Criterion’s Burnout 3: Explosively Fun
As IGN’s 2004 review strongly states: “You have never played a racer like Burnout 3: Takedown before, and it would be an absolute crime if you went on living that way.” Released in 2004 for the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2, Takedown is the third installment in the Burnout game series. First and foremost, Takedown is a racing game. You can pick different vehicles to drive around different tracks to either get the best time or win the most races. The fun comes in the form of the game mechanics. The most important mechanic in Burnout is the takedown. During races, the game encourages you to take down your rivals by slamming them into walls or other cars. Taking down an opponent fills your ‘boost’ bar. You can use your boost to give your car a speed boost, but be careful, because the faster you go, the more likely you are to crash. There are ways you can earn boost besides takedowns. These include drifting around corners, driving in the oncoming lanes, colliding with your opponents, narrowly missing another car, and others. These mechanics, along with the backdrop of busy streets, makes for a chaotic but highly enjoyable racing experience.
Interestingly, Burnout’s developer, Criterion Games, wasn’t intended to make games. Founded in 1993 as a subsidiary of Cannon, the purpose of the company was to break into the emerging computer aided design, or CAD. Out of this sprung the RenderWare software, which over time morphed from a CAD tool into a full-blown game development engine. By the year 2000, they had perfected the software for game development and completed the first Burnout game. This caught the attention of publisher Acclaim Entertainment, who bought publishing rights to the game and later its sequel, Burnout 2: Point of Impact. Unfortunately, things weren’t going too well for Acclaim. A lot of their success was based on making licensed games featuring already established brands. This, combined with a general disregard for quality, led to a slow but steady drop in sales. When their finances finally fell through in 2004, they were forced to file for chapter 7 bankruptcy. Criterion, who had already made a deal with Electronic Arts (EA) to publish the next entry in the Burnout series, was sold off to EA shortly after Acclaim’s collapse. Criterion now had the massive wallet, and more importantly, the marketing of EA behind them, which greatly helped Burnout 3 sales.
One of the most important parts of any game is the soundtrack. It helps set the mood, providing necessary auditory stimulation, conveying things to the audience in a more indirect way. The soundtrack is another way in which Takedown shines. By the early 2000s EA had made quite a name for itself. Their licensed sports games were selling like hotcakes, and their 2003 revenues surpassed $2 Billion. With that much money, there was no need to compose an original soundtrack. What better way to drive hype for their new game than to license already existing, popular music? This was the philosophy behind EA’s Trax initiative. If you’ve played any EA games from the period with licensed music, you may have noticed the little banner that says “Trax”. With EA Trax, they planned to include licensed music throughout their game lineup. So that’s what they did. The songs they chose range from songs by artists you probably know like The Ramones, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Jimmy Eat World. But it wasn’t just hits. They also included some amazing songs that weren’t as well known, like Go Betty Go’s “C’mon”, the final song on the band’s first EP which had come out in April, only months prior to the game’s September 8th release date. While the in-game soundtrack features the censored versions of the songs to maintain a teen rating, many of those included are surprising, especially from a company like EA. One notable addition is “Here I Am” by The Explosion. While the in-game version has been heavily altered, on the official album release the opening lines of the song are: “There’s poison in the boys in blue. There’s poison in the boys in blue. Corruption, greed and feud are all I see!” Right off the bat, the song is a blatant critique of the police. In game, the opening lines have been changed: “There’s movement in the distance. Disputes are what I hear. Corruption, greed and feud are all I see.” In this case, the first two lines are lifted from the second verse, with the word “Gunshots” being changed to “Disputes”, followed up by a line from the original first verse. While they did change some of the words, the fact that they chose this song at all shows that they were not afraid to be controversial. This is also the case for most of the songs in EA Trax. For Burnout 3, it was mostly Punk and for their Sports/Street series it was more Hip-Hop. Coincidentally, Zed Kelley, current Director of Technology at Sequoyah, worked with EA during the late 2000s. He said that his experience of EA was positive, observing of EA Trax that “you can have all these different kinds of up and coming artists being featured and…that’s often their biggest audience.”
Unfortunately, this EA, the bold, hip, not-afraid-to-be-controversial EA, died in the 2000s. As time progressed, they morphed from an industry-renowned game publisher, to a widely hated megacorporation. Their colorful lineup of unique titles has slowly fallen to yearly FIFA, Madden, and NBA2K releases, mixed in with the occasional pay-to-win cash grab in an attempt to do something mildly different. It’s actually a bit sad to see quite how far they’ve fallen from their ’90s and 2000s high.
If you’re looking to play Burnout 3: Takedown today, you unfortunately have few options. You can either purchase a Playstation 2 or original Xbox system and try to hunt down a copy of the game, or attempt to emulate it on your computer or smartphone. Sadly, it seems like EA, Sony, and Microsoft don’t care about the Burnout series anymore. The last game released nearly five years ago, and was merely a remastered version of the 2008 game Burnout: Paradise. In addition, none of the Burnout games are currently supported through Xbox’s backwards compatibility, or Playstation’s PS2 Classics. Would I suggest that you go out and buy an Xbox just to play this game? No. These game systems are over 20 years old now, and buying one used can be hit-or-miss. But if you already have a working PS2 or Xbox, and see it at a thrift store or on eBay, it’s certainly a game you should not pass up.
1 thought on “Criterion’s Burnout 3: Explosively Fun”
I got my driver’s license last week, just like I’ve always talked about. Now I can play takedown and ignore the laws of driving. Nice article 🙂