Burnout Paradise Review
Criterion Games brings Burnout to the next generation with a fun, though slightly repetitive arcade racing title
With Burnout series, the arcade racing genre has been going strong for many years and gaining many new fans along the way. The next closest thing that comes to mind is Flatout, and that series can be fun, in an over-the-top kind of way, but the shaky racing mechanics and repetitive tracks often drag it down. The series is about arcade racing from start to the finish line, with the selling point of emphasizing as many frantic, multi-car crashes as possible. It is pure arcade fun with great sense of speed and satisfaction of slamming your opponents into walls to watch them fly many feet in the air as you drive away. With Burnout Paradise, the fans of the series and new players alike can finally experience this definitive arcade game in its next-generation form, and it’s well worth checking out.
In Paradise, you are given a free city to roam in, something along the lines of recent Need for Speed games. You start out with a low-stats car, and as you win races you will unlock better cars – there is no car modification in Paradise, the most you can do is change the paint by visiting your garage or one of the paint shops. Paradise is purely a performance-based game, meaning there is no money system in place and the only way to progress and win better cars is to race and win. All cars are fairly imaginative; however it’s disappointing that there are no licensed cars at all in the game. The inspiration can be clearly seen, though, so if you forget everything for a second, many cars will appear as licensed and well-designed. Each car has 3 stats: Speed, Boost and Strength. They are self-explanatory. The more Speed levels you have, the faster your car will go, the more boost you have – the longer you’ll be able to keep your nitro going; the strength allows you to take and give more damage before crashing. A certain balance of these 3 stats will put your cars into one of three categories – Race cars, Stunt cars and Demolition cars. Race cars usually have a good speed/boost rating and their nitro has a special tweak to it – you must wait a certain time before your boost is ready, but once you activate it and don’t let go, it will continuously refill and can get you going fast past the opposition. Stunt cars have a good boost/strength rating, and are the best choice for performing stunts off rooftops. The nitro for stunt cars refills as you do jumps and takedowns, and has an incremental multiplier if you can keep your stunts linking up. The Demolition cars usually have a high strength stat, and are best used for Marked Man event types.
Speaking of events, there are tons of them. However, they also present one of the game’s worst flaws – grinding. Yes, you read correctly, Burnout Paradise is one of the few racing games where you actually feel like you are grinding through races just to get your next car or license upgrade. The big reason why the game feels so repetitive at times (even more so than circuit racing games) is because all races can be repeated for progress points (used to upgrade your license) at each level. So, you do about 5-10 races for your lower level driving license, you get your upgrade, and now you have to do 15-20 races for the next level. The issue is, all the races you’ve done for your first 5-10 are now refreshed, so you can race them again and they will now count towards the new 15-20 that you need to do. It’s tedious and kind of goes against the whole idea of exploration if you can grind the same 10-20 races around your garage, never really venturing out. That’s not to say there aren’t many other reasons to explore.
The city and outlying area that you are given to drive in is filled with shortcuts, smashable billboards and stunt jumps. Smashing through any of these during a race, however, will not earn you credit – so there is some incentive to drive around and find all these items to smash. There are 150 or so billboards to find, and figure out how to smash; along with around 300 shortcuts to find, all marked with a yellow fence which gives you credit for finding the shortcut once you break it. The events that you do to progress your career can only be found while free roaming as well, so some exploration is pretty well necessary to advance.
Once you’ve found enough events, it’s time to start racing. All events in Paradise can begin on any of the hundreds of intersections throughout the game world, however they all end at one of 5 finish line locations. It works well enough, but at times you feel that it may get a little repetitive racing the same stretch of road multiple times just to end up at a different finish location. The event types for races include: Marked Man, where you are given a destination to get to, and the catch is that there are 3 or 4 strength cars with a sole purpose of trying to take you out. Race is a usual race against X number of opponents to get to the finish line first. Burning Route is a usual time trial, getting from one location to another within a set time limit. You can also enter a free crash mode at any time during free roam, which will launch your car into the air and you must string together as much crashes into pedestrian vehicles as possible, with bonus points going to busses and larger cards. It looks weird, but it can be somewhat fun at times. There are also challenge races like taking out a specific number of opponents within a time limit, or racing one on one to one of the finish lines for a car unlock. All of the races are set in the open world, so you’re free to either follow the AI cars or make your own route to the finish line. Just know that you will only have yourself to blame if the shortcut you took ends up on the completely wrong street and you have to restart the race. You can unlock cars by winning special one on one races as mentioned, but the rest of unlocks are clever. Rather than just delivering cars to your garage after you’ve won a required number of races, you are told that a new car is now cruising the streets of the city – you must find it and take it out to add it to your garage. The rest is up to chance, as you have to free-roam for a few minutes and wait for the car to speed past you. You then give chase and take it out to unlock it for yourself. It’s a fairly clever and entertaining way to make you race for your new cars. One thing to note of the gameplay is that it is easy. There is no difficulty setting, and though I am being a bit bias since I’ve played Burnout on PSP, but it is way too easy to take down other cars competing with you. A mere tap on the side will send them flying into the side railing, and chances are you will get taken down very rarely during the course of the single player career.
