Burnout Revenge: Neurotic Impact

September 24, 2005 By Glenn Turner

Intermittently over the past few months, my friend Dave and I have been getting together to work through Resident Evil 4, working better together than we would apart as the two of us were frustrated and not making headway in the series on our own. However when I sat down for my turn behind the controller last week, I found myself a bit more trembly than normal, a shade more on edge than usual and realized I just wasn't up for the leap-out-of-the-shadows scares that Resident Evil is known for. I explained to Dave that I wasn't all that up for making much progress in this not-zombie world, that I had been playing Burnout Revenge all week and consequently, my nerves were shot to hell. We ended up polishing off a few parts of our current chapter but ultimately ended up swapping in Burnout Revenge for a cacophony of bombastic battle racing.

Honestly, I hadn't really thought of my jittery disposition at that time. I'm almost always up for some solid round-robin survival horror, so to be soured on such a thing was uncharacteristic indeed but yes, I had been playing a lot of Burnout Revenge. However, I played loads of Burnout 3: Takedown and never felt my mind and body tremble like this. Throughout the weekend of near-constant Burnout Revenge play, which saw the game reach 70% completion and gold on almost all its GP tracks, I felt like the game was tiring me out and I was becoming severely irritable, especially at the blasted Traffic Attack modes. I'd often grouse to myself how the same-way traffic was too spaced out or an abundance of unwreckable trucks and buses, robbing me of specific times and awards and preventing me from driving into the prerequisite number of cars required to qualify for a medal in the event.

It wasn't a pretty sight, but by the time I had placed in each and every event I decided it was time to shelve the title. While it may have some value when friends visit or when I finally get on Xbox Live, I just wasn't feeling the same joy with Revenge that I did with Takedown. Comparative the following numbers: I logged only 25 hours in Revenge and topped out at 80% completion. Takedown is still sitting at 67% completion, but over 60 hours of the last year have been spent circling road rage tracks, shunting and taking down rivals left and right. Seeing an opponent I had just deftly smashed into fly gracefully through the air in slow-motion while the speakers pumped out my favorite Winterkalte track, well those moments were practically orgasmic.

So why does Burnout Revenge leave me feeling so hollow? Originally I believed it to be the traffic attack, the new ability that allows you to rear-end same-side traffic and watch the cars fly up the road like a slingshotted projectile. Traffic is no longer something to be feared, but utilized like a weapon. Constantly. There's a plethora of cars traveling your way just waiting for you to plow through them and let loose a flurry of steel destruction that your racing rivals must navigate through, trivializing the ability to honestly take down your enemy with a few well placed bumps, shunts and boosts. It saps some of the challenge in the game as I found myself having no problem completing the normally grueling Grand Prix challenges. No objective seemed out of my reach, and gold medals were in abundance, all thanks to the traffic attack.

Then suddenly it dawned on me: traffic attack is certainly part of the problem, but it's the action of constantly rear-ending the cars that instills such nervousness in me. Let me explain:

I was 18, freshly enrolled in a large Midwest college. My girlfriend at the time lived far from campus, about an hour or two away, forcing us to drive back and forth from her place to my dorms in her rickety car. One day we had to take off from her house much earlier than usual, thanks to an abnormally early class. In fact, it was early enough that she requested that I take the wheel, citing that she was far too groggy to drive. Of course cars are persnickety things, especially uninsured cars with horribly worn down brake pads. The roads that day were a bit slick from a smattering of dawn rainfall, and no more than forty-five minutes into the ride I ran into a spot of trouble. Or a spot of oil mixed with water. Either way, the car was heading down a small hill towards an intersection and I applied a bit of pressure to the brakes to slow down. Then a little more pressure. Then a little more. The car wasn't slowing; in fact, it was speeding up. I pumped the brakes, then slammed both feet down on the brakes and nothing was happening, the car was coasting faster and faster towards a Mack truck that began to loom larger through the windshield. I started shouting "I can't stop! I can't stop!" which stirred my girlfriend awake quickly, and she too started to panic as we both immediately realized that there was no way we'd avoid slamming into the back of this truck. The car was going to take a hit. A big hit.

I didn't see much upon impact. Our heads bobbed forwards while our seat belts kept our bodies from being forcefully evacuated from the vehicle. I heard the gut wrenching crunching of metal folding upon itself. When I lifted my head I saw the hood crumpled up towards the dashboard, gleaming in the sunlight. Shaken, we got out of the car to meet up with the approaching truck driver and survey the damage and found the car's front-end absolutely totaled. It was as if someone had just hacked off everything up to the firewall. The car had, within the span of a few seconds, become scrap while the truck had barely a scratch. We had no idea where we were, how we'd get back to our respective homes, how she'd be able to drive to work; all the penalties that come with being car-less in an rural area started flooding thorough our minds. The rest of the day was a daze, I can barely remember it. All I vividly remember is the look of the truck as we approached it, unable to stop, just waiting for the inevitable collision.

Other than the occasional driving game, I don't get behind the wheel much. Actually, my license expired a few months ago and I didn't even notice. In Chicago you never really need a car as public transportation is plentiful, and parking here is impossible anyway. But on the rare occasion that I do drive and I find myself trailing a truck, I panic a little inside. I see myself losing control of the vehicle, lemming-like, and watching in slow-motion as the hood crumples upward and towards me as we impact.

Burnout Revenge quickly instills the same apprehension towards driving behind trucks. Even though you can use traffic attack to send cars flying, it doesn't allow you to rear-end mack trucks. Smaller trucks you can get away with, but the larger ones will throw you into next week, and you too will experience the slow-motion crunch of destroying your car just like I did. Where this becomes troublesome is that when you're boosting at 209 miles per hour, the smaller trucks are indistinguishable from the larger ones. There's no doubt about it, you're going to end up feeling the back-end of a truck, and it's going to hurt your car, your position in the race, and in my case, your nerves.

Gone is the almost zen-like experience that Takedown instilled. Yes, you could never ram trucks (or cars for that matter) in Burnout 3, but you were never actively embroiled in traffic the way you are in Burnout Revenge. The calm yet tense laps have been replaced by the jarring slamming of civilian's bumpers, automobiles whizzing overhead and an endless barrage of scrap. Overnight, the Burnout series turned from an aggressive arcade driving game to what resembles a shoot 'em up, and while it keeps the blood pumping I just can't take the constant traffic bombardment, especially when it dredges up memories of my own personal wrecks. Sure, I've had my synchronous moments that bridge games with real experiences but this is visceral nervousness, buried deep inside that didn't fade away upon booting up another game. There's no thrill in the traffic attack for me. Taking down my rivals with civilian cars brings me no joy - it's a hollow victory and creates nothing but a shallow race. Sure, it's fun at first, a hell of a rush, but there's no grace or beauty in these crashes. The high subsides and all you're left with are sick remembrances of metal on metal.

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