Burnout Paradise Review - 05/02/2008

"What Happens next is completely up to you." These are the words uttered at the end of the intro movie to Burnout Paradise and your mind immediately thinks, "Yeah, how many times have I heard that before" looking back to previous games that promised so much yet produced so little.

Yes ladies and gents as you might have guessed from that, Burnout Paradise takes the franchise in a new direction, introducing for the first time, an open world a la Need For Speed Underground 2, that you can explore at your own free will.

You are immediately taken to a junk yard where you are given your first car, the only one available at the time, and then chucked out onto the streets. For Burnout veterans, the "do what ever you want" angle that the game is taking may prove a little daunting at first, but fear not as you will soon get the hang of it and wonder why you thought menus were necessary in the first place. Talking about menus, or as it stands, the lack of, there are no menus in Burnout Paradise. That's right, apart from the stats and options menu that are accessed via the start button, all races are accessed via the open world, so no scrolling through countless options to pick your race. All you have to do, is to drive up to a set of traffic lights anywhere in Paradise City and initiate a Burnout [hold L2 + R2] and then the race begins.

Here is where Burnout's new system meets its first hiccup. Due to the open ended nature of the game, there are no longer any markers to guide you in the right direction, instead you have to use a simplistic compass [shows you whether the finish is in the direction you are facing or to the east, west, etc.] and the mini-map to find your way to the finish through a myriad of streets. Given, it is easy to just follow your opponents but if you crash [more on that later] and end up far behind the pack, or indeed if you are out in front, things can get a little difficult. This option to choose your way, although appealing to many gamers, may also annoy others who don't want to glance at the map every second to make sure they are going on the right path.

There's some great looking cars, some more obviously based on licensed vehicles than others!

Furthermore, the speed at which you are travelling, the sheer weight of traffic, and the number of obstacles make the journey perilous and you need to be looking straight ahead as much as possible to prevent your vehicle from ploughing headlong into the oncoming traffic or flipping over on a ramp. Thus, this new open ended game style is a little hit and miss where the normal races [as in "start here - end here"] are concerned, whereas for modes like Road Rage it doesn't really matter.

Now to the crashes that I mentioned previously, one word...breathtaking. The graphics under Burnout's next gen bonnet are immense as head on collisions see every inch of your car crumple and shatter just as it would in real life, [TGSN does not condone such driving however...] as the debris from your once proud vehicle litters the streets. Not only are the crashes amazing [made even more so by the camera moving in slow motion just before a collision], but the rest of the game is also stunningly beautiful. Paradise City has all types of areas: ports, mountains, city centres, outskirts, you name it, they are all rendered beautifully. Furthermore, the game suffers from no frame rate issues whatsoever, and make no mistake, this is a huge accomplishment, and a testament to Criterion's programming prowess, as the break neck speeds are literally face melting. As there is no onscreen speedometer I cannot give you an example, but let's just say, on a scale of 1 - 10, Burnout is an 11, definitely the fastest game out there.

The variety in terrain in Paradise City is remarkable.

The free roam nature of Paradise destroys the idea of unlocking new races as you go, as in previous, menu driven Burnouts. Instead to unlock a race you just have to find it in the world. This also changes the way your progress in the game is recorded. Now, every time you win a race you get a point on your licence, starting off with a Learner's Permit and aiming for the ultimate, top prize, the Burnout Elite Licence. The licences show that Criterion have paid attention to detail here as if you hook a digital camera up to your PS3 while playing, it can take a picture of you off there and attach it to your licence instead of having the bog standard outline image - the same goes for the Xbox 360 and its Vision Camera.

Longevity is another gripe that fans and newcomers alike might have with Burnout's latest instalment. With only 120 main events, for a dedicated gamer, this could be over in just under 10 hours. But that's for the non-completists around. Apart from the core races, there are also 120 Burnout billboards and 400 gates to crash through, and 50 super jumps to find and launch yourselves off. Add these to the 120 races, many of which you'll play repeatedly to 'rank up' and you have a pretty long game, and anyone wanting to complete it 100% will be at it for a long while. There are numerous race types on offer that add up to the 120 in total, including your usual race, one-on-one events, Road Rage against scores of opposing vehicles, and two new staples for the series: Marked Man, which sees you trying to get from point A to point B as other cars chase and try to put you out of commission, and Stunt Runs, which see you try to get the allotted number of points in the given time period by doing outrageous jumps and rolls at breakneck speeds.

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