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Burnout 3: Takedown

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After basketball, football and hockey were boiled down to their flashiest, most violent elements, it was only a matter of time before the Jam/Blitz phenomenon hit the racing game genre.

Burnout 3: Takedown is the apex of what visceral sports gaming should be — pretty, uncomplicated, fast and brutal.

The game is gorgeous. Immaculately rendered scenes of an amalgamation of towns in the U.S., Europe and Asia wait patiently to be appreciated by losers who smash spectacularly into their detailed street signs and intricate brickwork.

Sparks gush from the sides of dueling vehicles in awe-inspiring arcs, and flames belch from wrecks as if the vehicles had cabins full of gasoline. The sunlight plays off shiny fenders, illuminating every inch of cracked glass and scraped paint exacted from kissing the concrete. This is not a tuner-dork's game. This is Everyman's rape, ruin and run rally. The controls are sparsely simple: steering, gas, brake and boost. There are no handbrake functions or shifting setups.

The point is elementary: bash your car into the competition, get rewarded with boost, use boost, rinse, repeat. You can also get boost rewards for driving against traffic and narrowly avoiding accidents.

But all this talk of gameplay might lead one to think that this game has some sort of dreaded strategic element. Actually, the most important thing about these races is to avoid striking any non-competitive vehicle or environmental feature. By comparison, all other strategies are academic.

The Burnout 3 universe is ruled by strange physics. It will allow you to shunt recovering competitor in the rear bumper

But you aren't considering this when you stomp your boost button and watch the game world blur like a Star Wars hyperdrive. This motion effect gives the game a fantastic sense of speed, but can severely limit one's ability to see oncoming obstacles, especially if your reaction time is more than 10 milliseconds. Sometimes, you just have to hang on for the ride, praying that you have the green light.

Burnout 3 introduced the first in its series to over-competitive battle racing. Making it possible to ram, shunt, and slam any computer AI opponent into walls, splits, and civilian cars, buses, and even trams, most likely, at the right speed, to force your competitor to crash in another worldly physically impossible way

Although the ever popular "crash junction" was first created in the second installation, Burnout 2 Point of Impact, Takedown made it possible to detonate/explode your ride after a certain number of vehicles involved in the crash. A little fun made easy and extremely satisfying to those wanting to throw a car off a bridge, ramp and into a busy intersection or portion of a highway with destructive outcomes.

Road rage events were crated as well where the entire objective of the mission was to takedown the opponents trying to do the same to you. All while maintaining your car's damage integrity by avoiding unnecessary contact with walls and other non competing vehicles in the wrong way.

If you happen to crash, you can quickly tap your boost button and slow down time, called "Aftertouch". While in this view, you can direct your flaming wreck into other competitors and cause them to wreck preserving your boost level. Unfortunately, the camera often doesn't make it easy for you to aim your flaming wreck well. Camera control would have been nice.

They didn't think it was possible, but Criterion has managed to take Burnout's stripped-down racing style and strip it even further with Road Rage and Crash modes. The former encourages you to just wreck as many opponents as possible, while the latter sets up puzzling crash scenarios and challenges you to break the game's damage predictions.

If there is a weak link in Burnout 3's exquisite chain of pain, it is the sound. The sound effects are superb, bone-jarringly effective. But the doofus narrator needs a muzzle. His frat boy drawl starts getting old when you realize that he has a comment for every time you make a menu selection. His off-topic commentary in the middle of heated road warfare is also distracting and superfluous.

As is their habit, EA stocked this game with a 30-track sampling of the current state of suburban whine rock (with a few exceptions) when it really could have used a customized playlist of hardcore metal, punk, hip-hop, whatever. At least you can edit the playlist.

Simply put, this game is a must buy. There are tons of tracks and cars that unlock at an addicting pace, and the multiplayer crash and racing modes are real crowd pleasers. Aside from niggling complaints about the strange physics, camera control and music and, this game is almost the perfect guilty pleasure.

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