Playing Burnout 2 was enough to shake the jaded cynic out of even the most poker faced old hack. After the promising, but ultimately disappointing original no-one expected this quick-fire sequel to be anything more than that - but it was, and still is, one of the best arcade racing games ever. Needless to say, we're more than a little interested to see how Criterion can top it with the third in the series - imaginatively titled Burnout 3. Our face wobbles just thinking about the G-force in prospect.
Obligingly, EA has given the World Exclusive to Official PlayStation 2 Magazine here in the UK, which considers the game important enough to devote its front cover to the game as well as running a screenshot laden four-page feature on it - although most of these shots have been released already.
Predictably Criterion hasn't gone overboard with additions and changes - expect more cars, better graphics, you know, the usual - but has added enough tweaks to make this much more than the generic sequel it could so easily have been.
Online? Yes and no.
But as you may have heard already, there's good news and bad news. The good news is the enticing prospect of six-player online play - the bad news is that only PS2 owners get to indulge in this potentially fantastic mode, with Criterion bafflingly ignoring the immensely rich promise of Xbox Live (possibly a legacy of EA's stalemate with Microsoft over online). Although this is certainly a result for Sony in its attempt to tempt more of its users online, it's a massive blow for Xbox fans (and Cube fans aren't getting the game at all at this stage). On a happier note, the various gameplay modes will apparently be supported online, however, and OPSM2 reports that the frame rate and detail levels are unaffected by lag. We'll see how this claim stacks up in reality at E3, when the game's likely to be given its public debut.
One of the most surprising elements of Burnout 2 was the astonishingly fast and detailed graphics engine that made it hard to believe the game was running on a supposedly humble PS2. The fact that most developers have yet to come near to matching its technical feats says it all - yet Criterion have apparently squeezed even more power out of the Sony hardware, giving Burnout 3 the power to shift even more detailed environments at the same face-melting speed, as well as devote more detail to the cars, up the damage model and even squeeze in two extra cars into each race, meaning that you'll now be racing against five other cars - even when online.
Although it was fairly spectacular before, the damage is set to be even more insane this time; as well as improved sparks, glass shattering and the like, OPSM2 report that chassis twist, bonnets flap and crumple, doors swing open and that the whole spectacle is even more wince-making.
Crash and burn
The on screen carnage will also be made even more chaotic with Criterion adding all manner of objects to crash into, such as boxes, baskets and market stalls - some of which may obscure a shortcut route. Let's hope they add a few hapless pedestrians to that list, eh?
The vehicle count has increased exponentially too, with more than fifty non-licensed cars to smash up this time around. The previous Burnout featured a mere 14 base models, with a further seven tuned-up models, so unlocking more than double the cars ought to extend the game's longevity far beyond B2's rather lightweight experience. Veterans of the franchise will also be delighted to learn that Criterion has stripped out all the slow 'normal' cars present in the early stages of B2, with tuned-up cars present right from the start. Later in B3, the cars featured in the ultimate Super Sports category are apparently race-tuned - at speeds that will no doubt require insane reactions to handle properly.
Rather than stick to US environs, this time Criterion has returned to a more globe trotting approach, with European and Far Eastern cities making an appearance in addition to the States. As before, they will be an approximation of real life, with B3's Golden City tracks apparently a ringer for Bangkok.
To crash or not to crash
The all-important Boost function has received a further tweak in B3. Most importantly, any boost earned can be utilised at any time, but any thoughts that this might make the game easier should be tempered when you realise that the game now actually encourages players to crash into their opponents. Not only do you earn boost from crashing into your opponent, but it's actually graded in terms of how much you earn. For example, a Bumper Punch, Psyche Out and Sideswipe Slam might earn you a little extra boost, but the Takedown is the where the game really rewards the player, with instant full boost for a successful manoeuvre.
According to OPSM2, each track has three or four 'signature' Takedowns where you can ram, or be rammed into a deliberately dangerous part of the course. However, the AI racers will also do the same to you, so the game stands to be much more of a Destruction Derby-style affair than previous race-oriented Burnouts. This time, also, each AI racer has their own car, so there ought to be more room for personality within the game rather than the feeling that you're racing up against faceless CPU drones.
Much like Stuntman, B3 will also feature Air Rams in its Crash mode, which enables the player to initiate a spectacular roll as they see fit, no doubt a recipe for extensive carnage on a scale that would make B2 look positively lame by comparison. Criterion is also promising 'large vehicles' and more junctions this time around - and with 30 in the Xbox and Cube versions of B2, that adds up to a lot of crashing.
Points means prizes
Another interesting addition is the use of points milestones in order to unlock new cars, modes and so on, which ought to up the replay value considerably. B2 suffered in the respect that it was relatively easy to unlock everything, and after that you were largely playing to better a high score.
For reasons still not fully explained, (although pound signs are a fair bet) the mighty Electronic Arts won the race to sign the title, which ought to catapult the franchise's commercial success beyond the relatively cult status it has enjoyed so far - who'd have thought the inferior Need For Speed: Underground would have sold so well, but it seems that EA has the commercial Midas touch these days, and who can blame Criterion for following the money?
EA has scheduled the game for a September release on PS2 and Xbox, and we expect to have a full hands-on report for you during our E3 adventures.