Burnout Paradise

A franchise that firmly established itself in the racing hall of fame, with a series of eye-blistering games released on the Playstation 2, was Burnout. The original game took arcade racing action and forced you to drive like a lunatic in order to win races, but at the same time, punished every little mistake with some of the most spectacular crashes ever seen on a console. With the worries and dangers of the real world absent in the game, people were encouraged to reject any cautious thought, using reckless driving to fill boost meters and gain yet more speed. Burnout games set a good example in the same way that Grand Theft Auto does, and it's surprising they've received so little criticism, but for gaming enthusiasts, they're a brilliant escape, and each one provides a feeling of speed unmatched in any other game. The best news is that Burnout now arrives on Playstation 3, taking ridiculous speeds into the high-definition era.

While it largely goes without saying, it's perhaps reassuring to state again that the PS3 version of Burnout hasn't slowed down compared with its famous ancestors. Flinging around larger numbers of pixels has done nothing to subdue the Burnout beasts, and you can expect to put blinking on hold once again as you desperately try and watch for obstructions to your path. Burnout Paradise is, in many ways, an ideal opposite to Motorstorm. While both share the detailed crash philosophy (with the tiniest shard of metal re-created in detail to show-off the crashes), the two games approach racing from totally different directions. Where Motorstorm forces players to grind through thick mud and over other rough terrain, bashing into other cars and struggling to stay on the right path, Burnout gives you the smoothest concrete on which to unleash the power of every vehicle, sending you surging through streets seeking the most efficent racing line and desperately watching for oncoming traffic. The game lets you drive the way you'd love to, if there were no consequences to your actions, and the series has always succeeded as a result.

Burnout Paradise

Paradise isn't entirely like it's predecessors though. Where older Burnout games involved menus featuring track and car selection, Burnout Paradise greets you in much the same way as modern Grand Theft Auto games. You begin in a garage in Paradise City, presented with you first car which, despite some dents and disparaging remarks, is actually a bit of a beast, which just highlights the potential of unlockable vehicles in the game. After a few basic tutorials, voiced by EA radio nuisance DJ Atomica, that take only a few moments, you are free to startup your car and explore literally anywhere in Paradise City. Thanks to the speed of the cars, you'll actually find yourself able to cross the entire city in just a few minutes, but there are so many intricate streets, shortcuts, parks, bridges, alleys, hidden areas, railway tracks and other traversible terrain that the driveable area is actually very impressive and varied. In order to actually start an event, it's simply a case of driving to one of the many traffic-light crossings and hitting both the brake and the accelerator. After a moment, the event will start. It's a brilliant way of presenting the game, and has many advantages over menu-based alternatives (mostly down to improved immersion in the experience), but it's not without its disadvantages. Firstly, opponents must magically appear when you initiate an event, though this is forgiveable in a game. Far more frustrating is that you need to drive to the start location. In the latter stages of the game, when there are less events still to complete, you may need to drive a considerable distance to start an event. To make things worse, if you fail, you're going to have to drive all the way back again. The races are all fairly easy, so a total restart isn't required too often, but it'd be preferable to see a hard game and a good restart option, as opposed to the current setup.

The same key distinguishing features from previous Burnout games return. Simply holding the accelerator won't get the most from your machine. Instead, a boost meter is available, allowing the use of a nitrous-style effect that provides a surge of additional speed. In order to fill the boost bar though, true lunacy is encouraged. By driving close enough to other vehicles (gaining a "near miss"), driving into oncoming traffic, performing jumps over ramps, or drifting around bends, your boost meter swiftly fills up, allowing you to hit the boost and take on yet another level of speed. The best bit about the boost setup is that, while boosting, you can use the extra speed to perform even crazier manoeuvres, filling your boost meter faster than it can be depleted. Though the exact method depends on the type of vehicle (stunt cars and aggressive vehicles will have a large boost meter that fills and depletes in accordance with the action, while racing car meters deplete completely and then refill according to boost acquired during the boost period), the principle is much the same. The beauty of the racing meter is that you can achieve boost chains (where the meter is filled completely in the background so that it refills instantly when the current boost is depleted). With precise and rapid driving, racing cars can race through streets at unrelenting speed, with boost chains that can continue until you ease off the pace, or end up in a collision. It's the boost that makes the game as good as it is, and the feature is absolutely essential.

Burnout Paradise

The available events are reasonably varied, bringing back many of the well-received modes from previous games. While a large proportion of the available events are races, there are also a good number of Takedown events (in which you attempt to batter opponents into a crash), Stunt Runs (where you perform reckless stunts and string combos together to get high scores) and Marked Man events (where you are simply required to survive as far as the finishing line while blacked out mean machines try to crush you at high speed). If you were simply required to beat each event once, then this would be a really decent mix. Sadly though, you progress in chunks, defined by individual licences. To be awarded a particular licence, you are required to win a particular number of events. Shockingly though, your wins are reset for the next target, meaning that you have to repeat a huge number of achievements. The sole exception are Burning Routes, a type of race against only the clock, in which you are immediately awarded a prize vehicle. These can only be done once, so it would certainly be worth checking these off early, to minimize the amount of repetition. Outside of the core events, there are other offline activities to take part in. Crash mode returns, which can be entered into at any point during the game. The more vehicles are hit, the more damage is done, with bonuses available for hitting specific targets like traffic lights, buses and signs, and scores can be set for every street. Similarly, every road has an individual time trial, which is automatically initiated as you enter the start of a street, provided you are in the appropriate mode. Finally, other racing vehicles will appear in Paradise City, as you progress, and these can be found, chased and taken down, so that they are added to your garage. It's a simple (though slightly time-consuming) process to return to a garage and change into any newly acquired vehicles.

