When talking about Burnout Paradise it's easy to bring up other racing games like Need for Speed and Midnight Club, however it's another Electronic Arts franchise that is a more apt comparison. While it's not exactly the same genre, the leap from Burnout Revenge to Burnout Paradise feels a lot like the leap from SSX Tricky to SSX3. Both games managed to rejuvenate their respective franchises in a way that not only turned them into instant classics, but also raised the high water mark for every other game in their genre. It's going to be hard to look at another racing game quite the same way after playing through Burnout Paradise, no matter how well designed the competition is, part of me is going to yearn for the innovations that are found in Criterion Games' newest masterpiece.
Let me just get this out of the way before we dig into the meat of this review, when I first heard that Burnout Paradise was going to be an open-world racing game I was skeptical. For me a lot of the fun of the Burnout series was racing down narrow paths battling the computer controlled cars. I worried that this brand new experience would be too similar to what we've seen from the recent Need for Speed games, we would be part of a large world where you could go any way you wanted and never see your competition. This worry was only compounded by the somewhat lackluster demo that was released weeks before the game shipped. To me the game just didn't feel right; it looked and sounded like a Burnout game, but while playing the stripped down version I started to get the feeling that I was playing an updated Midnight Club game and not the next generation of Burnout.
Thankfully I was wrong. Not only does Criterion's newest racer feel like a fully fledged Burnout game, but it also manages to evolve the series in new and exciting ways. Yes, the game is drastically different from the last two Burnout games. If you go into Burnout Paradise expecting nothing more than Burnout Revenge with a slight graphical upgrade then you will no doubt be disappointed, but anybody that plays the game for more than five minutes will discover that this is easily one of the best racing games to come along in years. While it's nowhere near as realistic as Forza Motorsport 2 or Project Gotham Racing 4, Burnout Paradise is incredibly deep and involving in and of itself.
Burnout Paradise takes place in a fictional metropolis known as Paradise City. Besides being the name of a popular Guns 'N Roses song (which is featured prominently in this new Burnout game), Paradise City is a large (and deserted) plot of land that is designed to take elements from a number of real life cities (such as Los Angeles). Like all fictional game cities, Paradise City is full of huge skyscrapers, unfinished construction sites, residential area and a lot of wide-open space for you to explore. Outside of the stunning level of details found in the game, Paradise City isn't all that much different from the fictional locations found in the Grand Theft Auto, Midnight Club and Need for Speed games. That's not to say that this city doesn't have a feel all its own, but don't expect Paradise City to revolutionize the way you think about open-world environments.
Once you've officially become a proud citizen of Paradise City (which is made all the more exciting when you receive your first driver's license) it's off to run some events, bang up some cars and find all of the hidden billboards, shortcuts, super jumps, etc. In other words, the whole 250+ mile area of Paradise City is yours to do what you want in ... try not to have too much fun.
At first Burnout Paradise looks like it's set up like any other open-world racing game, but Criterion Games has managed to innovate on the racing genre in a few memorable ways. The first thing you'll notice is that you never have to pick from a list of events or deal with a menu system; instead you will find an individual event at each of the city's various intersections. Oddly enough you aren't able to restart an event if you fail; the only way you can try again is if you drive all the way back to the intersection that housed that particular event. At first this is annoying, I'm the kind of guy who likes to do a particular race over and over until I complete it and then move on. But that's not how this Burnout sequel is set-up, if you fail an event then just drive around and find another race. It's all very non-linear, and once you get over the idea that you aren't just going to rerun events over and over it becomes extremely liberating.
Paradise City is made up of five different events, each of which fits perfectly with the open-world feel of your environment. Obviously there are racing events; it wouldn't be a Burnout game if you didn't find yourself in a high speed race against five other computer-controlled opponents. The nice thing about Paradise City is that there are only eight different finish lines (including a baseball stadium, an observatory, a country club and five other out of the way landmarks that are hard to miss), so no matter what race you start you're going to end in a familiar location. This actually works out perfectly, especially early on. Instead of being forced to stare at the mini-map so that you don't miss your turn, you'll find that you're going to places that you remember and will begin to recognize these places and learn the paths. For this very reason I had a much easier time memorizing Paradise City than the cities in recent Need For Speed and Midnight Club Racing games.
Thankfully not every event involves you racing against computer-controller cars, a good chunk of the action involves you trying to slam into cars and avoid being taken down. Road Rage and Marked Man are by far the two most successful events found in this new Burnout game. Road Rage is no different from the past games; you drive around the streets of Paradise City trying to takedown as many enemy cars as you possibly can. Marked Man is a little different; you are given a finish line (which is always one of those eight locations) and it's your job to get there in one piece (there are black enemy cars that will do everything in their power to stop you in your tracks). In both cases the enemy cars move with you, so if you turn around or take a strange path you'll always find cars around you. These two event types manage to combine the most exhilarating and frustrating moments of Burnout together in one awesome package.
The other event types include a stunt run which is moderately enjoyable and something called Burning Route. Burning Route is a lot like a regular race, only you're trying to beat a pre-set time and you have to use a specific car per event. The good news is that when you beat a Burning Route you will get a brand new car (generally a suped-up version of the car you used), so it's definitely worth your time to go through and do all of the Burning Route events just to earn the new rides.
For the most part it doesn't matter which events you decide to take part in, the game will allow you to be as repetitive as you want to be. If all you want to do is race, then have at it. Same goes for the Marked Man, Road Rage and Stunt Run events. All Burnout Paradise asks of you is to beat a certain amount of events in order to upgrade your license. You start with nothing more than a beginner's license, but eventually you'll earn a C grade license, then B, then A and eventually you'll be sporting the super slick Burnout License. Once you upgrade your license all of the events you've completed are reset, allowing you to go back and select them all over again if that's what you choose. Eventually you're going to be forced to complete all of the events in order to earn the best license, and by that time you'll have run some of the events three or four times.
