Racing games more or less come in two different flavors, simulation and arcade. I, personally, have never been a huge fan of simulation racers. While games like Gran Turismo and Forza look great, handle well and have tons of cars, they just feel slightly boring to me. While I could never drive 99% of the cars contained in those games in real life, I do know what it’s like to drive in real life, therefore simulation tends to bore me. I prefer something loud and fast. Big crashes and even bigger air. Enter Burnout Paradise; what I think might be my favorite arcade style racer ever.
Those familiar to the Burnout franchise know how good it’s been. The game has always been very pretty, had excellent crashes and moved with a great sense of speed. In past iterations of the game, there were Race, Crash and stunt modes that carried various names and were all fun to play. These modes were set like standard racers in that you select a mode, then a car then a track and there you go. Race once and you’re done. It was fun, but what does Paradise blows the past games away. Instead of just going on a course and being done, the whole world is open right from the start, Grand Theft Auto style. You are free to drive wherever you want however you want.
The “modes” in Paradise are built right into the city itself. All you need to do is stop at a corner with a stop light and hold down you’re R2 and L2 triggers to get it started. There are several modes included, all of which are enjoyable. There is your standard race mode, a stunt mode where you try to do flatspins or barrel rolls to beat a set score, road rage where you have to takedown (ram cars into walls, other cars or grind them against a wall) a certain number of cars and then there is Marked Man events in which several cars try to take you down before you get to your goal. Beat these events and you can upgrade your license which helps to unlock cars. Occasionally after beating an event you will be told a certain car is driving around the city and you need to take it down to add it to your garage. The more cars you get, the more opportunity you have to open additional events called “Burning Routes”. These routes are set up for specific cars. You pick your car, drive to the correct intersection for your burning route and then start the event. All you need to do is get to point B from point A and you are awarded a special version of the car you were driving. This helps to add to the license upgrade system as well as opening one of the 75 cars in the garage.
Throughout these modes your car, truck or van will get smashed time and time again. This implements another interesting feature to Paradise. If your car is in serious disrepair, you can drive through one of the many “Auto Repair” shops around the city. This adds some tactical thinking if you are in a Road Rage or Marked Man event, as you can drive through during an event and get your car fixed helping you to win said event. In addition to Auto Repair shops there are Junkyards (where you switch your car), Paint Shops and Gas Stations (to refill boost). Junk Yards and Paint Shops offer nothing in the way of help or tactical advantages, but Gas Stations can. When driving through a gas station you can refill your boost to help you win a race or burning route. I love the way this is set up as it never feels like you have to leave the game to switch cars or to get your smashed up car fixed.
In addition to all of the various race and crash modes you have a lot more to do. For instance there are shortcuts all over the large scale city which are marked with yellow gates. Driving through these gates gets you “Smashes” which can help you earn trophies. There are over 400 of these signs to smash through. Then there are super jumps, 50 located all over the city. On top of that there are 120 billboards to smash through, again to help earn trophies. In addition to those somewhat superficial add-ons you have Showtime mode. This is just like the crash mode of past games where you have to crash cars and get the most damage possible to set records. You can do this on every road in the city, which is literally in the 100’s. You can also set time “Road Rules” for each road in the game. This is just merely getting from one end of the road to the other in a certain amount of time. All of these side tasks are not necessary, but all will get you additional trophies to show off to your friends.
To complete these hundreds of events, Criterion has give us almost 100 cars/bikes to work with. This is not a licensed titled, so none of the cars are true to life, but they all look great and there is a stunning variety. The cars range from import tuners to American muscle cars. There are also trucks, SUV's and vans to help you out in the road rage and marked man events. Further expanding on the car collection is the "special edition" version of each car. As mentioned earlier, when you complete "Burning Routes" the car you complete that route in will be upgraded with a special edition of that same vehicle. The special version usually includes a sweet paint job and will add boost or strength. While there are a lot of cars and they are all fun to use, the lack of customization features is a little disappointing. It would be great to change paint jobs (the drive-through paint places just change color, it does not allow you to select design), add rims or a spoiler. I know this would only change the aesthetics of the vehicle, but it would be nice none-the-less. Even with the lack of customization, there are plenty of cars here, so variety is not an issue.
Graphically speaking, this is an excellent title. In runs in 1080p (thanks to a patch) and always runs very fluidly. The car models are excellent with lots of shine and detail. The crashes are always fun to watch as the physics engine for the cars is very realistic and you can see your car crunch or crack in millions of different ways depending on what you hit. The city it self is large and varied. There is a beach area, industrial area, baseball stadium and so on and so forth. Everything is brilliantly crafted. The collision diction is almost always spot on. In a game this large I would think there would be some clipping issues here and there, but after many hours within the vast city I have yet to find any. As good as this title looks, games like GT, Forza and Project Gotham do look considerably better. So while it is not on the top of the mountain as far as graphics go, it holds it own and moves super fast. All you could ask for in a game like this.
Sonically the game provides a mixed bag. The sound effects within the game are spot on. Engines sound great when revving and when you get in a crash you can hear the metal twist and glass smash. The disappointing part of the audio is the soundtrack. This is just a matter of taste, but I find the songs that were picked for this game were slightly disappointing and generic. There also isn't much of a variety, all of the songs are rock oriented and just get old after playing the game for a few hours. With the addition of something electronic or rap it would've given the soundtrack a bit of a boost. This is hardly a major complaint as you can always play whatever music you want to, so the soundtrack is a situation that is easily remedied.
Replay is through the roof on this game. In addition to all of the modes and additional tasks mentioned above, this developer has been giving excellent, free patches out every few months. The first patch added and extra car. Then we got night and days effects (which can be adjusted to reflect a real 24 hour cycle). Next was a trophy patch and last, but certainly not least, the developer added motorcycles and extra challenges for these bikes. Other companies need to take a look at what Criterion has done here and copy it. This title came out more than 6 months ago but it has remained relevant to gamers and the media alike because there is still new stuff to talk about. Recently news broke that Criterion plans on releasing 4 more patches, but this time it will be not be free. No one can really complain about that however, as we have gotten so much for free, paying extra for whatever they plan to do in upcoming months can't be seen as the developer feasting on micro transactions.
I am sure that after reading the above paragraphs you might wonder if I think it's a perfect game... Unfortunately it is not. There are some very, very minor complaints. First off, for such a great looking game, why are there no drivers in the cars? It just feels bizarre to do a 180 spin with your car and see that your car is being driven by, well, no one. Paying attention to their recent updates has given some insight as to why the game has been set up this way. When adding the motorcycles to the game, the developer wrote a blog that stated they had to have the crashes end quickly to keep their ESRB rating intact. I assume the same logic was used for drivers in the cars, if they aren't there, Criterion can get a more favorable rating so they can market their game to as many people as possibly. Knowing that, it's hard to really complain about the lack of drivers within the cars. My other main complaint is that you are not able to quickly restart a race. So if you start a race at one end of the the city and you don't get the win, you have to drive all the way back to the start point to start the race again. There is no quick restart option from the start menu. This would be a much more annoying problem if there weren't so many events to take part in. If you don't win a race, you will likely finish close to 4 other races you can quickly start. So all things considered, there is little to complain about here. If you like arcade style racers, do your self a favor and get this one now.