The single career is lengthy enough to keep you occupied for many hours, even if some of those hours is grinding the same races over and over. There are a lot of things to do, cars to unlock and new challenges to find, and with all the DLC content included, it’s a great bargain. However, there is very little reason to start another career, as you’ll just be going through the same motions each time. On the multiplayer side, the lobby is very seamlessly incorporated into the game. By selecting a few menu options without even leaving the game world, you are instantly placed into a multiplayer match that allows you to roam with other players and complete various races and challenges. It is a very fun and smooth experience. At least online the difficulty curve will go up, as takedowns actually require some skill to execute and your opponents actually pose a threat. However the lack of local play option is rather disappointing.
Now it’s time to talk about the technicalities. The game engine behind Paradise is a solid one, the driving feels natural and the majority of the cars handle pretty well, even at top speeds. However, you will still crash a lot because that’s the big entertainment factor of the game. And it must be said, the crashes look fantastic. Every time you crash or take someone out, the camera will swing around to showcase the results of the crash. The engine shows off detailed damage to the vehicle involved, with many bits and pieces of metal flying in all directions. As often as crashes happen, they surprisingly never get old too look at, thanks to their sheer entertainment factor and great detail. Overall the graphics are on-par with current generation of racing games, both arcade and simulations. The city is rich with color and has avoided the next-gen greyness bug that infected cities such as GTA4’s Liberty City. The textures are well placed, each street is labeled with an original name and can actually serve you well during some navigation. The HDR is not nearly as blinding as it has been in some recent games, and overall the cars look very nice. The only odd thing about the graphics engine is that all cars do not have drivers. This is passable for the most part, but once your car gets roughed up and the doors are off, it becomes rather strange. While having GTA4’s crash doll physics in Paradise make it absolutely hilarious, not including even just static drivers makes it look odd at times. With tons of cars on screen and a spectacular, shredded-metal-producing crash in front of you, there is barely an FPS drop. One odd thing regarding this game is the most confusing game menu you will ever see. I guarantee that it will take you about 10 minutes before you can comfortably say you can find the “Exit game” option. However once you get a hang of it, it’s not too bad.
The soundtrack for the game is rich, fitting and large – a good thing since that’s all you can listen to. There is no option to import your own music into the game, so you’re stuck with what’s given to you. It is also odd that the soundtrack cannot be played at random – it is going through the same playlist over and over, so at times you’ll even have an idea of what song is coming up next or the one after. The songs themselves are divided into 3 genres roughly. You start off with the rock and alternative songs from the popular bands of current generation. Later on you have a very large number of tracks from previous burnout games, these range from cool beats to techno remixes. And lastly, you will be able to listen to a bunch of classical music. It’s out of place, so it’s good that you at least have the option to skip it.
As far as car sounds go, there is enough variety here to keep you from hearing the same sound loops too often. The DJ on the radio is not as annoying as some people portray him to be, although sometimes the lines can be too cheesy to take the guy seriously. But you’re stuck with him, so just tough it out and focus on the racing.
At the end of the day, I cannot recommend Burnout Paradise to those not interested in racing games. The crashes are great, however the focus is still on getting from point A to point B, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, perhaps try the demo just to be sure. For fans of Need for Speed and Flatout, however, this is almost a must-have addition to your gaming library. If you can look past some of the issues like race grinding, lousy soundtrack options and a confusing menu, Burnout Parade is a great first entry in the series, and a great arcade racer on its own. With a demo being available, you owe it to yourself and Criterion Games to check the game out.