January 26, 2008
In the recent months over the Christmas period of 2007 the game market has stalled, bringing to a halt the mad rush of games we had just started getting used to. One thing which will not be stalled however is your car, in Criterion Games latest offering of the Burnout series, titled Paradise. After the huge success of Burnout Revenge on the Xbox 360 and other titles on former systems such as Burnout 3: Takedown, it was inevitable that another Burnout game would be released. So, could Criterion games produce yet another smash hit game and live up to the impressive standards of previous titles, or has the Burnout Franchise been dragged on for too long now? Carry on reading to find out!
As soon as the disc sits comfortably in the drive and starts spinning at thousands of revolutions per second, Guns n Roses’ famous song “Paradise City” roars from the speakers and lets you know you’re in for an adrenaline fueled time. After the initial loading screen, you’re shown a short video explaining the new features of Paradise, the aims of the game, and what you can expect to be participating in. A map of Paradise City, where the game is set, is shown to you. This city appears to be huge, with roads high in the mountain tops and in contrast, busy downtown routes to explore at death-defying speeds. “Every road is a race, just pull up to the traffic lights to begin” the pleasing voice of the lady commentator announces; if every road is a race, then this game is gigantic - they’re hundreds of roads as far as the eye can see. This was my first thought, which turned out to be true as I was shown icons of all the different events I’d be participating in throughout the game.
There are easily over 200 events found in Paradise with varying locations which will help to avoid repetition and keep you entertained for hours upon end. An impressive amount of events and variations I thought, but what was the point of pipping the competition to the number 1 spot in these races? In due course, you’ll find that the aim of Burnout Paradise is to upgrade your driving licence from the starting “Learners Permit” to the infamous “Burnout Licence”, which only the elite drivers in Paradise City have the privilege of holding and showing off to their peers. In order to upgrade your licence you will have to beat the events scattered throughout the city to prove you’re worthy of the next level and holding this illustrious award. Not only do you have the level upgrades of your driving licence as an incentive to beat all the events, but also you will be rewarded with new rides to smash up in every possible way. The more you accomplish the more you’ll be rewarded, with new rides and paint jobs which really help to improve your performance around the city and impress the on-lookers.
Upgrading your licence to Burnout status is the main aim of the game, but the introductory video also shows you the fun and creativity you can be involved after you’ve completed all events or do not feel like participating in them at the moment. Achieve huge airtime by pounding your car off one of the many stunt ramps located around the city, or spend time finding and jumping through hundreds of billboards and smashing through gates in the free roam mode the game offers. Similar to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, the game allows you total freedom to wonder around, exploring as you wish and just having fun smashing your own and other people’s vehicles to smithereens. In Burnout Paradise, you will be able to invite your friends in to free roam with you and compete for the most impressive stunt or time, and therefore avoid the boredom of driving on your lonesome. Ripping up a city with your friends via Xbox Live is one of the main selling points of this game, and is integrated extremely well; many hours will be added to your experience due to this feature, as long as you have connectivity to Live that is.
This intense introductory video left me begging for more and I could not wait to start exploring this mammoth city laid out on a plate for me. Before you’re able to do this though, another nice feature is presented to you. You will see your driving licence many times throughout your experience with the game due to frequent upgrades, and therefore Criterion games came up with a clever plan of making those experiences more enjoyable. If you have a Live Vision Camera connected to your Xbox 360, you are able to upload a picture to be displayed on your licence and personalise the game much more than you’d assume. It is an exquisite touch to what is shaping up to be an awesome title and one worthy of representing the Burnout Franchise.
Without a car, you would not be able to explore the whopping city of Paradise or participate in the events it has to offer, and therefore you are shown one of the many junkyards scattered throughout the game. These are where you will travel to in order to gain access to new cars you’ve unlocked via beating events and upgrading your licence. If you desire, you are able to change the colours of your car, but unfortunately that seems to be as far as you can go with customisation features. The main thing I noticed within the junkyard was a bit of text in the bottom left corner of the screen stating "Cars Owned: 1 out of 75". My initial response was one of disappointment that only 75 cars featured in the game, but thinking about it for a few minutes, I realised this is actually a pretty good number. Compared to games such as Forza 2 where over 300 cars are present, 75 is a poor figure, but considering the incredible damage system which I will explain later in the review and the detail present in the cars, 75 roaring beasts is a very respectable amount in my opinion.
You will have to play the game for a while before you have access to the more respectable and sporty machines in Burnout Paradise, as your first set of wheels is a very unappealing “Hunter Calvary” with the aesthetic appeal of a car that had been used as a punch bag. Not to worry though, as you can easily get your wrecked pieces of junk fixed by driving though any of the “Auto Repair” centers located throughout the city. After a short 3 second clip, your machine will be back to its former glory and ready to be annihilated once more. As soon as you drive past an Auto Repair in the game, it is added to your map so you are easily able to locate it again. The Auto Repair centers allow you to drive around ruining the appearance of your car and knowing you can easily get it repaired; a very reassuring factor!
