High-octane crash and burn


What’s the big complaint about video games these days? Lack of innovation.

If you are tired of racing games that feature roughly 2 million accurate models of real-world cars and Einstein-tested real-world physics, fasten your seat belts. “Burnout 3: Takedown,” a new anti-driving simulation from Electronic Arts for the Xbox and PlayStation 2, puts the Fahrvergnuegen back into driving games.

“Burnout 3” is a hybrid of racing and demolition derby. Here, crossing the finish line first may mean little or nothing and returning your car in mint condition is a badge of dishonor. Sony’s “Gran Turismo” and Konami’s “Enthusia Professional Racing” are celebrations of driving. This game is a celebration of the almighty crash.

These are the basics. You have a car that drives pretty much like any decent racing car in any decent racing game. If you’ve played Namco’s “Ridge Racer,” the cars and tracks here are pretty much in the same style.

But the cars in “Burnout 3” have one slight modification, a boost button that lets them move extra fast and ram extra hard.

Hit that button, and you can catch up to opponents, push their cars into walls and come out of pileups less scarred than your victims. The trick is keeping your boost bar stocked with lots of the boost juice you obtain by driving with style.

Having near misses replenishes your boost bar, as does driving into oncoming traffic. Drifting wildly around sharp turns gives you a little boost, meaning it is not as dangerous as other stunts. “Takedowns” — causing opponents to crash and drop out — completely fills your boost bar.

So, at the beginning of a race, you might drive on the wrong side of the road, cause a few fender benders and drift around a curve or two to build up some boost juice. Then, when you see an opponent coming, you can hit the boost and slam your target into a wall or a tree.

Your score will go up, your boost bar will refill itself and your adrenaline glands will go wild.

Not everything is about ramming. In some events, being in the right place at the right time to get hit is punishing enough. In others, you need to detonate explosives in your car to bend every last fender. And remember, big scoring races give you points that you can redeem to unlock new vehicles and tracks.

“Burnout 3” supports up to six drivers at once in online races, but it’s fun as a single-player game, too. It features a field of artificially intelligent virtual opponents who want to drive in peace but become quite aggressive after you dent them a time or two. You can even wreak havoc after havoc has been wreaked on you.

The game displays crashes in loving detail, with cars flipping through the air and sparks flying in all directions. You can slow crash action down by hitting a button, and then try to steer your disintegrating car in the air to take down everyone around you. Succeed, and you will continue the race with a fully charged boost bar.

The graphics are not as pretty as they will be in “Gran Turismo 4.” But on the other hand, “Burnout 3” has spectacular collisions you can manipulate in glorious slow motion. And away from the collisions, this game is still as attractive as almost any title on the market.

But there are drawbacks. Folks, do not play this game prior to driving your real car. “Burnout 3 is fast and furious, and universally irresponsible. I drove my daughter to a friend’s house after a few hours of “testing” this game, and almost got a ticket. After high speeds, steering into oncoming traffic and causing fiery crashes, driving your car in Tokyo’s stop-and-go traffic may result in high blood pressure, ulcers and a nervous breakdown.

Of course, driving in Tokyo can cause all of these problems even without playing “Burnout 3.”