Defining what constitutes a 'racing game' is becoming increasingly difficult. Let's face it; Micro Machines and Gran Turismo are pretty different games. The only thing they really have in common is an accelerator button; rumour has it that there is also a brake button in Micro Machines, but that seems doubtful. Regardless, it seems that the term 'racing game' is becoming redundant. So, as if the genre wasn't crowded and confused enough, Burnout 3 arrives and gives us another type of racing altogether; Combat racing. And a damn fine addition to the racing catalogue it is too.
Ok, sit down. Are you sitting? There is something that needs to be said before we can go any further. Fans of Burnout 2 may be disappointed with Burnout 3. It's only a possibility, however this just helps to state how much the Burnout concept has evolved. Burnout 2 was about the purity of the drive, dodging traffic and taking major risks. The risk aspect hasn't changed but this isn't a game where you'll be striving to find the right driving line. Burnout 3 has taken the 'Crash' concept it used so well in Burnout 2 and made it integral to all aspects of the game. As in previous titles, building up your boost bar is a key part of the game. All the usual suspects for building up your boost bar are there; near miss, oncoming, drift and air. However, you can now build your boost in an entirely different way. Takedowns.
Takedowns represent the core of Burnout 3, awarding drivers an extended boost bar and top-up. As you could imagine, while weaving through traffic is difficult, weaving through traffic while trying to knock your opponent into a bus creates a whole new level of risk. Make no mistake about it, Burnout 3 will get the adrenaline flowing. Though this extra aim, other than winning, completely changes the way races play out. Where as in the first two games you could actually think about some kind of racing line and plot at least a basic route for each lap, Burnout 3 is based more upon reflexes and learning to adapt as you race. Its kill or be killed, and it becomes vital that you are fully aware of everything going on around you.
The game itself is split into two very different sections. Obviously, there is the standard racing, but this is spiced up somewhat with the addition of the Road Rage events, which focus on takedowns, requiring you to wreck a set number of your opponents within a time limit. The second section is the greatly expanded 'Crash' mode, which features 100 individual crash junctions and is almost good enough to be classed as a game in itself. The Burnout World Tour is a mixture of both of these, and with 173 gold medals and numerous other awards to collect; there is plenty to keep you going. The decision to include both in the main game mode may be a mistake however, as the crash mode can start to grate after a while in single player. It is necessary to complete if you want to unlock all the crash junctions though. Despite this, the World Tour is very enjoyable and you'll need to clock some serious playtime in order to unlock all the goodies.
The racing itself is wonderful. Car handling has been tweaked to perfection, enabling you to react quickly and pull off beautiful power slides. Combine this with some great track design and sporadic traffic patterns and it really epitomizes 'in the zone' gaming. It certainly raises the bar for arcade racers. It also looks fantastic. Criterion really does know how to push hardware to breaking point, with both the PS2 and Xbox versions of the game looking incredible. Speed effects in particular make you feel like you are absolutely hammering along. It's normally left to futuristic racers like F-Zero to capture neck-breaking speed, but Burnout 3 does it with aplomb.
Another major element is the effect that EA has had on the game. It's not overly jarring, though it's certainly noticeable when you are driving round the tracks and see a huge billboard advertising Tiger Woods or Battlefield: Vietnam. EA Trax makes an impact too, as it adds not only a stack of licensed tracks but 'DJ Stryker'. Where the thinking was when they decided to add something as irritating Stryker, an extremely vocal fellow who gives you 'advice' and makes 'hilarious' comments, is beyond me. Fortunately, Stryker is removable, so all is well. The licensed tracks themselves are a mixed bag, but fortunately you can use your own soundtracks if you chose the Xbox version.
The big talking point though is with the games online implementation. EA has decided to run their own servers as a kind of add-on to Xbox Live, unfortunately requiring you to set-up an EA user account on top of the Xbox Live one. It seems EA want to seize as much control over LIVE as possible, which would be completely fine if it worked! Unfortunately, online play is hampered by a number of issues, including dropping out of servers and a noticeable difficulty in joining friend's games. It's a real shame, as the online aspect of Burnout 3 could have been something really special. Not all is lost though - when you get into a working game it is tremendous fun, but problems happen often enough to make any lengthy period of play frustrating.
Burnout 3 is a fantastic game. Its works because it appeals on many levels; have great multiplayer sessions or just play for hours on the superb single player mode. The game mechanics and graphics are amongst the best ever seen in the racing genre too. There are cracks though, such as the need to unlock all the Crash junctions, which can frustrate at times. The online mode is the biggest disappointment; a real missed opportunity. If Criterion had managed to successfully implement all of these modes, this game would have been one of the most complete gaming packages ever. As it stands, it's a game that nearly everyone will enjoy and it certainly is a true evolution of the racing genre.