Back in the year 2000, everyone’s favorite evil software giant EA introduced a new publishing label named EA Sports Big, intended for distributing various arcade style and extreme sports games dripping with attitude. Well, some middle-aged Electronic Arts executive’s idea of attitude, anyway. The trademark EA Big style featured all sorts of EXTREME catchphrases, product placement from popular real-life brands, and a lot of early 00s rap and nu-metal. Obviously, all the swear words and other questionable lyrics were cut out of the songs so as to avoid being too extreme, and more importantly to keep the ESRB age ratings low to maximize profits.
The EA Sports Big label would be used until 2008, and in those eight years the branding would appear on various releases such as the Street spinoffs of EA’s FIFA, NFL and NBA titles, but by far the most popular and enduring EA Sports Big releases were the SSX snowboarding games. The original SSX was arguably the best game in the PlayStation 2’s launch lineup (although I do like me some Tekken Tag Tournament, and Ridge Racer V is no slouch either), and it received a number of sequels that were even better. Basically, SSX was the quintessential EA Sports Big game.
When Burnout 3: Takedown arrived on store shelves in September 2004, it could be described as “SSX on four wheels.” This was obviously not meant as a knock on the game’s (near-perfect) quality, or SSX‘s for that matter – the point was that despite Burnout 3 lacking the EA Sports Big branding on the box as it technically isn’t a sports game, it has a completely different style than its predecessors and has been thoroughly EA Big-ified. (EA Enlarged? EA Embiggened?) At first glance, Burnout 3: Takedown is barely recognizable as a Burnout game.
There’s an obnoxious American radio DJ (“DJ Stryker on Crash FM”, apparently a real-life DJ on KROQ FM, whom you can thankfully shut up in the audio options although he’ll still narrate the occasional tutorial and annoy you immensely in the process), product placement for AXE body spray and various EA games, a licensed soundtrack featuring a couple of gems (including The Ramones’ classic “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “This Fire” by Franz Ferdinand, and the delightful “Hot Night Crash” by Sahara Hotnights) but mostly consisting of generic mall punk and butt rock, and constant text pop-ups telling you how EXTREME you are. Burnout is now well and truly a mass-market entertainment product geared towards the extreme sports audience of 2004 that loves the likes of SSX and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and only Stephen Root’s title screen music is there to remind you of the more humble origins of Criterion’s series.
Fortunately, the try-hard “extreme” presentation is only one aspect of Burnout 3: Takedown, and one that can be rather easily ignored. The gameplay is what’s important, and Criterion has once again nailed it. The old Burnout formula was basically perfected in Burnout 2: Point of Impact and Criterion could’ve just made an upgraded version of that game for their first big-budget EA release, but they decided to change things up instead. Enter the titular Takedown.
Burnout 3: Takedown transforms the game from a pure arcade racer into a combat racing game. While you were able to sometimes push opponents into traffic or obstacles in the previous games, it was never a core aspect of the gameplay. Burnout 3 changes all of that by tying your boost bar to the Takedown mechanic. Now, you start each race with a boost bar roughly the size of Burnout 2‘s, but as you ram your rivals off the road you can earn up to a 4x boost multiplier which gives you a massive boost bar and a ludicrous amount of boost power. On the other hand, crashing will reduce the multiplier and visibly destroy a chunk of your boost bar.
I am somewhat torn on the Burnout 3 boost system. While it works extremely well for what it’s trying to do, it also reduces the importance of driving skillfully to earn boost since you can just ram your nearest rival into a big rig to fill the bar. Not only that, but the actual Burnout mechanic is gone completely! No more earning extra boost and chaining Burnouts by driving on the edge for extended periods of time. No more Burnout chains or Burnouts, period.
Being able to keep on boosting used to be a major reward, now it’s something you take for granted and there often is no reason not to hold down the boost button if you can handle it. Of course, due to the way the AI works it usually doesn’t really matter if you use boost constantly or not, so sometimes it’s definitely a better idea to play it safe even if doing so might seem against the core philosophy of the game. I didn’t mind the boost system back in 2004 because I had barely played the first game and skipped the second one, but now that I’m familiar with Burnout 2 I can’t help but think the Burnout 3 system isn’t quite as satisfying.
The actual act of boosting still feels as fantastic as ever, as the cars now feel even faster than in Burnout 2 and the racing is somehow even more intense. The controls are just as smooth if not more so than the previous game, and the number of racers on the track has been bumped up from four to six for added mayhem.
Takedowns aren’t just for earning boost and getting rivals out of your hair. There are many different types of Takedowns based on what you ram your opponent into, and the game keeps track of these with Takedown Targets. Completing these targets rewards you with Takedown Trophies which eventually unlock one of the best cars in the game, so it’s definitely worth paying attention to what kind of stuff you can do. Each track has its own set of special Signature Takedowns, and collecting all of these unlocks another bonus car. Finally, you have limited control of your car after a crash, and if you manage to hit an opponent with your wreck you earn an Aftertouch Takedown. This instantly restores the boost you’d normally lose from the crash, and gives you some extra as well.
