Criterion said that they wanted to craft a stunning, truly next-gen game for their next-gen debut, and they have done: there's almost nothing wrong with Burnout Paradise
Burnout's blistering next-gen debut has seen the series famed for intense crashes, eye-tearing speed and spectacular stunts roar onto the PS3 and Xbox 360 with a change of direction: rather than individual circuits, the tarmac-burning action now takes place in a constant city – Paradise City, to be precise – packed with other drives, both law-abiding and less considerate, who are willing to take you on.
This change of tack is an obvious statement of intent: new hardware allows Criterion, the ambitious developer, to present their twisted vision of driving utopia in a whole new way, bereft of loading times and even individual tracks. Instead, races are signalled by screeching to a halt at a busy intersection and holding down the accelerate and brake button: literally, burnout.
Boosting unleashes a cornucopia of stunning visual effects.
This mad old favourite returns.
There's plenty of cars to race, too, and they all come bolstered with a huge amount of personality – certainly more than previous Burnouts, where the higher-end cars were merely anonymous renditions of supercar-esque shapes. Instead, there's aggressive vehicles, stunt rides and more modes, and the type of car you've chosen influences how you can earn that all-important boost. Taking down other drivers, for example, rewards aggressive cars more handsomely.
The racing action is divided into several categories that are reminiscent of Burnout games past: straight racing, road rage, marked man, stunt run and burnout route, and they all revolve around scoring points through various methods – wrecking other cars, insane stunts or insane speeds. Sitting alongside these main modes are a few additional features to enhance life in Paradise City. Pressing L1 and R1 together activates 'showtime' mode, which involves you deliberately crashing your car and pressing 'X' to flip and propel it through the air, towards other vehicles. It's one of the best modes of previous Burnout games – crash junctions – combined with the control that was sorely missing: who never wanted to take over the shunt and wreak even more havoc? Now you can.
The Paradise City environment is a superb piece of design. Initially appearing as, well, a city – with the requisite mountain, industrial and harbour routes, for example, that Burnout has covered in the past – each new race (over 120 events, given that each set of traffic lights triggers a race. And don't forget the car-specific challenges too) is lifted out of the city streets and mingling cars, and tracks appear: well thought-out and conceived tracks that would easily hold their own in any other racing game on the planet and welded together into a living, breathing city. It's quite an achievement.
And so is the actual driving. It was one thing when older titles zipped along at 60fps, but quite another when Paradise manages it. There's so much going on, but not a hint of slowdown, and the action is fantastic. The cars feel weighty and the handling is spot-on, with just enough snappiness to goad you into making ridiculous, death-defying plays at other racers and taking chances that shouldn't really pay off. But they do, oddly, and it's hugely addictive. The speed is ludicrous, the world seemlessly rushing past you at, literally, a mile a minute or more.
The entire city is your motoring oyster.
Beachfront roads are havens for speed-freaks.
Graphically and sonically, Paradise is an absolute stunner. It's a gorgeous game, but one that's really designed for large HD screens – my only complaint is that on a standard 34in TV icons on the minimap are far too small, and the next-gen trend for greyed-out graphics hasn't escaped Criterion. It's a colourful game, but too often there's so much detail that it's hard to pick out routes or roads. HD pictures provide more definition, for sure, but it's something worth thinking about if you don't want your eyes to bleed on a standard screen.
I say that, though, as if it's a graphically bad game. It's not. It's a gorgeous, stunning racer. The city is crammed with lavish buildings and lush trees, and the cars are angular, angry and perfect for racing. The damage model is gorgeous, too, with every vehicle being fully deformable: trucks crunch up if you ram into the back of them, fenders are wrapped around lamp-posts and the game's visual effects really stand out if you wipe yourself out – you're given the chance to watch the crash in super slow-motion, taking in every broken shard being flung from your car as you come a cropper on a wall.
The soundtrack is superb. In a place called Paradise City, there's only one song you can use as a theme tune, and Axl Rose's distinctive voice blares out from the introduction screen. The rest of the soundtrack, introduced by familiar voice of EA Trax DJ Atomika, takes in the traditional Burnout fare: rock that makes you want to scream with speed. Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Jane's Addiction, Jimmy Eat World, Saosin, Seether, Soundgarden and Twisted Sister – with their anthemic 'I Wanna Rock' – all feature. There's Avril Lavigne, too (!) and a new mix of every Burnout track so far, if you're feeling nostalgic.
There's the only modes to consider, too, and they're one of the best implementations of online gaming so far, on any console: with barely a loading time, Paradise City is transformed from a town populated by AI drivers to one full of real people. Take each other down enough times and a rivalry is established that culminates in races, and there's a decent selection of leaderboards, events and challenges to undertake, all with the added edge that competing against real people brings. There's no compromises made to the game's quality, either, and no slowdown. Fantastic.
Meaner cars tend to go faster. That's just how it works.
Drifting around corners can earn you huge boost.
BURNOUT PARADISE VERDICT
Criterion said that they wanted to craft a stunning, truly next-gen game for their next-gen debut, and they have done: there’s almost nothing wrong with Burnout Paradise – bar the graphical annoyances, albeit minor, that afflict those without HD – and so much that they’ve done right. If you’re a racing fan, you must own this. It’s simple.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Blasting across town, fighting with real racers all the way, and taking them down on the final straight to win. Let the gloating begin.