Reviewed: February 19, 2008
Released: January 22, 2008
* Hard Drive Required for Multiplayer
I’ve been a hardcore racing fan ever since the days of Pole Position, although things have slightly improved over the past 25 years. There are so many racing games released each year that the genre is as packed as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, but that only makes it that much more impressive when one franchise can work its way to the pole position.
I’ve been a huge fan of Burnout ever since Acclaim launched the series back in 2002. Burnout Paradise is the fifth installment in the series and the third console game release since EA took over the franchise in 2005. Oddly enough, even though Criterion has been the developer on all five games, the series only got the recognition it so richly deserves after EA picked it up.
Burnout is one of those games that has been steadily improving since its inception. Everything about it, including our review scores, steadily increase each year, so you are probably asking yourself, “just how much better could the game get since Burnout Revenge?” Well, Revenge was already a model of perfection and we scored it accordingly, but if I had had a glimmer of just how much cooler Paradise was going to be I would have saved back a few points, but then again, Burnout Paradise achieves its perfect score for some very different reasons.
A lot has changed in this latest racing title. We now have an open world to explore. Old race modes are back; some tweaked for the better, while other fan favorites like the Crash mode has been totally revamped. The stakes are higher in what has become a much more competitive genre, but Criterion and EA have risen to the challenge and Burnout Paradise exceeds all my hopes and expectations.
While I never had any reason to dislike the mission-like structure of the past Burnout games you really don’t realize what you are missing in pure presentation until you have all those missions integrated into a massive open world city. No longer must you wade through menus of text to pick an event. Paradise City is a living, breathing menu where every intersection is an event and every street offers a Crash and Time Trial challenge. The sheer enormity of the city and all the events it contains is staggering, especially when you take a look at the world map.
Technically speaking, the game is a marvel, and you can drive from the baseball stadium in the lower-right corner of the map to the observatory at the top-left corner and never experience a single load screen or even a hiccup in the blistering framerate. There are hundreds of mini challenges scattered about the map, billboards to smash, DO NOT ENTER gates to crash through, super jumps, and plenty of hidden shortcuts.
Color-coded events activate at each intersection in the game when you spin your tires. These can be simple point-to-point Races, Road Rage, where you takedown other drivers, or Marked Man, where you try to reach a pre-determined destination before you get taken down. Then you have the Stunt Run where you need to beat a target score by doing stunts and combos and the insane Burning Route events are back, only in this game you have to be driving a certain car and find a certain intersection for that car. Winning this event earns you a special edition of the car you were driving.
Speaking of cars, there are 75 of them waiting to be unlocked at the various junkyards around town. Your options are limited at first but as you progress through the events new cars will appear on the city streets. Simply shut them down to send the car to the junkyard where you can retrieve it later. Cars are broken down into Stunt, Aggression, and Speed classifications. Each class has various boost rules as well as unique handling and performance specs, so picking the right car for the right mission is pretty important.
Another great feature that keeps gamers on the road rather than in menus is the drive-thru method used to refill your boost (Gas Station), fix your damage (Auto Repair), change your look (Paint Shop), or select a new ride (Junkyard). You’ll also want to seek out several multi-level parking garages scattered about Paradise City. These offer some interesting rooftop hopping sequences that lead to the more hard-to-find billboards.
Before Burnout Paradise even released I heard people complaining about the removal of the Crash mode. Sure, we all loved those elaborate setups from the past game where we drove (or flew) our cars into various configurations of traffic and tried to score millions of dollars of damage, but it was getting a bit stale. Paradise gives the old Crash mode a fantastic facelift and a new name…Showtime.
Showtime can be triggered anytime, anywhere, and once you tap that RB+LB combo the mayhem and carnage has never been so addictively brilliant. I’ve literally had to pry the controller out of peoples’ hands who would do nothing but Showtime crashes, one after the other. Once Showtime starts you start wrecking into traffic, signs, and anything else to keep the crash chain going. The more damage you do the more your Boost meter fills up. This meter powers your Ground Break, activated by pressing the A button as you impact the pavement or another car. This will send your car bouncing at even greater momentum into more traffic. The ultimate goal is to keep the chain alive as long as possible racking up huge amounts of damage. I’ve actually crashed my way from the baseball stadium to the country club, about halfway across the map.
Showtime is only half of what is known as Road Rules. Every street in Paradise city has a name and two records you’ll want to hold. The first is for the biggest crash in Showtime, while the second is the Best Time for that street. Showtime records are actually a bit easier to obtain since you only need to start the crash chain on that street, whereas the time challenges have fixed starting and ending positions. Your Road Rules status is shown by either silver or gold streets signs on the big map.
Paradise City is massively complex and the point-to-point races allow you some freedom in picking your optimum route. Even some of the computer racers will split off and take their own unique paths to the finish line. Intimate knowledge of every road and shortcut will become a major factor in winning a lot of these challenges. Shortcuts through warehouses, city parks, jumping a drawbridge, or even racing through an aircraft carrier at the Navy Pier are just a few of the fun optional paths to discover as you unlock the secrets of the city.
I know I had this complete feeling of being overwhelmed when I looked at the size of Paradise City and realized I would have to be plotting my own courses. At first you pause the race and scroll around the map counting branches in the road, etc. then you start to learn the street names (which do display as you approach intersections), then you learn where that secret railroad shortcut through the mountains is, and then you find yourself giving out directions to your friends like you’ve been living in the city for ten years.