After easily finding the auto-repair center on the map, I decided to study the map further and see what the game had to offer. “A lot” is the answer to this question! The map is cleverly laid out and beautifully designed, making navigation easy around such a huge environment. A map of Paradise is accessed by pressing the Select button, and from here you can press the Left and Right Bumper buttons to access the “Driver’s Detail” section, as well as “Under the Hood” and “Paradise City Live” menus. In the Driver’s Detail section, you can view the main statistics of the game such as total time played, total distance driven and percentage complete among many more. If you want to view your records, this is also possible; from finding out how many races you have won to the maximum amount of takedowns you’ve achieved in a race.
There really are a large amount of facts and figures for you to view, which keeps the game entertaining and gives you targets to beat, adding replay value. The Under the Hood section is where you access the options menu of the game, as well as where you save and load, view credits and account management. This will not keep you entertained for long, unlike the next screen. Pull that right bumper again to be amazed at features that have the potential to keep you entertained for as long as your imagination allows you. This is the Paradise City Live section, where you have access to setting up Player and Ranked matches, free roaming the city by yourself or with friends, and also viewing the challenges that Criterion Games have set you to accomplish. All in all 350 challenges have been set, each with differing ability levels. You will easily beat the “Use Boost” challenge, but may have more trouble with “Using boost to barrel roll from a collapsed hanger through the aircraft fuselage section!” The amount of time it will take to achieve success in all these challenges is substantial, and that’s without even playing the single player events. You will also find Leaderboards in the Paradise Live Section, which will allow you and other competitive gamers to boast your times to the world and battle for the number 1 spot in each race.
The single player section is where the map really shines and shows of its superiority. Here is where you will find all of the events scattered throughout Paradise City and also all of the road names as well. The “Road Rules” page is obviously where you find the road names and is a very handy feature. You are able to complete in a time trial for every road in the city and set a time for how quick you can get from one end to the other, and challenge this against computer times already set for you. You can also upload this time to the internet and by clicking the A button on the road name, view the best times by other human users, and also the times your friends took to beat the street. This adds yet another competitive feature and will keep rivalry between friends alight for months to come.
The main feature of the map is to show you all the events left you have to beat in order to upgrade your licence to Burnout status, and also displaying all of the Junkyards and Auto Repair centers around the city. You are able to complete a more advanced search if you are looking for a particular type of event, and then this event type will be highlighted on the map. The logos and set up look pleasing to the eye and will allow you to see how close or far away you are to the events you wish to participate in. My only criticism of the otherwise brilliant map system is that you are not able to lay down a marker to a particular event, Junkyard or Auto Repair center. You have to navigate with the mini-map in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, which can sometimes be confusing and make you crash due to not paying enough attention to the road. A system such as the Crazy Taxi games would have worked perfectly, where an arrow is displayed pointing you to your location. Unfortunately, this is not present and may cause plenty of frustration between events.
So what events do you actually participate in to upgrade your licence and have some awesome fun? There is a nice variety of events in the game which will keep you from getting bored, with 6 different events in total. These are Races, Burning Routes, Road Rage, Marked Man, Stunt Run and Show Time. I need not tell you about races as they are self explanatory, get from point A to point B before your opponents; a simple yet fun concept. Burning Routes is where you must get to a certain point on the map within a time limit. This is a challenging game type as some times forces you to really push your car to the limit, but it is also very rewarding. For every Burning Route you successfully complete, you get an upgrade to the car you were using. This is normally a stronger, faster, and better looking car which will help you with future events. In order to pick up cars you unlock during the game, just simply take a visit to the local Junkyard as this is where you have access to selecting which car you want to use.
Road Rages are extremely fun events, probably the most fun you will have in the game due to the goal being to takedown a certain amount of opponents before the time runs out. If you did not already know, the Burnout series is not about finesse racing and taking corners at the correct speed, but about smashing up your vehicle as well as your opponents. This game mode reiterates this stance, as you will have to dish out some serious damage. Every time you complete a takedown, time gets added to your clock. Achieve the indicated amount of takedowns within the time limit and you’ll be one step closer to upgrading your licence. The main advantage of a Road Rage is that it lets you explore the city and gives you no limitations as to where you can drive, and therefore allows a different experience every time, and new places and methods to destroy your opponents and end their Burnout licence dreams. Road Rages are very simple, yet very fun events.
The Marked Man events are similar to Road Rage, but this time the roles are reversed, with you being the prey instead of the predator. You must avoid being taken down 3 times within the time limit in order to survive this event. Stunt Runs are where you will be dropped of in an area of the city surrounded by jumps and ramps, with your goal being to reach a certain score limit in the time allowed. Pull off jaw dropping stunts to earn the points and prove you have total control of your vehicle. This event can be very fun, but often the point target might be a bit dubious due to being set too high for the average racing gamer. Each event brings something different to the game, and this wide variety of events is sure to keep you entertained and avoid boredom setting in.
Each event is generally very fun to participate in, but unfortunately the game lacks a restart button. If you know you are not going to win the event due to crashing or being too far behind the leader, you are not able to restart the race; you have to wait until the race is finished and then drive back to the starting line to re-attempt the race. Another option is just leaving your car still for a few seconds as this cancels the race you are participating in, and then you can drive to another nearby event. However, if you are solely trying to complete a certain event, this can be an annoyance and might put some people off.
