What does a guy have to do to get a race on Burnout these days? Well to get answer to that, you’d have to travel a good 5 years back in time to Burnout 2: Point of Impact. It’s quite remarkable – and slightly worrying at the same time, how far off the beaten track Criterion have taken their beloved racing game. Over the past few years, the series has been suffering from a chronic case of road rage, and the latest instalment, Burnout Paradise continues this trend by dipping its wheels in the GTA-style world of free roaming.
The big pull this year is allowing players to drive around a large game world akin to the aforementioned GTA in whatever way they please. This means picking your own car at the garage, having to go get said car fixed if the unthinkable should happen in a Burnout game, and your new ride gets a slight scratch on the bonnet; to even locating and travelling to races yourself. It all seems like a lot of hard work for something that in theory should be incredibly straightforward.
In order to cross the finish line in time players are given a compass and radar at the top and bottom right of the screen respectively. Anyone that’s played a Burnout game will realise how difficult it is to keep out of harms way. When you race, blinking is strictly prohibited – almost illegal, so it’s quite odd that Paradise asks you to perform a task that borders on game suicide: taking your eyes off the car. Combine all these things together and what you get is a bit of stop start mess. The game is fast enough without having to worry about multi tasking, and this is one of the problems with letting players go about races as they please. Sometimes, structure is a good thing.
Having said that, when you do get into a race and all the mechanics of the game are singing to the same tune, it’s the same old brilliant Burnout that has made it a staple in the industry. The cars move at an eye-wateringly rapid pace, meandering in and around traffic is still highly exhilarating, and there’s few moments in any game that equal slamming an opponent into a wall and watching pieces of them scatter across the pavement. But failure is something players must get used to, because you won’t always win your races first time. Unfortunately, Criterion seem to have forgotten to include a replay option so if you want to retry an event it’s back to going there yourself – making sure not to damage your car on the way otherwise you’ll be taking another small detour down to the repair station.
The great thing about volume control is that you do have the option of turning off the sound, as not to endure another second of the impossibly annoying announcer. The same cannot be done for the visuals, so it’s a good thing that everything looks very crisp and easy on the eye. The car models are nicely detailed and the way they tear apart as you scrape lampposts, tress, letterboxes and what-have-you is extremely satisfying. The environments have a lovely warm feel to them, and it seems Criterion have once again managed to make the most of the hardware available to them.
While the game has some time left before its full release, I can’t help but feel quite concerned. With the inclusion of all this free roaming malarkey, I fear Criterion have forgotten exactly what made the Burnout series so much fun to play – the racing. And it’s that aspect of the game that is still undeniably brilliant, it’s just a case of the free roaming side of things getting in the way like some kind of badly parked car. As a big fan of the Burnout games, I pray that it doesn’t. There’s almost an irony in that a series so intent on promoting recklessness is like little boy lost without its basic rules and structure. It seems – for the moment anyway – that this once great series is running out of gas.