Ever since its meager beginnings in the heart of Criterion Games, Burnout has always been about heart-throbbing speed followed by adrenaline-fueled crashes. That’s the basic formula, and Burnout Paradise certainly doesn’t deviate from it.
However, what this latest installment does do differently from past Burnouts – and in fact, from all other racers on the market – is give the player a completely open world in which to play. Criterion took a major risk when designing this game by eschewing the industry standard, and their decision has undoubtedly paid off.
Burnout Paradise is a prime example of ‘flow’ in games. There are nearly no menus to navigate, and the few that are present work seamlessly into the title. For example, the “Easy Drive” online menu is relegated entirely to the D-Pad, thus the player can continue driving while controlling it. Another aspect that helps the game flow lies in the complete absence of loading; there is essentially no loading to experience after the initial start-up screen. What truly creates flow though isn’t nifty ideas or technical tricks. Only through freeform gameplay, in which the player can create his or her own experience, can this concept of flow develop, and Burnout Paradise contains exactly that.
The entirety of Paradise City is open to you from the beginning of the game, no unlocking of areas necessary. You only begin with one beat-up car, which you must take to an auto repair to fix up. From there, you’ll most likely spend your first hour or so crashing through Paradise City’s hundreds of fences (which signify shortcuts), smashing through the many breakable billboards off of a plethora of insane jumps, and just generally becoming familiar with your surroundings at 150 miles an hour. If at any time you wish to participate in an event, just drive into an intersection, do a burnout (hold gas and break at the same time, R2 and L2 respectively), and get going.
There are three varying classes of cars, which span the 75 vehicles in Burnout Paradise: Stunt, Speed and Aggression. Stunt cars are the most maneuverable, perfect for drifting and jumping. Speed cars specialize in boosting; they can potentially go on forever if you’re able to chain together Burnouts, which can only be started with a full boost meter. Finally, Aggression vehicles aren’t the fastest or the swiftest, but if you need to take someone out, they’ll do the job just fine.
There are five differing types of events within Paradise: Race, Road Rage, Marked Man, Stunt Run, and Burning Route. Each event is tied to one of Paradise City’s 120 diverse intersections. Completing events often releases one of the 75 drivable cars into the city, which at random times on will whiz by you. When you see one (they’re not that hard to spot or hear when they show up), take it down to send it to one of five junkyards, where you’ll be able to pick it up to use as your own. Completing multiple events garners a higher class of license, which in turn allows for faster or better cars.
Races are the most straightforward event type, although they are still completely dissimilar from what you’re likely accustomed to. Getting from point A to point B is a lot different when there’s dozens of overlapping routes on which to travel. The street signs present on the top of your screen recommend the quickest standard route, which helps alleviate the burden on players unfamiliar with Paradise. Although shortcuts are often quicker, you’ll have to figure them out yourself, not a particularly easy task while racing down the roads of Paradise City. Burning Routes are similar to races, but there are no other competitors racing. This leaves you in an epic battle between your car and a ticking clock as you attempt to reach one of eight final destinations on the edges of Paradise City within the time limit. Unlike races, Burning Route events require you to use a specific car, and are therefore the only events that don’t reappear each time you obtain an upgraded license.
Road Rage and Marked Man events are fundamentally parallels of each other. In Road Rage, you’re given a set amount of “takedowns” to achieve and a time limit in which to do so. To take down another car, you merely have to smash into them until they crash. It’s simple, unadulterated fun. In Marked Man, the roles are reversed, as the hunter becomes the hunted. You have to make your way to a destination without getting taken out by the frenzied cars that are constantly on your tail. It’s not quite the blast that Road Rage is, but it nonetheless amounts to a solid experience.
The final mode, Stunt Run, combines open world driving with the old school Tony Hawk games to create a combo based score system. You’ll receive points for boosting, drifting, jumping, and so on, while super jumps, flat spins, barrel rolls and the like garner point multipliers. The end result of a Stunt Run is an exhilarating experience attempting to string multiple maneuvers together to overcome a particular score barrier.
One factor that may frustrate players is the lack of an option to restart an event should you fail. You literally have to drive back to the intersection where the event began to give it another go. It’s not the end of the world though, as you’ll eventually discover to play the game in a manner that optimizes the title’s aforementioned flow. After losing at an event, we learned to either search for a different event or just cruise around Paradise City looking stylish in our shiny automobile.