There is a navigation system implemented within Burnout Paradise which looks terrific and works extremely well, aside from the previously mentioned marker annoyance. At the top center of the screen you have the road name you are currently on. To the right of this is the road name coming up on the right, and on the left hand side of the screen the road name coming up on the left. As you get closer to the roads, the road signs begin to move towards the road name in the top center of the screen (the road your on); indicating how far away you are from the road, and lets you know when to turn much like a real GPS navigation system; a very intelligent feature which will allow you to know the correct time to drift around the corner and safely enter the next road. The signs which display the road names are also beautifully designed, with an American feel to them. They look very sharp and help clear up any confusion about what road you are about to go past or turn on to.
You will not find an innovative control system in Burnout Paradise, due to Criterion games keeping the control system nice and simple. The usual Right Trigger to accelerate and Left trigger to brake are present, with the X button acting as a handbrake allowing you to perform impressive drifts around corners at high speeds and crank up your boost meter. I personally found this a good decision, as it allows you to just jump on and play Burnout without having to worry about advanced and complicated controls. Pressing right on the d-pad anytime when you are free-roaming brings up an online list, where you can invite friends into your game to join you and access player/ranked matches. This is a lovely feature, and saves time having to go in to the menus; very convenient indeed.
The handling of the cars are that of an arcade style, which allow you to drift at remarkable angles around corners and fill your boost meter in no time at all. Pressing the A button will allow you to access boost and propel your car to colossal speeds, tearing up the tarmac as you burn rubber whilst trying to avoid oncoming vehicles and obstructions. If not, expect your car to lose some wheels, a bumper, windscreen or even a door or two. Criterion has implemented an incredibly detailed damage system which makes every crash and wreck a joy to watch. When you wreck your car or an opponents a short clip will show the crash in slow motion. You are able to see your car cave in one part at a time, the doors fly open, windscreen explode in to thousands of pieces and your bumper hit the cold road surface all in minute detail. These wrecked sequences are tear jerking experiences which you will not mind watching over and over again, with every crash being different. The crashes add such enjoyment to the game; you are likely to find yourself looking to achieve the best looking crash with your friends online or by yourself in free-roam mode.
Not only do the crash sequences look majestic, but the game in general does. The sun reflects off your cars exterior, incredible detail is seen in the environments, and a very large view distance all help add to the polish seen here. Paradise City is a monster of a place, and for it to look so good yet so vast is an unbelievable achievement. The audio side of things is also very well done. Crash FM, Burnout’s own radio station, can be heard whilst driving around and helps make the game feel more realistic to the user. Crash FM plays well known titles as well as the odd niche tune, there’s something for everybody from Killswitch Engages’s “My Curse” to Avril Lavignes “Girlfriend”. Nice little touches appear in the game such as the screeching of burning rubber as you drift around corners, as well as all the different noises occurring as your car gets wrecked in slow motion. There is nothing left to the imagination in this game, with so many small touches added to make this an incredibly enjoyable experience, and one you are unlikely to forget for long, long time.
With the in game Crash FM radio station playing famous tunes and nice effects such as screeching tires, Burnout’s audio is impressive to say the least and helps to add even more enjoyment to the already incredible experience.
The crash sequences are extremely well done, as you see your car become demolished in slow motion and incredible detail. Drive with the sun reflecting off your car and tarmac, around a gigantic city with every building standing proud in highly detailed fashion.
Burnout Paradise has as much gameplay value as any other video game released to date and then some. With a single player mode containing hundreds of races and an online mode offering 350 challenges, player and ranked matches, as well as free-roaming with 7 of your friends, you will rarely be lost for something to do in Paradise City.
The game is delivered more than adequately, with the Map system working extremely well and keeping the game clear of many confusing menus. Pressing right on the D-Pad allows easy access to the online portion of the game, and will have you and your friends together in no time at all. The only criticism I have is there being no marker present on the map, which can make events and landmarks sometimes hard to locate.
There is a nice mixture of single player and online achievements in Burnout Paradise, with the difficulty of the achievements differing throughout. You can rack up the gamerpoints quickly by winning your first race, repairing your first car and getting your D licence, but expect to put a lot of hours in to the game before you have achieved your full Burnout licence, smashed through all the billboards located through the city, and completed 250 online challenges. A nice mixture is available to you, and if you are going for the full 1000 gamerscore, you have a lengthy task on your hands.
Criterion Games are back with another installment of the Burnout series, and it is certainly the best title yet. With gorgeous graphics and many new features, Burnout Paradise offers an incredible amount of replay value and will keep you entertained for many an hour. Whether you aim to complete all 350 online challenges, free-roam with your friends, enter ranked and player matches via Xbox Live, or just try and conquer hundreds of single player events and gain your coveted Burnout licence is up to you; but whatever you decide, I am sure you will have fun doing it. The game’s called Paradise, and paradise is exactly what you will be in when you play this game.