The best way to get lots of Takedowns is the new Road Rage game mode, which involves wrecking as many opponents as possible before your car packs it in (or the timer expires, if you’re playing the career mode Road Rages). Road Rage is my favorite game mode in Burnout 3 and possibly the entire series, as it’s insanely fun and sending opponents cartwheeling into the scenery never gets old. Unsurprisingly, Road Rage has appeared in every Burnout game since this one.
The other new modes are Eliminator where the driver in last place gets eliminated at the end of each lap, and Burning Lap which is a single-lap time trial with minimal traffic and extra boost, often with a very fast car you won’t unlock until much later in the game. Naturally, your usual Grand Prix and Face-Off events are present and accounted for, but sadly Pursuit is absent this time around. Criterion has also finally decided to let us retry individual races in a Grand Prix, which is a very welcome anti-frustration feature since it’s easy to lose a race on the final lap in Burnout.
July 2020 update: Speaking of frustration, I’ve been playing through the later races of the Burnout World Tour recently and there’s definitely something bizarre going on with the AI at times. For the most part, everything works sensibly enough. The rubberbanding in the races is very rubbery and bandy indeed, so both you and the AI opponents are able to catch back up after a crash, and the AI cars rarely try to overtake you unless you screw up (which is actually very similar to how the AI works in Dangerous Driving, Three Fields Entertainment’s 2019 spiritual successor to Burnout). I don’t care for rubberband AI in general, but it works okay here since you can always ram the nearest opponent into a bus or a piece of scenery to get them out of your hair. That’s not a problem.
What is a problem is the fact the rubberbanding breaks in some races, usually the one-on-one Face-Off events. On the surface, it seems to work just like in the regular races, with the opponent always on your tail. That is, until you crash. When you do, the opponent immediately bolts off into the distance, never to be seen again. Right after the crash, you find yourself five or six seconds behind. After only a few corners, the gap has suddenly grown to ten to fifteen seconds. Instead of making the AI opponent go slower while in the lead, the game is still making him go faster as if he was behind and catching up (if you catch a glimpse of the opponent as you’re recovering from the crash, you can see him speed away as if in fast motion). At this point, you might as well restart because catching up to the opponent is obviously impossible. This doesn’t happen in every Face-Off race (so it’s clearly a bug and not intentional design), but when it does it makes the game utterly nerve-wracking since you’re not allowed to make even a single mistake or get punted into a wall by the opponent.
The single player mode has gone through another overhaul, and is now known as the Burnout World Tour. As the name suggests, you participate in various events across three regions and nine different tracks (plus reverse variations, and point-to-point stages which use elements of the tracks but also introduce new sections), try to earn gold medals from all of them, and by completing a leg of the world tour you gain access to faster cars and harder events. Occasionally, you’re invited to special events around the world, and if you collect all the special event postcards by earning gold medals in all of the events you unlock yet another bonus car. Getting there is far from a simple task, though, because to obtain the tenth and final postcard you’ll have to win the sadistically difficult World GP series.
Even more cars can be unlocked by earning Burnout Points, which are awarded for pretty much everything you do during race events, even outside the World Tour. Crashing into everything? Sure, have some Burnout Points. Taking down a bunch of opponents? More points coming your way. Driving like a maniac, earning near misses and oncoming bonuses and pulling crazy drifts? You guessed it. Because there are so many ways to unlock stuff, Burnout 3 absolutely showers you with new cars early on.
If the selection of cars in the earlier games wasn’t particularly impressive, Burnout 3 boasts multiple distinct classes of vehicles – Compact, Muscle, Coupe, Sports, Super, and Special for race cars, plus the Crash Mode-only Heavyweight. Each comes with ten different cars to choose from, except the unlockable Special class which only has six (some of them returning from Burnout 2) and Heavyweight which has twelve. The Compact to Super classes each have their own racing events and series, so there is plenty of content here.
This time, the Crash Mode has its own Crash World Tour path with progress and unlockables completely independent from the racing World Tour despite being part of the same “Crash Nav” interface. If you want to, you can complete the entire Crash tour without ever participating in a race, or vice versa. Both are required for 100% completion of the career, of course, but it’s still very nice to have an option like this. The Crash Mode also has its own version of Burnout Points, and they can be earned outside the World Tour as well.
Speaking of the Crash Mode, Criterion has changed up the mechanics a bit since Burnout 2. The premise is still the same and your job is still to cause gigantic pileups in busy junctions, but a few wrinkles have been added. First off, there are bonus cash tokens you can try to grab, as well as one that grants you automatic boost. You can also do a boost start just like in Burnout 2 (hold down throttle at the starting countdown, release and re-apply at 1), although the game never seems to mention it anywhere. Maybe it’s in the manual. Might’ve been a good idea to add that into one of those unskippable tutorial FMVs, honestly.
Just like in the races, you have limited control over the flying wreck of your car so you can aim it at tokens or more vehicles, and if you cause enough cars to crash you can activate the Crashbreaker and blow up your car for even more damage (you can also find tokens that do the same thing instantly). If you cause enough mayhem, you unlock the “Crash Headline” for that area, and if you get all of the headlines you’re rewarded with a fire truck that can be used in single or multiplayer Crash events.