But while repetitive races would be the downfall of a lot of games, this is not a problem with Burnout Paradise. The trick to Burnout is that no matter what you're doing you're always having a good time. Even when you're jumping up and down yelling at your TV (which happens more often than I would like to admit) you're still having a great time. I don't know what it is, but Criterion seems to always have the right ingredients when it comes to making a fun game. Sometimes I wish Criterion could send that special ingredient to all of the other game developers so every game could be as good as Burnout Paradise.
But don't get too excited, long-time Burnout fans. While this game looks and feels a lot like older titles, there are a few things missing that are worth pointing out. For one thing there are no after touch takedowns. In fact, there is no after touch at all in Burnout Paradise. You also can't traffic check the way you could in Burnout Revenge (that is, fit the back of a car at full speed and send it flying). The good thing is that these gimmicks aren't missed, while the after touch is fun, it just wouldn't fit in with what Burnout Paradise is trying to do. I wouldn't be surprised if we started to see some of these missing elements added back into the series when the next Burnout is released.
Unfortunately there's one missing Burnout mainstay that is sorely missing - the crash mode. Now don't get me wrong, there is something of a crash mode alternative added to the game. This faux-crash mode is called Showtime and it's, well, it's not the crash mode ... and that really sucks. You can enter the Showtime mode any time; you just have to crash and then hit the left and right bumpers together. The object is to use your car to hit as many other vehicles as possible, creating a huge pile-up. To keep the crash going what you do is use your turbo to literally leap off of the ground and hit more cars, each time getting a little boost back. The problem with this mode is that it's a little too easy to keep it going forever and it's just not as exciting as the traditional crash mode was. I don't know if Criterion is planning on adding the traditional crash mode to this game (perhaps with downloadable content) or if they are going to use it in a future installment, but I'm going to be very depressed if we've seen the last of the traditional crash mode.
In total the single-player mode will run you around 30 hours ... and that's not including all of the extra stuff you can do while simply driving around. By the end of the game you'll be asked to race more than 200 events, which will certainly take you awhile. Not that you'll notice, I sat there glued to my TV for eight hours straight the first day I got it ... it wasn't until I got up that I realized just how long I had sat there having a good time. If that's not a good judge of the quality of the game then I don't know what is.
The best part of this new Burnout is that when you get sick of hanging out with computer-controlled vehicles, you can always jump into an online game without leaving your position in Paradise City. You see, in Burnout Paradise you don't have to exit the main game to jump into the online mode, all you have to do is push right on the D-Pad and get seamlessly transported into an online lobby. Unlike most racing games, Burnout Paradise does not have you go into some weird lobby where you pick races and events. Instead the entire city is the lobby and you just wait for the host to start up a challenge and give you something to do.
There are 350 different multiplayer challenges. You read that right; there are 350 ... that's more than twice the number of actual events in the offline mode. The events are split up depending on how many people are in the room, so you'll have 50 two-player events, 50 three-player events, 50 four-player events and so on so forth. Unfortunately not all 350 events are worth talking about, most of them involve you meeting someplace on the map (in no particular order), making a certain amount of jumps, hit some of the billboards and so on so forth. Thankfully most of the missions are fun and this is definitely a nice way to spend the afternoon with people online. The problem is that I would liked to have seen some of the offline stuff featured online, especially things like Marked Man and Road Rage. Having said that, Burnout Paradise certainly has enough online content to keep you busy for days (if not months) to come.
This is a game about small (but amazing) moments, be it narrowly missing a five car pile-up or slamming into a bus and flying a hundred feet into the air. The truth is that there are almost too many amazing moments in Burnout Paradise to talk about, I would have to spend the next ten pages just hyperventilating about how cool all of the different cars are, or how I love the three boost types (each taken from an older Burnout title), or how I love that you can use the Xbox Live Vision camera online to take pictures of yourself whenever you get taken down, or how I love being able to drive through a gas station to fill up my boosts, fix my car or give my ride a new paintjob. It's not any one of these things that makes this game awesome, it's all of these elements put together.
One of the reasons I was excited about a next-generation Burnout game was because I couldn't wait to see what Criterion could do to the graphics, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Not only is Paradise City one of the best looking fictional locations ever created for a video game, but it's full of small little details that make it look even more realistic. On top of the amazing background graphics, the actual cars all look stunning (especially in HD). The game is full of "HOLY CRAP!! DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?!?" moments that will entertain both you and your friends.
The audio is also good, but I personally can't stand the announcer and the music selection. Outside of that the sound effects and ambience is nice, even if the EA Trax (Electronic Arts' radio) is on the annoying side. Thankfully Xbox 360 owners can substitute their own music, which is the only way to go.
Now that I have put dozens of hours into Burnout Paradise it's hard to remember just why I was skeptical about the game in the first place, this is a phenomenal racing game that I can't imagine not having in my collection. If you're a fan of the Burnout franchise then there's no reason not to own this game, this is one of those games that actually feels like a real sequel, not just an expansion pack with extra levels. While I'm disappointed that some of my favorite features from the previous installments were cut from this game, I feel that I can safely say that this is the best Burnout game in years.
More On:Burnout Paradise
Don't be afraid of the different route this sequel took, Burnout Paradise is every bit as exhilarating as you could hope for. With its amazing graphics, great sense of speed, fantastic level design and fun events, this Burnout game is one of the best racing games to be released in recent years.