Is the new addition to the Burnout series indeed Paradise City or a driving hell?
Ever since I have been an owner of the Xbox consoles the Burnout series has been my favorite in the racing genre. I know other games offer more simulated cars, physics, and locations but I’ve always been one to play what is the most fun. Driving like a bat out of hell without the need to worry if I’ve applied enough break to make this turn or did I lose my gearing around the stretch to me is what makes the Burnout series the most appealing to play.
Nonetheless, it is well documented the amount of change Burnout Paradise City has undergone from prior Burnout games. A lot of people in the community have come down on the game for various reasons which I will touch on a bit later on. The major media outlets who have already reviewed the game however still like it. I’m here to tell you, both camps are right. The game has had many nice polishes added from prior games in the franchise. Burnout Paradise City packs a great deal of fun mixed in with a few controller throwing moments. The typical driving and handling which is characteristic of the series is very much in tact and still a blast to play. However, seasoned Burnout vets may feel the controller throwing moments may be in greater supply due to the drastic overhaul of the game’s design.
The presentation in Burnout is still awesome. From the moment you fire up the game and having Guns N’ Roses’ “Take me down to Paradise City” blaring over your sound system the game does a good job of getting you into the feeling of Burnout. One nice little addition is the representation of your Burnout license. Gone are the tired days when it was simply a grind to go from one license to the next and all you would get is the ability to unlock new routes. Now, when you fire up Burnout if you have a vision cam you can add your own ugly mug to your license. If you don’t have a vision camera, it will default to whichever gamerpic is currently tied to your profile. As you level up your license it goes from a dull stereotypical looking license to newer models with more color and style.
The menu system in Burnout is a bit more complex than in the past but it works with the newer overall design of the game. Get used to bringing up the back button as it will bring up the map of Paradise City which you will be using a lot. You can also cycle through your stats in detail (like how many jumps you’ve hit or barriers broken) as well as adjust the options. All nice and simple as they should be. The seamless functionality with Xbox live is also a very nice addition. Simply hit right on your d-pad to bring up the online menu and take your offline game online to battle it out with friends. The only real issue with Paradise is the presentation of streets and the compass in the game. This is something I am going to be repeating a lot, Paradise City is complex. Very complex. If you are racing toward an objective a compass comes up that lists all 8 directions on it. However, in terms of the very complex city it’s vague. The compass can be pointing you in one direction that you think is right but you’ll make a slight move one direction or the other and be totally thrown off course and be racing away from your target.
There are also some nice little in game touches that are worth mentioning. No longer does your car have an auto ignition switch from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds flat, it actually takes 1 or 2 seconds to start once you’ve switched from car to another. If you are away from Burnout and haven’t touched the controller the camera shifts to the cinematic view and starts playing classical music which was a nice surprised upon my return.
The visuals in this game are top notch. The city itself is extremely large and diverse. You can go from the downtown district to a rural area to a mountain town within a matter of minutes and all feel distinctly unique and far away from each other. It’s like having all the different track locations from prior games on one seamless load free canvas. I implore anyone who picks this game to drive to the higher mountains that overlook the lake and just switch the view and look outward. Thank me later.
The cars themselves all look great when they’re fixed up. As with prior Burnout games, they’re not licensed but do strikingly resemble some very infamous and well known cars. When you first get any car in Paradise City from the junk yard it is completely beat up. I suggest finding a drive through repair point to fix the damage and even a gas station to fill up your boost meter as quickly as possible before going on missions.
The dynamic lighting in the game is also top notch. I get a sense of bloom lighting from the game but it’s not over done like in other games. Nothing is too dark like when moving from an open area to a tunnel or too light even on my LCD. The frame rate is solid and does not slow down at any point. Even as cars 8 cars are on the road, with traffic, with damage modeling, nothing happens. Speaking of damage modeling, it looks great. If you car crashes like before the game camera slow downs and has a cinematic feel to it that will show every piece of glass and every broken part flying off your car. The overall graphical package in this Burnout game is top notch.
Everyone is a music snob when it comes to games with full featured licensed sound tracks. The music in the game is good. Just because you may not like Avril Lavigne doesn’t mean the entire sound track is garbage. I actually enjoyed quite a few songs during my time today. A nice mix of pop-rock and some hip-hop. My favorite tunes from within the game however were some of the songs from prior Burnout games making a come back. Notably, the theme song to Burnout 2 is in the game and it really added to my level of enjoyment to be hearing the song from the game that turned me onto the series. Otherwise, I know many of you will be using custom soundtracks for your Burnout music. I loaded up Stay in Shadow and Futures from Burnout 2 during my gaming as well.
DJ Atomica is just as annoying as every prior DJ in the Burnout series, save Striker. But that’s just me being biased as a socal guy. Atomica serves as your guiding hand spouting off random tips to players while driving around and also motivational catch phrases prior to races.
Where the game shines as it always has in the past is the sound effects. Once more they are top shelf and loud. I’ve played a lot of racing games in my time, and never once have I actually cringed from the sound of a car smash in a game until today. The team at Criterion did a very good job in capturing the ear popping crunching of glass and fangled metal at high rates of speed. The cars themselves all have nice engine sounds and based on the type of car there is a clear difference. Better cars with larger engines have deeper sounding engines than some of the smaller vehicles. The same boost sound effects have returned from previous games and if isn’t broken, no need to fix it. Overall the sound effects are rock solid and I think the sounds while in contact with other cars and during crashes have really been taken to the next level.
The most controversial aspects of this game are without question in the gameplay world. If you’ve been following Paradise City at all you know that Criterion has done away with the traditional complete task A to move on to task B model to advance in the game. Paradise City is a load free behemoth and almost every mission is available to you from the get go. There are a few levels of adaptation from prior games that are going to take some getting used to.