Once an event is started, it's down to you, the car you're in and the environment around you. Handling is, as in every racer, absolutely key to enjoyment and, thankfully, Burnout continues its fine tradition with superb car handlingand controls. The racing is supremely smooth, and every vehicle is a joy to drive (even the heavier vehicles later in the game are pleasingly responsive). Your garage will swiftly fill with an excellent range of top vehicles, each with very individual characteristics. The usual stereotypes still apply, in line with the real world, with fast racing cars being somewhat flimsy, while vans and trucks are slow to accelerate, but tricky to fight against. Of course, there are places to visit on the map to help you out of tricky spots during or between events. If your car is badly damaged, there are repair garages, which can be real lifelines in Takedown and Marked Man events and, for occasions when you need a boost refill, there are fuel stations to set you on your way. For those feeling particularly flashy, you can even dive through a spray shop and change your car's colour scheme. Finding these places and, for that matter, your way around is aided by a detailed map that can be viewed in the pause menu. However, there are in-game prompts also, with a mini map in the corner of the screen and, during races, street sign prompts at the top of the screen that provide vague warnings of imminent turns.

Burnout Paradise

The whole package is designed to avoid the need for any jarring menus, with almost everything accessible in-game. Even the online modes can be accessed on the move (though the network loading will cause a slight pause). The network features add a considerable amount to the Burnout package, so it's certainly good that it's so easy to access. It's simple to go online and send invites to friends playing Burnout. In no time, you, and up to eight others, can be cruising around Paradise and competing to see who can achieve the best drift, the most barrel rolls, the highest jump and more, but that's only the starting point. The real online content lies in challenges and events. The latter mirrors the features of the offline game, but with human players in each position (the game even gives a brief TV Commentary-style intro to the racers while it prepares the race), leading to some tense racing. The challenges are sometimes more enjoyable though, since they often require cooperation. Challenges range from simple tasks like each player achieving a certain drift distance, through to doing simultaneous barrel rolls at set locations. These two major aspects of the online game mean that there's something online for everyone, whether you're after competitive thrills or cooperative fun.

The game is supported by tremendous visuals, even in the online mode. The level of detail isn't on a par with the likes of uncharted and Call of Duty 4, but it's incredible how so much intricacy can be splashed around the screen. The city is quite beautiful, with the East dominated by massive buildings, the North decorated with glorious beaches, the South distinguished by factories, warehouses and docks, and the West brought to life with massive mountain paths and forests. The center of Paradise City is actually a colossal lake, with some roads traversing the complete perimeter. It's all very lovely to look at, but it's the vehicles that truly shine. Each one is beautifully crafted, with vibrant colours and phenomenal detail, including translucent effects that provide brief glimpses into the inner parts of the cars.

Strong visuals are matched by top-notch effects, particularly when it comes to the cars. Engine noises might not have the realism of Gran Turismo, but they're still very satisfying, particularly when boosting. There's not a huge amount of variety, since the most that ever happens really are car scrapes and other grinding metal, but what's there is nicely done. To complement the effects is a reasonable soundtrack. It's dominated by EA-style big-license tracks, but this title does a better job than other EA titles before it, with music that does, on the whole, match the action. It lacks the power of the reactive music featured in previous titles though, so it's nice to have the option to select classic Burnout tracks (tunes that only come to life properly when you've got the boost firmly planted down).

Burnout Paradise

From much of the evidence above, Burnout would be an ideal candidate for a top game of the year and a very high score indeed, but sadly the few niggles it has do an effective job of holding the game back. In particular, the absence of the restart button and the time taken to start an event are both points that should have been addressed in this game. The slight repetitiveness fo the missions also grates by the end of the game, and it's these facts that just hold the game back from brilliance. That aside, there is a lot to be impressed by with Burnout Paradise. It's also good to see multi-format games that aren't made for the 360 and lazily ported to the PS3, with Burnout providing a prime example of how multi-format games should look. As far as racing games go, certainly in the first two years of PS3's life, Burnout is, in many ways, the best choice available. Until Gran Turismo arrives on the scene in full form (none of this Prologue rubbish), there's very little wrong with spending some time in Paradise City.

Update: Since the release of this game in early 2008, Criterion, EA and Sony have maintained the game very well, providing free updates and content at regular intervals during the game's first year. Most notably, custom soundtracks, a restart option and even motorbikes (and some new events for these new vehicles) have all been added to the package, making the Burnout of today and far superior game, and a more enticing purchase. While the free content is admirable, and shows up the likes of LittleBigPlanet for the rip-off machine it is, there are features which should really have been available at launch. Even so, the support has been appreciated by all Burnout players. Most recently, the first paid-for content was released - a party pack allowing offline multiplayer options - but at a high price, with little extra content compared with previous free updates, it's difficult to see the worth in the update. Still, it's good to see games getting decent post-release support that doesn't appear manufactured specifcally to squeeze more money from the product, and respect for Burnout should naturally increase as a result.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Electronic Arts

Developer:

Criterion Games

Players:

1

Online:

1-8

Release:

2008-01-25

Trophies:

98

Review summary

Gameplay:

Fantastic handling, but not the complete package

Graphics:

Lovely to look at, very sharp

Sound:

Good music, custom available, and sounds

Lastability:

Lots to do and decent updates due

8.3

Pulsar

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