I came in like a wrecking ball
-Lukasz Gottwald, Maureen “Mozella” McDonald, Kiyanu Kim, Stephan Moccio, Sacha Skarbek and Henry Walter, “Wrecking Ball”
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage“.
It is the 10th September 2004. “My Place / Flap Your Wings” by Nelly is the UK No. 1 single. Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse, based on the Capcom franchise, opens to the top of the Northern American box office. Burnout 3: Takedown is published for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in Europe by EA Games.
One of the main problems of the racing game genre perceived by others is that they require a very specific skill that you either have or don’t have, and that your experience with and opinion of the genre will be influenced predominantly by that. Nobody wants to play a racing game if they know they always crash, because, in a racing game, crashing is bad.
Enter Burnout 3: Takedown. The Burnout series had already established itself as a title based on high-speed street racing that took the usual arcade style and injected it with adrenaline. But it wasn’t until this third instalment that it became a mainstream hit, and that’s for the simple reason that it perfectly realised a premise that was so simple yet had never been attempted: making crashes a key part of the game. Instead of punishing the player for wrecking their car, why not turn the wrecking into its own challenge, with a points system, but combine it with the racing? That way, it was impossible to fail. For the people who were interested in actually winning the race, they could get on with that – but for those who didn’t really care and just wanted to mess around with the crash mechanics, they could. Except now, they were being encouraged to do so. That idea was a fundamental breaking of ground for the genre, and it’s what made the game so accessible to racing game junkies and casual players alike.
There are two event types: race and crash junction.
The races are where the Takedowns happen. Opponents can be taken out by destroying them, but the fun is in the various different ways of doing that. For instance, grinding against them to slam them into a wall or pillar is one way of doing it, but there are also far more creative ways of bringing them down if you can find them. That’s the true beauty of the game: the supreme art of crashing a car. Sometimes Takedowns can be used to your advantage in order to win a race, or sometimes a certain number of Takedowns in a timed event is the goal. Every time you wreck someone, some splash text appears telling you what specific Takedown move you just used. It’s like having a commentator following a boxing match or – more accurately – a dance-off. Once you discover enough Takedowns and perfect them, you can string them together in various ways and create a combo. That’s the difference between an amateur and a pro – the ability to anticipate what move you’ll need next while already making one. Do that, and you’ll be untouchable. Find a particularly unique or unlikely Takedown scenario and a snapshot from an Instamatic camera will be added to your photo gallery, signed with the name of the Takedown tactic. Mmm… exquisite.
None of this is to say that you can’t crash or be taken down yourself, but that’s no bad thing either. One of the coolest mechanics in the game is Aftertouch. This allows you to – get ready for this … continue piloting your vehicle even after its been totalled. If you haven’t stopped moving, you can slow down the crash with the Impact Time feature and steer the wreck in the path of approaching racers in order to get in their way and take them down – just make sure they don’t try that on you. Impact Time is the bow that brings the game together by giving you the chance to really take in a crash and behold it. It’s a great showcase for the physics engine by demonstrating the level of detail on the wrecks.
The Aftertouch mechanics is also utilised in the crash junctions. These are sections of highways with lots of traffic that can easily descend into Hell with just one collision. The goal is to cause as much destruction as possible, which is measured by the total cost of repairs needed. Each crash junction begins with an overview of the highway section, which usually have some conveniently placed ramps, and then it’s up to you to give it your best shot. Which ramp do you take? Where do you aim? How are you most likely to cause the most destruction? It’s like being shot out of a cannon. After enough cars have become involved in the epic pile-up, you can press the Crashbreaker button to explode your car, cause yet more destruction, and then, using Impact Time and Aftertouch, try to steer the wreck toward the tokens that are lying around that multiply the total expense. If you practice the same crash junctions enough times, you’ve essentially rehearsed it; you’ll come to know where all the right beats are, and each time, less guess work is involved. It reminds me of when I used to set up my toy cars and various props and would test the combinations, estimating what the most likely knock-on effects would be. Of course, it was extremely unrealistic and sensationalised, but then so’s the game. It’s the realisation of exactly that kind of indulgent child-like desire to create utter mayhem in what we come to convince ourselves is a very logical, thought-out way. The crash junctions are like a giant Rube Goldberg machine and the car you’re driving is the trigger device. Everything causes another thing. The greater the damage you cause, the longer lasting the knock-on effects, and so on and so forth. The great temptation is to make the next atrocity you intentionally commit even worse than the last one.
The actual racing in the game is really more of an afterthought. Even the races themselves are defined by the Takedowns. The game is so well-remembered and so unique for the crash mechanics and how they’re integrated that the racing tends to not be discussed. But then why should it be? Without the crash mechanics, would the game be as worth playing? There’s definitely a sense of extreme speed with the motion blur but I can’t say that a version of the game with only the racing wouldn’t have been forgotten about. As it is, though, it’s not just the racing. The Takedowns, Aftertouch, Impact Time and crash junctions are there and are the memorable features of one of the most unique racing games.
Burnout 3: Takedown took the Burnout games to mainstream success and quickly became one of the most popular entries in the genre. The downside, however, was that future Burnout titles couldn’t possibly compare – which they don’t. But that’s not due to any particular faults of successive Burnout games. Instead, it’s because such a high standard had been set for all racing games. It’s one of the most critically acclaimed games for its platforms – not just of its genre, but of any genre. It’s able to thrill predisposed enthusiasts of the racing game genre as well as provide ample entertainment for its naysayers by doing something that rarely happens in gaming: giving the players what they want. If you want racing, of course you get that. But if you “don’t really play racing games” because “you always crash”, then crashing is just as much a part of the game. Burnout 3: Takedown is a racing game for everyone when that very rarely happens without it being dumbed-down.
One of the reasons that I started Racing Game of the Week is because I wanted to explain why there’s more to racing games than you might think, specifically targeted toward the kind of non-racer gamers that this game managed to attract. Of all the racing games I’ll be writing about, I doubt that any of them will be more important to the overall development of the genre in terms of its sub-cultural reception than this one. If you come first, you win. But if you crash out, you still win – just in a different way.
I’ll leave you now with a burning lap in the final car that can be unlocked, the World Circuit Racer.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and is currently working on a documentary about the Driver series for its 20th anniversary on 25th June. He also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com.
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing through thoughtful, long-form reviews. We’re a community aspiring to pay our contributors and build a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing and culture. See our Patreon page for more info!
Categories: Racing Column