Speaking of shiny automobiles, Burnout Paradise’s cars look brilliant, as does the world around them. With an engine built from scratch leading on the PlayStation 3, the game runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second with amazing draw distances and sense of speed that will make your eyes bulge. It’s quite the technological accomplishment.
What is most impressive about Paradise’s visuals is the insanely detailed car deformation. As you crash, your car will realistically deform in real time based on a highly complex physics engine. The brilliant camera angles and effects accentuate the crashes, allowing for some jaw-dropping moments filled with warped steel and shattered glass. We would have loved to see a system that let you save your greatest crashes in the wake of the ‘Skate.Reel’ feature seen in EA’s recent ‘Skate.’ Perhaps in the next Burnout installment this absence will be filled by such a system.
At any time during a crash, or actually at any time whatsoever, feel free to enter “Showtime,” a mode in which you control your crashing car and attempt to huck the barreling steel body at anything destructible you lay your eyes on. Namely other cars are your targets, but you’ll also take out signs and poles in an attempt to cause as much damage as possible. We say ‘huck’ to illustrate the lack of reality this mode entails. It seems invisible forces are prodding at your car whenever you use boost, gained by hitting things, as you careen it along searching for targets (hint: go for the buses over anything else, as they act as multipliers). As for duration, it’s technically possible to travel the entire length of Paradise City in a single bout of Showtime. One of our chief complaints with this mode is it relies too heavily on luck – sometimes buses show up seemingly every fifth car, while sometimes you’ll go a mile without seeing one, or many other cars for that matter. Although too over-the-top, Showtime remains enjoyable, but the Crash mode seen in last-generation Burnouts is far superior.
The only missing element in Paradise City is, well, a population. You won’t see a single human being anywhere in this entire game. We understand that Criterion didn’t want this to turn into a ‘run over random civilians’ style Grand Theft Auto experience, but even your car lacks a driver. Perhaps the machines have gained enough intelligence to wipe out all the humans and rule Paradise City themselves, often partaking in high-speed joy rides and intense Stunt Runs. Perhaps not. We will never know.
Ignore that latest hypothetical, and indulge yourself in listening to Guns N’ Roses’ song ‘Paradise City’ as you read from here on out. Really, listen to it right now. Think it would work well in Burnout? Well, the developers thought that too, which is why they’ve implemented this song into Burnout Paradise so well. While this song may lead the soundtrack, the rest is nearly as strong. The other aspects of audio in Paradise are completely acceptable; engines sound meaty and the announcer, DJ Atomika, is surprisingly not too annoying.
Where Paradise truly shines is in its online implementation. By using the simple “Easy Drive” feature mapped to the D-Pad, you can plop your car in an online game without even taking your foot off the gas. It will seamlessly connect you to an online match currently in progress, keeping you in the exact same position with the exact same car as you were using when driving offline. You literally feel as if people are coming into your Paradise City, instead of you being placed into an online game.
When “freeburning” online, you may choose to drive around like you were offline, try to set game records — the game constantly records all your stats — such as longest drift or farthest jump, or try and take other players down. Something about the third option always appeals most to us. Most likely, we love seeing the ‘Mugshot’ taken by the PlayStation Eye of the angry fellow we’ve taken down.
On the flip side, if you create a room, you are essentially a god, as you choose exactly what’s happening at all times. How about freeburning for a while? That’s fine. Feel like doing one of Paradise’s 350 online challenges? Sure thing. Want to create a race where you choose the start point, the end point, and up to 16 checkpoints? Go for it – the possibilities are endless.
Even when “offline,” if you’re connected to the internet, the game is still tracking how fast you drive down a road, or, if you do a Showtime, how much damage you’ve caused and what road you began on. This data is then displayed to all your PSN friends, and they can try and top your time or amount of damage. It’s just another way that Burnout Paradise extends its already unlimited amount of playability even further.
All of this, literally everything that’s been mentioned in this review thus far, can take place during a ten or fifteen minute period of play. That is the definition of flow, and that’s what makes this latest installment of Burnout a true paradise.