Featured Game: Burnout Paradise
The opening notes of Guns N’ Roses “Paradise City” greet you at the main menu of Burnout Paradise. It’s a welcome introduction and a moment of gaming bliss that sets the tone for one the finest open-world racing games ever made. You’re then immediately flung into a tutorial and introduced to the most annoying video game character since Navi from Ocarina of Time. This is stumble out of the gate in what is an otherwise nearly flawless game. Burnout Paradise is quite simply one of the greatest open-world games ever made. It does for racing games what The Elder Scrolls did for fantasy games. If you have any inclination to play a racing game, you owe it to yourself to buy this right now.
For those of you who have never heard of Burnout, here’s a brief history lesson. The Burnout series was a successful franchise of arcade racing games released by Criterion Games. The series debuted with Burnout in 2001 it included a boost mechanic hence the name “Burnout”. It was a nice little game, however the crash mode that was included in the sequel Burnout 2: Point of Impact the following year, would come to define the entire series.
In 2004, EA took over publishing duties from Acclaim Entertainment just in time for Criterion Games to release Burnout 3: Takedown for the Playstation 2 and Xbox. Takedown was a massive critical success and arguably the high-point in the entire series. As the title suggests, Takedown introduced the mechanic of taking down other cars by making them crash as opposed to merely driving past them. This sent the Burnout series from being a mere racing game into car-combat/racing hybrid that attracted a unique audience as a result. The following year, Criterion Games released Burnout Revenge for the Playstation 2, Xbox and the then-brand new Xbox 360. Like it’s successor, Revenge was well-received by critics and gamers.
After four successful games Alex Ward, Creative Director at Criterion Games, decided to take the Burnout series in a new direction. A fifth game was planned and it would be called Burnout Paradise. Unlike previous games, Paradise would be built from the ground up for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, both of which were starting to flex their hardware muscles at the time. Paradise would also move into the open-world racing genre, which had been previously explored by Need for Speed: Underground 2 back in 2004 and perfected by Need for Speed: Most Wanted the following year. Criterion Games intended to create a game world that the player would want to explore and become familiar with and not simply follow and arrow on a map screen.
In a video feature with talkplaystation, John Lewis, Lead Artist at Criterion Games at that time, explained that Burnout Paradise was designed to move away from the track based races of previous games and into a seamless open-world environment. All of this had to be done while still keeping the gameplay identifiable with the Burnout games while also upgrading to the more powerful hardware of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Burnout Paradise was not the first open-world racing game, this particular genre had already been explored by the Need for Speed and Midnight Club games many years earlier. However, Paradise took things a step further by rewriting itself to the open world. Every aspect of this game was designed with the open world in mind from entering races to selecting your car. This was risky move considering how much success Burnout had found in it’s old formula. Criterion Games pushed their vision forward and in 2008, Burnout Paradise hit stores and was met with very high critical praise.
Like previous games, Burnout Paradise is centered around the boost mechanic. Every car in the game is equipped with a boost meter that’ll instantly rocket you to top speed at the touch of a button. In order to replenish your boost, you need to take risks such as hitting jumps, driving on the wrong side of the road and nearly missing other cars. It’s risk versus reward gameplay that defines the Burnout experience.
There are several car types that use boost in slightly different ways. Speed class cars focus on chaining boost meters, Stunt Class cars focus on hitting ramps and drifts. Finally, Aggressive class cars gain boost by smashing other cars off the road. Late in the game, it becomes near impossible to complete events with an inappropriate car. There are over 70 cars to unlock in Burnout Paradise though you can safely cut that number in half as just about every car has an associated event that unlocks an identical upgrade. Luckily outside of upgrades no two cars feel the same and there’s a wide variety of vehicle types from supercars to armoured vans.
Gameplay in Burnout Paradise is divided into several race types. Every intersection in the game holds an event. Progression in Burnout Paradise is tied to the player’s in-game license. Completing a certain number of events upgrades your license which resets completed races, unlocks more cars and slightly increases the difficulty of events. Outside of standard races, there are stunt runs which require you to earn points for jumps and tricks, road rage which focuses on taking out other cars and marked man, which focuses on other cars trying to take you out. Every race is a point-to-point event with no set path. You’re given a starting a line and a finish line and it’s up to you to figure out the in-between. The game world is designed with certain paths in mind and there are only eight possible finish lines corresponding to the eight directions on a compass.
While there’s a turn indicator that flashes for upcoming turns, it can be tricky to navigate the world at first. The mini-map will only get you so far and there’s brief period of adjustment that you’ll go through when playing this game. Once you make the adjustment however, it can be really difficult to go back to anything else. I really became familiar with the game world and though sometimes through brute force, the turns and twists were hammered into my memory. A universal criticism was the inability to restart races, a feature that was added a year after release, mitigating the most common criticism in an already outstanding game.
The other criticism of Burnout Paradise is the crash mode, which doesn’t contain the depth of previous games. It’s the only thing that feels downsized in comparison games. At any point the player can trigger a mode that sends their car flying through the air. The objective becomes to hit as many vehicles as possible to rack up a high score. It’s separated from your progression in the game, you can reach the end credits without once triggering this mode if you so please. It’s still a good bit of fun, but if you were drawn to Burnout solely by the crash mode, you’ll be disappointed here.
Burnout Paradise is a smooth game that runs at an almost constant 60 frames per second. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, 60 FPS is a magic number for video games because it results in more fluid movement which translates into a much more satisfying gaming experience. Every twitch of your thumb translates into the wheels and there’s a great sense of control. This is made more impressive by the gorgeous graphics and physics on display. Upon crashing your car, the game zooms in and shows you in slow-motion every twist of metal as your car crunches into a wall or a hard object. The attention to detail in the damage models is downright disturbing.
Burnout Paradise has aged unbelievably well. I couldn’t believe how good this game looked, especially considering that it’s five years old as of last week. The cars look fantastic and the lighting looks great, especially at sunset. The environment which varies from a vast city to an open countryside looks consistently good. I would go so far as to say that this game hasn’t aged at all. It also has healthy online community, which is very impressive considering this game’s age. The mulitplayer transitions seamlessly from the offline mode and back again. There are also over 500 challenges exclusive to online play, which already adds even more the massive amount of things to do in this game. I have yet to see a game released on a console that loads multiplayer as quick as Burnout Paradise.
There are no loading screens in Paradise City (outside of a brief one when you restart a race), the entire world is rendered in real time with draw distance cleverly disguised behind buildings and tall hills. At no point during the game did I observe distant objects loading into the foreground as I got closer. This wouldn’t have been possible on weaker hardware such as the Playstation 2 or Xbox, which makes Burnout Paradise a truly open-world game for its generation. The world is bursting with shortcuts and hidden collectibles in every nook and cranny. There are billboards and gates to smash and stunt ramps to hit. Every single road in the game has a time trial associated with it. Even the act of unlocking new cars, which requires you to make them crash to add them to your garage, is a delight. This is one of the few open-world that I never resorted to the internet to help me with collectibles.
Since it’s release, Burnout Paradise has been updated substantially. The original game lacked day and night cycles which have been added along with some weather patterns. This game was already amazing at launch and like a good bottle of wine, it’s gotten even better with age. After playing Burnout Paradise, I’m uncertain I’ll ever play another racing game again. It doesn’t seem possible for an arcade racing game to surpass what Burnout Paradise has accomplished. For the price that you can find this game for, I recommend this game to anyone who is capable of holding a controller. It’s not just one the finest racing games ever made, it’s one the best games of the last generation.