It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!
Playing the demo of Burnout 3: Takedown it was pretty obvious Criterion Games had a hit on its hands. I’d played Burnout and its critically acclaimed sequel, and while they were both excellently destructive games in their own right, they were minnows compared to what the fabled developer had set out to achieve with the third entry. In the years since everything Burnout 3 introduced to the world become part of the gaming vernacular, with seemingly every racing game since its release adopting all or part of the language used to describe the daredevil driving the designers encouraged players to pursue. Everyone who played Burnout 3 remembers their first takedown, their first boost, and their first crash. But perhaps more importantly, everyone remembers seeing the game in fluid motion for the first time.
And fast doesn’t even begin to describe the sheer pace at which the game moves. I’m not sure whether a game has ever been as technically impressive as Burnout 3 was at the time, with everything running at a solid click despite being packed to the brim full of some of the most unbelievably visceral effects I think we’ve ever seen in an arcade racer, and no compromises being made anywhere visually to accommodate it. It was impossible for your jaw to not to drop to the ground in disbelief at the way the world moved around your car, debris and opponent cars flying everywhere, at a speed the likes of which we’d never seen before even in the more outrageous futuristic racers. It was an impressive sight to behold and for me, Burnout 3 was the very same moment I imagine people walking into the cinema to see Star Wars in 1977 had once the lights dimmed and the film started rolling. It looked so good, almost too good, that I can imagine scores of people were pinching themselves worldwide to make sure it was real. It was.
The greatest testament to the game’s quality, though, is something a little less tangible than its wonderful graphics. I can remember seeing the game in action as a friend played it prior to my first hands-on and thinking “there is no way I can play this, it’s way too fast”. It was all a flash as the car slips between oncoming traffic, narrowly avoiding concrete uprights supporting train tracks above, all at what seemed like light speed. It all seemed impossible, that the electrical impulses travelling between eyes and my hands would never be able to keep up with what was going on on screen, that I would be flying into every wall and missing every corner.
Three seconds with the controller in my hand though, all of those fears were dispelled, and I was left with the sense that every game before and after would be spoiled by just how fine-tuned the controls were. Within minutes I was sliding around corners easy as you like, taking to the road like a seasoned pro, sending my opponents flying into the side of the track in a spectacular show of twisted metal and broken glass. Within hours I was making my way through race after race, city after city, leaving a trail of destruction in my wake. Within days and weeks I was wringing out every last bit of content, seeking every star and every signature takedown, in pursuit of absolute perfection. And then I watched my girlfriend do exactly the same thing. Burnout 3 wasn’t just a racing game, it was the game everyone wanted to play, that every developer wanted to make, and that every publisher wanted to sell. It was everything to everyone – and it was absolutely spectacular.
Burnout 3: Takedown was the rare example of a game coming along and changing what you expected from what you played, a groundbreaking experience that looked amazing and felt just right from the moment you had the controller in your hand, and the last game I can remember absolutely everyone I knew – gamers or not – talking about. Burnout 3 was a real industry phenomenon and one that made Criterion Games the household name and lovingly followed developer it is today – praise and accolades that that team of women and men absolutely deserve. For many it wasn’t just a faster and prettier arcade racing game – for one for some it was an introduction to the thrill of racing games – but it was also the kind of game that, once you’d seen it, sat somewhere in your brain eating at it until your next encounter. I don’t know what those left at Criterion – or those that left to form Three Fields Entertainment – have in store for us next, but I for one can’t wait for that next jaw-dropping “Star Wars moment” only they have been able to bring.
Was Burnout 3 your “Star Wars Moment”? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out past games in the 31 racing game greats countdown below!
#31: Stunt Car Racer #30: Badlands #29: RVF Honda #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #27: Nitro #26: Super Grand Prix #25 Super Cars II #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally #22 Wipeout 2097 #21 Micro Machines V3 #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0 #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge #15 Project Gotham Racing 2 #14 F-Zero GX #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown #11 Ridge Racer #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2 #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles #6 Dirt 2 #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit #4 Shift 2: Unleashed #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed #2 Forza Horizon #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition