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.
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