The one thing that really bugged me (at first) was the inability to simply restart a failed challenge, especially the Burning Routes where one crash could make the difference between success and failure. The open-end design of the game means that if you lose a race or fail a challenge you actually have to drive back to the origin of that event to restart it. The thing to keep in mind, at least for the first half of the game where events are plentiful is that there is always another new event that starts where the last one left off. It’s a whole new non-linear mindset, especially given the almost obsessive repetitive nature of past Burnout titles.
Another great new feature for Burnout Paradise is the License system. When you first start the game you get your Learners Permit. For those with a Live Vision camera you get to snap your picture and have it plastered on this virtual license. As you finish events and rank-up your license you are given numerous changes to update the picture on your license. The camera also comes into play for exchanging Mugshots on Xbox Live multiplayer.
Burnout Paradise takes multiplayer to new heights by seamlessly integrating the online play with the solo play. It’s not quite as seamless as driving in Hawaii in Test Drive but it’s pretty darn close. At any time while playing solo you can tap the D-pad to the right and open the online menu. From there it’s just a few more taps away to invite friends into your game, setup race events, or join an existing online session.
Online race modes include point-to-point where the host selects the start and finish positions on the map and even toss in some checkpoints to dictate a path. If you find a combination that really works you can save the configuration for future races. Then you have the massively complex Freeburn Challenge mode that presents 50 challenges for every possible combination of players. That’s right, 50 challenges for two players are not the same as the 50 for 3, 4, 7, or 8, so enjoy completing 350 challenges if you want to 100% this game, and that’s on top of the other 20-30 hours you’ll spend in solo mode.
Burnout Paradise is a lot more realistic than any of its predecessors, partly because we are now playing in a “real world” setting that borrows heavily on visual elements we’ve seen in the NFS series, and partly because of the subtle visual effects that add just the right amount of blur and streaking to convey the sense of overwhelming speed. I swear, on some of the Burning Routes, you feel so “out of control”, and you are just hanging onto the controller letting the car take you on the ride of your life.
The car models look amazing, even in the damaged state, which is how you get them and how your drive them most of the time. The only time you car looks pristine is during the exit animation from the Auto Repair drive-thru. The paint shop offers some creative new skins for your cars but again, you really don’t have time to notice or appreciate outside the drive-thru animation.
What did impress me was the level of destruction these cars exhibited, especially during the Showtime sessions that lasted upwards of 8-10 minutes. By the time your smoking hulk came to final rest it was nothing more than a blackened passenger box. You get to see all sorts of parts and pieces fall and fly off in destructive slow-motion glory.
The game looks fantastic in 1080p with virtually no draw-in or framerate issues. The blending of one section of the city to the next is seamless; a tribute not only to the visual artists but also the people who actually laid out the city to resemble something that would be functional in the real world. Nothing seems forced or out of place. There is even an elevated expressway that circles the city.
I feel compelled to once again mention the clever integration of the Live Vision camera, not only for personalizing your own gameplay experience but also for exchanging candid mugshots of the people you are playing with online when you get the best of them. Sure, the game is just as much fun, even if you don’t have a camera, but it’s a nice extra bonus for those who do.
Burnout Paradise will not only dazzle you with its visual depiction of total carnage, those with a Dolby Digital-equipped home theater will revel in one of the best audio presentations for any racing game to date. The sound effects are quite literally, “explosive”, and each car has it’s own unique engine rev. Loading up and driving the Wal-Mart formula racer sounds like an F-15 screaming down the street while the rugged vans and trucks have a throaty roar that spells trouble in Road Rage modes.
DJ Atomica is taking a break from the snow-capped mountains of SSX to flesh out the radio-style presentation of more than 40 licensed tracks including:
Completing Burnout Paradise to 100% might just be the biggest thing you ever do on your Xbox 360. The game is huge by racing standards or any standard for that matter. Every intersection is an event and every street must be conquered twice, plus with hundreds of discovery items scattered about this massive open world, you can expect to spend at least 30-40 hours finishing the solo game (20-30 if you use the map and “cheat”).
With multiplayer just a few taps of the D-pad away, it becomes all too easy to find yourself getting pulled into online events with friends and even strangers. The freedom to create race routes and do the various Freeburn Challenges is unlike anything in any other racing game to date. And the best thing about multiplayer is that Burnout has one of the strongest and most active online communities of any game short of Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4. There are always people playing at any hour of the day or night and that number is growing daily.
There are 50 Achievements spread across single and multiplayer objectives. Some seem totally arbitrary like 10 points for getting the Showtime record on East Crawford or the Time record on Watt St., but then you have clever objectives like doing a 180 Parallel Power Park between two other cars along the curb or repairing your car during a Road Rage event while at critical damage. Then you have skill objectives like landing a double barrel roll jump or getting a 20x boost chain. And of course, you have all the objectives for finding all the discovery items like parking garages, drive-thru’s, billboards, and DO NOT ENTER gates.
I know that we gave Burnout Revenge a perfect 10 back in 2006 and we’re doing it again in 2008 with Burnout Paradise, but both of these racers are flawless examples of perfect game design, creativity, fun, and enduring gameplay that will keep you glued to your 360 until the next installment arrives. Admit it…until Paradise shipped you were still playing Revenge.
Burnout Paradise mixes things up by redesigning the entire way the game is presented as well as making just enough adjustments to each of the traditional game modes to create something wholly new and original, yet familiar enough to bring back fans of the franchise. I’m sure there are a few who still grumble about the lack of a Crash mode, but once you get a taste of freeform Showtime you’ll forget all about those puzzle-style crashes of the past.
This game is all about freedom to do what you want when you want without tripping over menus or awkward interfaces. From the title screen and opening Guns and Roses track to that time when you finally manage to turn the power off, you will never once feel like you are anywhere but Paradise City. It’s more than a game…it’s an alternate reality.