Fact mirrors fiction as Criterion put their game’s risk-reward metaphor into practice – they go
"Vehicles have that Pledge-fresh showroom finish"
all-in entrusting the success of ‘Burnout Paradise’ to open world racing. Thankfully, although the absence of large neon flashing arrows initially disturbs cloistered drivers, they soon learn to love the (now truly) open road.
‘Burnout’ has always been pushing boundaries with each release, but ‘Paradise City’ really bets their chip-stack on innovation. Let’s track back to the beginning: into the safe calm world before ‘Burnout: Point of Impact’ burst onto the scene and was a risk-reward revelation sketching an experience that would take Criterion some years to flesh out. ‘Maximum Impact’ then tickled player’s accelerator foot with chained burnouts and bigger crashes, tempting ridiculous speeds. ‘Takedown’ stopped teasing and allowed competitors the climax of the crash, each with its own unique reward. ‘Revenge’ stretched the danger still further by letting drivers nudge civilian traffic into the path of competitors.
Now comes ‘Paradise’, the first real departure from these incremental developments. Criterion obviously wanted to make a new game rather than simply the next iteration. Gone is the split screen multiplayer, gone is the ability to restart races and gone is the easy to access list of events. The boundaries of races and tracks are also history as the player now has to find their own fun. The question is whether the Burnout magic remains in such an unguided experience?
For us, the brief introductory footage and well written voice work was more than enough to win us over to the new, less-prescriptive vision. Landing on the street in your first beat-up vehicle, the first thing that strikes you is just how much there is to do here. Paradise city offers a host of different challenges drawn from over 200 different races, road rage battles, stunt runs and burning routes available at every intersection. As if that wasn’t enough there is then the less directed pursuits: smashing of billboards, owning of jumps, uncovering of shortcuts and nailing of handbrake parking. Finding something to do (even off-line) is never an issue here. You are always within a stones throw of your next race, event or barrel roll.
"What do you do when you are given an indestructible toy?"
If you’ve played the previous games, there are some notable similarities here. Takedowns and burnouts still feature in the main races in much the same way, all be it along side some frantic route navigation. The Marked Man mode throws more than a knowing glance back to the much loved Pursuit races; although updating the Starsky and Hutch aesthetic with some Bourne-like show downs. In place of the solitary pursuit car you are now hounded by a slew of blacked out SUV’s that pack quite a punch.
While the much requested return of the automobile golf carnage of the crash junctions didn’t fit the new environment, each road sports a Showtime total mode that casts you as automotive bowling ball tumbling down the street picking up bonuses for each car, truck or bus you hit – as Champ would say ‘Whammy!’ (Anchorman anyone, anyone?). Trying to rack up these high scores instantly took us back to teeing off for some car crunching crashes in Point of Impact’s infamous crash mode.
Whilst the game is something special in single player mode, it gains a social significance when you jump online. The process couldn’t be easier, a few dabs of the D-pad and you are cruising (and bruising) your nearest and dearest. With a host of humans present in the heart of the burnout machine, the city really comes alive. Players can pursuit their own goals or stump up for some man-on-man action. Either way their paths inevitably cross before too long with car-crumpling results, forever melding them with the growing Burnout automaton.
This brings us to the car modelling. Not only do the vehicles have that Pledge-fresh showroom finish, but they also deform, crumple and buckle in equally realistic fashion. We are told that the PS3 version edges out the 360 on graphical performance, but to our untrained eyes there was very little between them. Something both versions share is the absence of drivers, something that has long been the subject of derision for Burnout. Now however we are thankful of the distance between life and art – the gruelling reality of the crashes would be too close for comfort had there been a soft fragile human cadaver in the middle of it all. There has been no scrimping on detail however, as the rest of the world is as populated as a bun shop on bun day, full of inventive twists and turns created with the sole intension of being torn up for your sticky, finger-licking delectation.
"We are told that the PS3 version edges out the 360 on graphical performance."
Ultimately any looseness of progression or lack of directed play is more than made up by the sheer amount of fun on offer. It may sound odd to praise quantity over quality, however the genius here is that by loosening their grip, Criterion enables the gamer to bring their own fun. Spectacular getaways, punishing shunts and narrow escapes are all chosen by the player rather than pre-defined by the game designer. This taps in to that most basic of human instincts – breaking things. What do you do when you are given an indestructible toy? Simple, break other toys. And in ‘Paradise’ it seems there is always another toy to break.