-relief drugs, for weeks and weeks.

So I did, and I did, and good lord almighty is GTA:SA great! It's just everything we loved about GTA3, except more, more, more of everything. The music is also excellent. But more about this later.

But like most idiotic video games in which 60% of the dialogue is the words "motherfucker" and "nigga", playing the game was a learning experience. The first thing I learned is that theft and murder are the best ways to deal with any problems that life might present to you. The second thing I learned is that, lord help me, I love driving video games! With all GTA:SA gives you to do, I started to notice that my very favorite part of the game was just the driving part! When you get a new mission, I found myself not as interested in completing the mission itself, as I was interested in driving to the place which would trigger the actual mission itself! I spent hours not doing any missions, not wreaking havoc, not doing anything else than just driving the cars all around the place. I LOVE the driving!

It's always the same time of day in Need For Speed: Underground.

That made me think. There are video games available for the PS2 which feature nothing but driving! Maybe I should try one of those out, rather that arbitrarily limiting myself to a game-life of crime and being black. So I checked out the Used section of my local Gamestop, and settled, rather randomly I should add, on "Need For Speed: Underground". It appeared that, at the time, a sequel would be coming out in just a few days, so I thought it wise to grab the prequel at a reduced price, and initiate myself into the NFS world.

I played it nonstop, to the dismay of my mother, who was visiting, and became resigned to just sitting on the couch reading, while her boy played his stupid video game, rather than doing any family bonding or telling me to floss and wash behind my ears, or all the other stuff which I'm sure she would have done, if I she could have been heard over the din of revving import engines.

There are a few good points to NFS:U. First of all, there IS lots of driving. And it's awfully pretty, with the shiny neon lights, and the customized cars, and the reflective wet pavement, and all the other nice little touches they put in there. I got my $25 worth in the first evening of play alone.

All was not sunshine and puppy dogs, though. For one thing, a lot of the "customization" is rather forced (as one is unlocked after the other, and other than choosing what kind and color of car you want, the performance stuff is fairly linear), and otherwise deals with brand-name decals, which I don't know or care enough about to make it make a difference. For another thing, although more and more tracks get "unlocked", it rapidly becomes clear that not only do they overlap quite a bit, but they're all set in the same city, at the same time of day, so there's no way to avoid the feeling that there's a lot less variety in the environments than the back of the box would lead you to believe.

For another thing, the music is so god-awful that the real racing in the game is to see who can turn down the "music volume" setting the fastest. I was praying that they'd make the talk station from GTA available. Good god.

My last complaint was that, as fast and furious as the action is, it has very little to do with actual driving. You can drift, and if you spend enough time getting careful enough with the controls, you can sort of simulate real-life hard-driving action, but really, when you can slam into things head-on and just bounce off 'em, and when you can do various other crazy, high-impact maneuvers which leave nary a scratch on your vehice, and which would make the original Pole Position look like Flight Simulator 2004, you start to get a little disappointed in the realism aspect. Seriously, GTA:SA is far more realistic as a driving simulator.

But I had fun, and decided that the driving genre is really the one for me, as far as console games are concerned. So I looked on. I went to gamespot.com and did a little surfing there to look for the PS2 driving game which had garnered the most glowing accolades.

The one I finally arrived at is called Burnout 3, and that is the game I've come to talk to you about today.

Burnout 3 has some very real downsides. One of the things I was hoping for and counting on when I bought it was that, after the horrid audio in NFS:U, the music (if there was any) would at least be a little better.

Well, it's not. In fact, Burnout 3 has the worst music I've ever heard in a video game, on the radio, sung to me by karaoke singers, or in an audio replay of somebody putting a toolchest into a dryer. It is so bad, it's hard to believe that the CD still continues to operate, and doesn't just self-destruct out of spite. I turned it down after the first 7 seconds of play, and even those memory haunt me to my core.

You know what a game with the world's worst music doesn't need? A fake "radio DJ" named "Striker" to make little "funny" comments and give you helpful "pointers" and read off fake "news reports" and generally be a proper motivation to create a time machine, go back to Marconi's laboratory, and pop a cap in his ass. "TURN MUSIC OFF?" Yes. "TURN DJ OFF?" God, please. For a game with pretty decent racing audio, this part of it is nearly inconceivably bad.

Also, if you thought NFS:U had nothing to do with driving... well, this is a driving simulator in the same way that putting your hand in a blender and switching it to "puree" is a manicure. There are cars and roads in the game, but that's about as close to having anything to do with driving as you're going to get. It's a driving game like Smash TV is a thoughtful exercise in tactical squad-level combat.

It is -- and I want to stress this here and again -- the dumbest video game of all time.

