Don’t you hate how hard it is to get a driver’s license these days? All of those rules and regulations sure take all the fun out of owning a gas-guzzling speed machine. So I ran over a few women and children and took out a stoplight. Woop de doo! If you agree with the previous statements, then you will either love Burnout Paradise, or are in jail. Or both. Paradise is the latest installment in the popular racing series, and one that covers a shocking amount of new ground, considering it’s an EA game. Those folks at Criterion sure know how to code for the 360, because Paradise is a veritable showcase of graphics, physics, and open-world environments. Of course, the concept is decidedly archaic – drive like an maniac, blow things up – but that’s what makes Paradise so delicious. It takes old school gameplay and brings it into the current generation with fantastic results.
For those who haven’t played a Burnout game before, here’s a brief crash course. Players choose a car, each with different ratings for speed, boost, and strength, and take them out on the track in a series of events ranging from racing to demolition derbies. The series won fame for its blistering sense of speed and the pretty crashes that inevitably came when that speed ended. Paradise is essentially the same concept, but instead of tracks, players are given free reign in a large city environment. Every intersection features a challenge to enter, and there are several tiers to progress through on your way to earning a Burnout License. All of the challenge scores reset for each tier, so the amount of high scores to collect is practically infinite. Because of the game’s open design, races are simply point to point, rather than enclosed circuits, allowing drivers to choose their own way to the objective. While the transition is certainly jarring, it makes Paradise a fresh experience. If you could imagine Test Drive Unlimited on a lethal dose of PCP, that’s Paradise in a nutshell. Drive any way, anywhere, and make sure to disobey every traffic law ever written down.
Paradise City is no San Andreas, but the size is extremely impressive. Paradise runs at a solid 60 frames per second at all times, which is a downright miracle when taking all of the things going on at once into account. The city is best experienced in the online Freeburn mode, where up to eight people can goof off, as well as set challenges for the others to complete. This online mode is entirely seamless; there are no extra screens or lobbies to navigate. At any point during the singleplayer game, hitting right on the D-pad will open up a multiplayer menu, from which you can invite friends to your game, or join someone else’s. This is a wonderfully simple piece of design, and much like the rest of the game, it’s a miracle that it even works. Say goodbye to boring matchmaking lobbies and annoying server browsers. Paradise‘s multiplayer setup is a godsend, and integrating it with the extensive singleplayer game is just icing on the cake.
It’s great to see that the production values of Paradise haven’t decreased since the early days. Burnout has always been respected for its flashy graphics, and Paradise is no exception. The cars look brilliant, with realistic deformation to boot. It’s ironic that the most unrealistic racing game on the market would feature the most realistic damage simulation, but it’s true. Watching vehicles crumple in slow motion reveals just how complex the physics engine is; even generic civilian cars bang up beautifully. The only downside to these crashes is their length. For the most part, everything is fine, but sometimes the game wastes too much time showing your car crunching during a timed event or a race. It’s a minor gripe, but it can get extremely aggravating when you’ve got 15 seconds left on the clock and the game is rubbing the fact that you suck at driving in your face. Players are usually driving at ridiculous speeds, so quick reflexes are an entry requirement for Paradise. If you get frustrated easily with games that force you to make split-second decisions, you may want to steer clear.
The only thing about Paradise that does miss the mark is the soundtrack. While most of the music is perfectly listenable, most of it just isn’t appropriate for the blistering speed in Burnout games. Other than the cute inclusion of Guns ‘n’ Roses hit Paradise City, standout tracks include Junkie XL’s cover of Cities In Dust and a few speedy alternative rock songs. For the most part, though, the soundtrack lacks punch. If I was driving at 200mph down the wrong side of the street, wistful emo music would be the last thing I’d play in my car’s stereo. Of course, like any 360 game, custom soundtracks are available, but it’s still a shame that the provided tunes aren’t really up to snuff. Oh, and since this is an EA game, DJ Atomika is at large, as usual. He’s not as obnoxious as he normally tends to be, but some of his catchphrases will make you want to shake your speakers to punish the little men inside.
Paradise is a success because of its originality within the Burnout series. Innovation isn’t always EA’s strong suit, but much like skate, Paradise is an all-new concept that pays off, big time. The singleplayer is pretty robust, and the multiplayer Freeburns will have you and your friends laughing like small children as you pull ridiculous stunts and crashes around each other. Ultimately, Paradise is a risky evolution that took the simple racing of past Burnout games and dumped it into a massive environment. The city is huge, and the crashes are even bigger.