PLAYSTATION 3/XBOX 360
The Burnout series has never really dipped below anything less than complete excellence since its EA takeover. Constantly moving forward, the franchise has done for racing what Gears of War and Resident Evil 4 have done for third person shooters. Sitting comfortably between the hardcore appeal of Gran Turismo and the rampant fun of Mario Kart, the series has constantly innovated since its conception in 2002, throwing a middle finger to traditional racing convention. Burnout Paradise is no exception.
In this latest installment we have a Burnout title that feels both entirely familiar and completely different to previous updates in the series. Criterion has taken the Burnout concept (drive extremely fast, smashing into as much as possible) and dragged it kicking and screaming into an open world environment. The experience is seamless, devoid of menus or loading times.
Each event is accessed by stopping at traffic lights within Paradise City, accessed entirely at the player’s leisure and personal preference. The city itself is a sprawling metropolis, teeming with jumps, shortcuts, tunnels, hills, skyscrapers, junctions and streams of traffic, the locations of which are discovered through extensive play. It’s a dip-in, dip-out experience, evoking a wonderful sense of evolution within the proceedings, though not one which will sit immediately well with everybody.
As your knowledge of the city becomes greater, your skill improves alongside it. A failed race will be eventually won by a country mile once you know the locations of the jumps, boost-filling gas stations or the life giving qualities of the Auto-Repair. It’s certainly a bold move, especially considering the fact that you can’t restart an event once you’ve entered into it, nor are the racing routes explicitly defined. The lack of hand-holding may irritate those who want to trash the competition from the outset, the irony being that no event in the city is too irksome once the city is learned to a moderate degree.
There is immense satisfaction to be had by dipping into a subterranean shortcut discovered only moments prior, watching the rest of your opponents speed blindly off into critical second sapping territory. Fail an event, however, and you can simply drive to the next, each one taking you further into the gameworld, ensuring that each traffic light-instigated smash up remains fresh and exciting, enhanced by the sheer beauty of the city itself.
Paradise City simply begs to be explored. Running at a gorgeous 60fps, sun rays and sparks have never looked quite so exquisite, and Burnout has never felt quite so fast. It’s quite breathtaking at times; a feeling enforced by the lack of course boundaries. Keeping a firm eye on the compass and an ear out for the automatic indicator can mean the difference between a mark on your licence or a pile of rubble.
There have been a number of content revisions alongside the radical change in structure, too. ‘Show-Time’ mode replaces the crash junctions of Burnouts past, activated at any time or location; dollars awarded for the amount of destruction and the length of the chain. It’s easy to start pining for those preset crash junctions, but this is a satisfying and welcome addition to the series, easily fulfilling one’s desire to tear vehicles apart. Cars are no longer awarded with progression in the same way as previous titles, but rather must be hunted down; appearing at random locations throughout the city after the player has successfully engaged in a number of scenarios. New event ‘Marked Man’ sees you hunted down from one end of the city to the other by a trio of sinister black vehicles, hell-bent on smashing you up before you reach your destination. Learn the locations of those Auto Repairs, folks.
The emphasis on exploration and player evolution alongside some galling omissions such as the Signature Takedown, Aftertouch mode and the Crashbreaker mean Burnout Paradise will sadly never satisfy everyone. It’s a bold decision from Criterion, taken in parallel with the ever evolving face of the industry. Critically, this is exactly what next-gen Burnout needed to be; those willing to make the journey to Paradise City will find a manic playground from which they may well never depart, engulfed by a sense of sheer smashtastic excellence typified by the series. One can only wonder where Criterion will take us next.