There are four basic modes of play. There's the mode where you try to make a lap in the fastest time. Nobody ever plays this mode, because what's the point? It's not nearly stupid enough to be included in the whole package.

There's the "race" mode, where you square off against five other computer competitors, and try to cross the finish line first. On your way there, though, you'll be rewarded for such activities as making your rivals crash and die, driving in the wrong lane, coming as close to causing a head-on collision as possible, and probably getting simple math problems wrong. That's how stupid this game is.

There's the "road rage" mode, in which crossing the finish line is eschewed in place of causing the most wrecks possible. As most of the game takes place at about 150 miles per hour, causing these wrecks is about 10% your own skill, and 90% having the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, as the time it takes for an oncoming car to first appear in the distance, and then zoom past you, is about a half a second. The reviews spoke of how well Burnout 3 conveys the sense of speed, and damned if they didn't nail that right on the turdburger. No game is faster than this. All other games of any type feel like they're in slow motion after this. Sometimes it gets so fast you almost want to just drop the controller and say "what the hell's the point? I've got just as good a chance of surviving if I just go in the other room and read a nice book." It's unbelievably fast. So fast that, while the environments are nice and varied, and very beautifully drawn, it doesn't make any difference, because you'll never see any of it. By the time the light wave has left the cathode ray tube of your television, and traveled to the rods and cones in the back of your eye which translate the waves into sight you are already a half mile past where you were.

The fourth mode of the game, I thought I got wrong the first time I played it. It's called "crash mode". I thought I got it wrong, because all I did was hit the gas, drive about 100 feet, run into a car, and then watch as fifty-nine other cars and trucks and busses slammed into each other, as a reaction to the accident I'd caused. I was ready to reach for the instruction book, when a scoring screen came up and told me I'd caused $200,000 in damage, and won a gold medal for the event. My reaction sounded exactly like this: "huh?" But in fact, that's the entire reason for this mode. You hit the gas. You run into a car. A thousand other cars wreck and explode. Then you get a gold medal. In the stupidest video game of all time, this is the stupidest play mode of all time.

So, in searching for an entertaining, exciting driving/racing simulator, I came upon games which progressively got further and further away from what I was looking for, and had worse and worse music.

But here's the thing.

Ooh, Lookit! I'm pretty close to this other guy; I bet I'll get tons of boost for sideswiping him like this.
Burnout 3 is the best game of all time.

I can't stop playing. I'm possessed by the need to go five hundred miles an hour into oncoming traffic. I'm possessed by the need to cause horrible wrecks among my fellow competitors. I'm possessed by the need to cause multi-car pileups and attain gold medals for killing hundreds of innocent commuters.

I'm possessed by the need for boost. I dream about boost. I would give handjobs in the back alley of a King Soopers for boost.

Boost, you see, is the game's one tiny little nod to strategic play. You can just hit the regular gas pedal and plod your way around these tracks, and you might even beat a competitor or two, but what you really need to make the grade... is boost. Boost is, as the name implies, an afterburner-like method of getting your speed higher than you could normally, and with much greater acceleration. Boost is the game's currency. If you have boost, you are Donald Trump on wheels. If you lack boost, you are the homeless guy at the traffic light with no teeth and faking a limp to garner sympathy from folks stuck at the light.

The equation is simple. You get boost by driving poorly, but surviving (wrecking other cars, almost crashing, sliding around corners.) You lose boost by actually crashing. That's it. So while you're going a zillion miles an hour and trying desperately to figure out what the hell is going on, you're also faced with an increasingly desperate need to find ways to get boost. Car coming? Try to sideswipe it. Competitor closing in? Wreck him! WRECK HIM NOW!!! NEED BOOST! MUST HAVE BOOST!!! AUUUGHHH!

If you start playing this game, you too will become a boost-head.

One last thing -- the wrecks themselves. They are absolutely shattering, visceral events, as hundreds of pieces break off in a hail of fire and sparks. They are each tiny little snippets of artwork in motion. But maybe the most unique and interesting aspect of the game is that after you crash, your work isn't yet done. No, you can hit R1, and go into "Impact Time", which is an eerily-scored slow-motion version of the crash, during which you can actually guide your car one direction or the other, with the express purpose of causing more damage while you're flipping over and exploding. The carnage in this game never, ever stops. And if you can wreck a competitor DURING your own crash, you get an "Aftertouch Takedown", as it's lovingly called, and get even more -- you guessed it -- BOOST!

The game is loud. The game is ridiculous. The game is violent. The game is bright and shiny and fast and laughable and hilarious and godawfully addictive. The game is, without question, the dumbest video game of all time.

And good Lord in heaven, do I love it to bits.

Now if you'll excuse me... I'ma go grab me some boost.