Change is always a hard thing to swallow. When Unwritten Law changed from punk rock to pop rock I sighed. When Nintendo changed the name of their latest console from Revolution to Wii I chuckled; and when Criterion announced the latest chapter in their Burnout franchise was going from a straight-forward arcade title into an open world experience I was skeptical. The Burnout series has always been known for certain things: buttery smooth control, sharp visuals, and no-holds-barred racing action, but with Paradise the rules have changed, and not all for the better. While Criterion’s latest game will disappoint some it is still one of the sharpest racing games currently available on any console.
The first thing you need to realize about Paradise City is just how big it actually is. Each area also has a distinct look and feel to it ranging from peaceful mountain drives to claustrophobic roadways, all complete with shortcuts and stunt markers making the entire city feel like one gigantic playground. What is even more impressive is that everything runs at a blistering speed without a hint of slowdown or draw in. Criterion has always been known for creating sharp environments with steady frame rates, but when you factor in just how much there is to see and do in Paradise City with no sign of loading screens it makes you appreciate it that much more.
The biggest change to the formula this time around is the structure. Of course being an open world game Paradise gives you a set of wheels and tons of real estate to tackle at your discretion. From the outset you have access to 120 instant challenges ranging from traditional races to events fans will likely recall such as Road Rage and Burning Laps. What is lacking though is a structured return of everyone’s favorite Crash Mode. In its place is a mode called Showtime where players can tap both bumpers simultaneously and create havoc on-the-fly.
The problem here is that it feels completely random, which isn’t redeemed given the fact that as soon as you go into Showtime cars randomly appear on the street in front of you. This feature feels more gimmicky than anything else and becomes tedious far too soon to become a classic mode. Sure there is a possibility we will get Crash Mode later as DLC, but why Criterion would omit their most popular feature in the series is beyond this reviewer’s comprehension.
Another major change to the formula is the fact that every event you compete in cannot be restarted without driving back to the original starting point. While it won’t bother you early on due to the fact that exploration is immensely satisfying; it will manifest problems when you realize that a majority of the events scattered across the game are racing modes. Personally I have always enjoyed the obscure modes Burnout offers as opposed to straight-forward racing, I can get that fix with any racing game released in the last six months. With Paradise it seems the focus was more on racing and exploration than the foundations of the franchise. Granted what is here is highly enjoyable fans of the series may feel a little disappointed at the lack of events that take advantage of Burnout’s gorgeous crash sequences.
One thing that hasn’t changed with Paradise thankfully is its pure sense of speed. Navigating down narrow corridors and trying to angle you to fly through that tiny shortcut opening has never been more intense. That is one thing Paradise excels at; never feeling penalized for losing a race or crashing into oncoming traffic. The thrill of the game comes from soaring down streets at ridiculous speeds weaving in and out of traffic just nearly avoiding death, and with that Paradise is second to none.
Outside of the 120 events scattered throughout Paradise City there is plenty more to see and do. There are various shortcuts littered everywhere, 400 in all, billboards to smash through and even super jumps to find. With the Xbox 360 version finding all of these will net you Achievement points, but it does also add a nice collection aspect to the game in case you grow tired of racing. There are also 70+ cars awaiting you to unlock them. Some are obtained by completing specific races while others will be thrown into the environment after events forcing you to hunt them down and take down their ride to add it to your junkyard. Paradise City is certainly not short on things to do and if you are one of those people that must unlock every single thing in the game Burnout Paradise will last you a good long while.
Of course playing with yourself is only half the fun. Burnout Paradise has one of the most integrated and smooth online modes ever conceived into a video game. With a simple tap of the d-pad you can invite up to seven other players into your game for a plethora of online specific events. The best part is that the game has a variety of things to do for every number of players, fifty to be exact. There are 50 events for two players, 50 for three players, and so on and so forth. You can also just ride around Paradise City and try to outdo each other’s best drift, jumps, and of course have fun causing mass destruction on the streets. Online is also silky smooth with very little lag interruption.
Everything else about Burnout Paradise is top notch. The slick menu system is easy to navigate although a lack of any type of title screen will throw off some gamers. The visuals as I mentioned earlier are smooth and extremely detailed all while run at a blistering frame rate. The music delivers variety, but not for everyone so unless you enjoy switching between classic Burnout melodies and the sounds of Avril Lavigne you might be better off picking up the 360 version if for nothing more than custom soundtracks.
Burnout Paradise is the kind of game that is hard to describe. Fans of the series will no doubt hate the lack of traditional modes from previous games and consider it a crime that Crash Mode was omitted altogether. However, everything about Paradise screams quality and in turn delivers one of the best driving games released in quite a while. It is hard not to recommend the game to just about everyone while at the same time it is hard not to criticize it for what it doesn’t bring back from previous outings. Bottom line is if you love arcade style racing games you will be hard pressed to find a better offering than Burnout Paradise, just don’t expect it to deliver that same experience you have grown accustomed to over the years.