All of these are nice additions and I have no complaints about them. However, I’m not so keen on the score multiplier tokens which come in 2x and 4x flavors, as well as the “Heartbreaker” which halves your score if you happen to pick it up. The presence of the multiplier tokens in most of the Crash events means that you’re obviously going to be aiming for them, particularly the 4x, rather than causing the biggest wreck possible.
Don’t get me wrong, the destruction you can cause here is damn impressive and the Crashbreaker makes everything even more spectacular, but after the introduction of the multiplier tokens a few events into the Crash World Tour, every time you reach a new junction you’ll be thinking “How do I get to the 4x token?” rather than “How do I destroy as many cars as possible?” Meanwhile, the Heartbreaker might as well not exist because nobody’s going to pick it up and say “Well, I guess I’ll get half points from this junction” instead of immediately hitting retry. The multipliers would not be seen again in later iterations of the Crash Mode, so apparently Criterion realized they made a mistake by including them.
Burnout 3: Takedown was released for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. A GameCube version was also planned but got scrapped, and Burnout wouldn’t appear on a Nintendo platform again unless you count that one awful Nintendo DS release, which we won’t (July 2020 update: Burnout Paradise Remastered is now available on the Switch, so there’s finally a real Burnout game on a Nintendo system again). Anyway, the two versions are fairly equal in quality and there is no difference in content between them so you can’t go wrong with either. No extra cars or anything like that this time.
The Xbox version does at least offer better graphics and smoother performance (once again targeting 60 fps) than its PS2 counterpart, thanks to the beefier hardware inside Microsoft’s giant black slab o’ power. Of course, the Xbox also features support for custom soundtracks and the analog triggers on the Xbox controller are a perfect fit for racing games, although you can also use a wheel on both versions if you’re so inclined.
Both versions used to have online multiplayer as well, but that is long dead. At least two player split-screen still works, as does turn-based multiplayer in Crash.
Regardless of which system you play Burnout 3 on, it’s a fantastic-looking game and still holds up very nicely. The color palette has been carefully chosen to present a vibrant and attractive image, and the lighting remains beautiful to this day. On the flip side, the environmental texture work doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny (like when you’re surveying the destruction after a Crash Mode event), but when you’re zooming by at 200 mph it hardly matters. The motion blur is a bit overdone for my taste, but doesn’t hurt the gameplay and helps Burnout 3 feel even faster.
With some higher-resolution textures, this could very well pass off as an early Xbox 360 or PS3 title, it looks that good. As such, Burnout 3 holds up extremely well when played on the Xbox 360 or the PCSX2 emulator. All screenshots in this article were captured on the Xbox 360. July 2020 update: Thanks to the built-in anti-aliasing, the emulated visuals on the 360 look noticeably smoother than 480p on the original Xbox despite being rendered at the same native resolution. When I wrote the original version of this article, I did not have A) a physical copy of the game so I couldn’t play it on my Xbox, or B) an Xbox that supported progressive scan, courtesy of Microsoft’s decision to disable the option on all PAL consoles.
Burnout 3 was re-released early on in the Xbox 360’s life as part of the Xbox Live Store’s “Xbox Originals” lineup of digital games. Remember that? No? I thought as much, but it definitely existed and you were able to buy certain original Xbox games on the 360 store for a while. That is where my digital copy of this game came from. None of the Originals are available to buy on the 360 at this point, but they can still be downloaded and played if you own them. If you bought some of the other Originals such as Ninja Gaiden Black, you can even play those digital copies on the Xbox One nowadays, and hopefully Burnout 3 will follow suit at some point.
The fact Burnout 3 was released as part of the Xbox Originals line may also explain why it runs better on the 360 than its predecessors did; since Microsoft was selling it on Xbox Live, they had to put more effort into the emulation. Constant glitches and lockups like we saw on Burnout 1 just wouldn’t do this time around, and the experience feels very solid despite the occasional frame drops (which are less severe than those I’ve seen on Burnout 2, but I’ve only seen video of Burnout 2 running on the 360 so don’t quote me on that). Sadly, you have to do with the in-game soundtrack because the emulator on the 360 doesn’t support custom music.
Burnout 3: Takedown is often considered the best game in the Burnout series and one of the finest arcade racers ever released, and while I have a soft spot for Burnout 2 I’m going to agree with that assessment wholeheartedly. Everything this game sets out to do, it does nearly perfectly. Yes, there are some complaints such as the ill-advised Crash multipliers, occasionally wonky rubberband AI and the cringeworthy EA Sports Big style presentation, but as a whole Burnout 3 is as close to a perfect game as you’re likely to get and holds up brilliantly 14 years after its release. Seriously, I consider this one of the best games ever made, and if you haven’t played it, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this nonsense and go find a copy right now, you won’t regret it. The game is dirt cheap nowadays, too.
Oh, but we’re not done with Burnout yet, not by a long shot. The next main title in the series, Burnout Revenge, would be released in September 2005, but it wouldn’t be the only Burnout game released around that time. Next time, we’ll find out if Criterion was able to provide console-quality gaming on the go, as we take a look at Burnout Legends on the PlayStation Portable.