For most of my childhood, my local shopping mall had a pretty good arcade. I learned so much about games in that tiny building, and my time there bred me to enjoy games filled with action and reflexes over slow, strategic moves. We still use “arcade” to describe an ever dwindling set of games that eschew simulation and realism in exchange for mechanics and environments that take advantage of the fantastical opportunities that video games provide. Show me any genre and I’ll gladly go on for an hour about why it would be better served with over the top sensibilities. Which brings us to racing games, a genre that reached its pinnacle in September of 2004 with the release of Burnout 3: Takedown.
For those who haven’t yet tuned in to Crash FM, allow me to educate. Produced by Criterion Games and published primarily by Electronic Arts, Burnout is a racing game the prioritizes speed and destruction over all else. The racing is fast and loose, rewarding players for squealing through corners and blasting inches past oncoming traffic. When you crash, the game savors the moment, lovingly panning over your failure in glorious detail and allowing you to guide your corpse into your opponents using the Afterouch system. It’s a car combat game as much as it is a racing game, eventually letting you turn rear-ended vehicles into missiles that careen down the track.
In addition to the races, Burnout also brought the world Crash Mode, a puzzle/driving hybrid where you have to maneuver your car into an active intersection at just the right angle to make sure that you take everyone down with you. You were scored in financial damages dealt, and Crash levels were mixed in alongside Burning Laps, traditional races, and the more combat focused Road Rage events. Much like Zombies in any given Call of Duty, Crash Mode felt like a complete second package in Takedown and Revenge, and I always hoped they would break it out into its own thing eventually (No, Burnout Crash doesn’t count. We don’t talk about Burnout Crash) .
So, what happened? Burnout suffered from several factors, and almost none of them were a drop in quality. Burnout Paradise is well-regarded despite going in a new direction and foregoing Crash Mode, and the series always seems to come up in discussions regarding franchises that have gone by the wayside. Sadly, EA makes fewer games than they used to, much like the rest of the AAA industry, and it seems like Arcade-style experiences were some of the things we had to sacrifice in order to progress in both graphical fidelity and profit margins. Some might argue that games like Forza Horizon carry the arcade racing banner, but the existence of licensed vehicles and the strict guidelines that the license holders set ruin a lot of the fun.
It’s been years since anyone even attempted a true arcade racing game, and EA’s Need for Speed has been stagnating for a long while thanks to failed new directions and gameplay inconsistency. The big names at Criteron have already moved on to blow up greener pastures, but the tech is still there, and the Burnout name still holds clout despite years of neglect. A hypothetical Need for Speed: Burnout (because EA is definitely not going to publish a racing game that isn’t called Need for Speed anytime soon) could take a page from the weirdness of 2015’s Need For Speed reboot and go full arcade, licensing only what is needed to make a financially viable product and bringing back the steel crunching action to the forefront. Someone is eventually going to bring back arcade racing in a big way, so why can’t it be the king returning to its throne?