In previous Burnout games, the inclination upon failing a mission was to just restart and keep hammering away at it trial and error until you passed it. In Burnout Paradise if you follow this philosophy the game is going to become extremely frustrating. I cannot emphasize enough the need to let go of a loss in an event and moving on to something else. All racing and survival events have 8 static end points in Paradise City. You may end up losing a race that took you clear across from Wildcats Stadium to the Ocean View Mansion or the Horse Ranch. I mentioned previously Paradise City’s map is complex. Remember that every stop light is an opportunity at another event. Don’t waste your time driving all the way back across the map to re-do a mission just because you barely failed and are upset. Try something else. I know it’s hard, I even had issues with it, but you do learn to move on and the game becomes much more enjoyable because of it.
Another departure from traditional racing games is that you’re sort of left without a clear cut path on where to go during an event. I understand where Criterion is coming from. Paradise City is an open world where you can make your own path and discover short cuts along the way. This is the one aspect of Burnout Paradise City however I simply cannot look past because it on occasion severely hampers enjoyment of the game. You will be racing against the computer and you will have the need to pause the race and look at your map, a lot. If you don’t what ends up happening is you lose the race because the computer knew the path to take and you did not. I enjoy the racing aspect of the game and not so much the navigational one. I wished a lot there was some way where pre-event if the game wasn’t going to tell me where to go I could maybe bring up the map and plan out my own route. But alas, no such luck. Another strategy I found myself using is to allow the computer to maintain a slight lead on me just to see where I should be going. As you increase in your levels however, it is worth noting the computer controlled racers do increasingly disagree on the best paths to take and you must rely on the map screen and if you’re good your memory of the lay out of Paradise City. Many races were lost because I simply got lost in the labyrinth of the city.
Once you do win enough events you do move on from class to class of license and amass cars as you go along. The standard game types all make a return with one major glowing omission. Race (self explanatory), 1 v 1 race, road rage, and burning lap all return. Marked man is a game type worth mentioning. Imagine like in Need for Speed games you are now the hunted instead of the hunter. Very agrressive AI controlled cars will be attempting to take you down to the point of a destroyed car while you attempt to reach the finish in one piece. The one major missing staple from Burnout games is the crash mode. I am very sad to have seen it left out and replaced with a stunt mode. In stunt mode you are required to amass a certain number of stunt points within a given amount of time sort of like kudos. The best stunt drivers will be familiar with the various runs in the city that provide the biggest opportunities to get these points. As for me, I’m not a fan of kudos in PGR and I’m not a fan of stunts in a racing game. I want my crash mode back. It’s also worth mentioning a lot of the events on the Paradise City map are burning laps which are car specific. It may become tedious having to grab the right car then finding the burning lap for that specific car a lot of times.
There’s a new twist of scoring your new rides as well. Winning an event will no longer suffice to secure that sweet new ride. Once you unlock it it will be roaming Paradise City and you will have to take it down to acquire it in your junk yard. Do not waste your time looking for the cars as I have found the game to spit them out if you’re just driving around. Taking them down on some occasions was very frustrating because the cars would without any penalty crash into other cars of obstacles and just respawn at full health. Switching out cars at the junk yard is also a mechanic I am not a fan of in this game. I instantly feel the need to find a repair point to get the car in top shape before going into an event.
On the track there have been some improvements that I am a huge fan of. Namely, rubber band AI is gone. If you can grab a huge lead it is going to be maintained. No hail mary come backs by the computer at the last moment. The handle and feel of the cars is arcadey and as fun as ever. I can powerslide through any turn at full speed. One noticeable difference is the traffic checking is tweaked and harder. You will be taking a risk hitting any car from behind because if may end up smashing you. This was a bit disheartening as it isn’t clear which cars outweigh you and which don’t. I ended up hitting some hatchbacks that the game claims are like tanks. Left me shaking my head. The boost mechanic has been changed a bit. Each type of car has its own special boost. There are stunt, aggression, and speed boosts. Pulling off a stunt will increase a stunt car’s boost bar quickly. A heavy car that is good for take downs will have an aggression bar where, you guessed it, driving aggressively will increase your boost. But if you crash, some of your bar will be gone. The speed cars gain boost by risky driving and cannot activate their boost until the meter is full and you must use the whole thing. If you partial boost you must wait until your meter is full again. You can thankfully chain boosts if you time everything correctly and drive accordingly. On the track Burnout has been improved but some design choices left me scratching my head looking for more options to especially direct me to the right place. It’s going to take any gamer a nice bit of time to have a Grand Theft Auto sized map completely memorized.
There is tons to do in this game. 75 cars to collect, 400 barriers to smash, lots of billboards, jumps, stunts, and super jumps. Seamless online integration adds a whole new level of fun with your friends on Xbox live. You can easily open up your game to Xbox live. From there, you can set up a game of your choice with even the course of your choice. If you’d like, you can also edit the course itself for your events. I played in a few matches today where I set up a 5 race set and I went one on one against someone and had to win it on the final race by chance. I think it’s going to lead to a lot of fun possibilities for those who will really get into the game. The online playing field was empty today since the game hasn’t hit retail yet so I’d expect things to pick up and getting into a game should be fairly quickly.
A solid experience that is plagued by some easily solvable added options that weren’t added in. Solid on the track gameplay combined with excellent visuals, sound, and presentation. Seamless Xbox live play should make this an enjoyable affair for a long time to come. It may take the place of Midtown Madness for the game you just play to screw around and hang with your friends.
Last Appeal: 8.5
Overall Score (Not an average): 8.8