On the 23rd of January 2008 at 17:55 CET, I walk nervously into a console shop in my hometown of Bergen, Norway. The game’s not to be released in another two days, but it can’t hurt looking, can it? I push past the other customers and make my way to the Xbox 360 section. With anxiety my eyes start scanning the aisle for something recognizable, not really expecting to find it. Suddenly, my heart stops. There it was, standing on a shelf right in front of me, two days early, Burnout Paradise for the Xbox 360. I put a blind eye to the steep Norwegian price (NOK 599 – approx. £56), and walk out of the store at 17:59 CET with my fresh copy of what I had unyielding faith would be the best racing game of all time.
18:39 CET, one frantic drive home later, I park the car, skims the mailbox and run the three flights of stairs up to my apartment. Unlock the door, run in, jacket off, shoes off, driving gloves (!) off, boot up the 360, the amp and the TV while I find myself something to drink and struggle anxiously with tearing the plastic wrapping off the game. I pop the DVD in the 360, and at 18:44 CET, the racing game of the century booted up in my 360 for the first time. After the obligatory logos and such, seeing the Burnout Paradise logo to the tunes of Paradise City by Guns’N Roses was actually quite strange, being used to the Burnout Revenge theme, and its reprise Paradise edition. After the introduction and DJ Atomica berating me for not owning a Xbox Live Vision Camera, I finally get in my Hunter Cavalry and start to freeburn around the city.
My first impression of the game was that it’s totally staggering. The music, the graphics, the speed, the events, everything, it all fits together like a well orchestrated symphony, and nothing in the demo could have prepared us for this. I burn around, upgrading my licenses, pulling events, unlocking cars, having the time of my life while the hours pass unnoticeably around me. Around 23:00 CET Xandu got his Class A License and agreed to play me online, where we took a race round White Mountain and, after working around a minor glitch where my game wasn’t aware that Xandu started online challenges, did the first 25 two-player online challenges. Logging out of the game at approximately 02:00 CET, I went to bed with blisters on my fingers (!), dreaming of flying through Paradise City.
Now, after over eight hours of gameplay, I got my Class A License, 31% complete, having driven 452.7 miles, unlocked 23 of 75 cars, gotten 2 Showtime road rules and won a total of 53 events offline, and decided it was time to write a kind of “review” of the game which has been brewing in my head since I first popped the game into my 360.
As previously stated, you start the game off in the Hunter Cavalry like in the demo, but there all resemblance to the demo goes away. Even the part of the city which was featured in the demo is severely altered. Loads of new stuff to discover even in that part of the city. After freeburning for a bit and winning your first two events, your license gets upgraded for the first time, from Learners to Class D. The graphics looks fantastic for everything except, in my opinion, the water, but who cares about that in a racing game? The sensation of speed is sensational, even in the acclaimed “slowest car in the game” – the Hunter Cavalry, and you immediately get a sense of the massive amounts of information you actually have to take in to be able to truly excel at this game. I expect some of the fans of the previous games will have a hard time adjusting to Paradise, because the skill-set involved in this game is quite different than anything we’ve ever encountered before in a Burnout game. Earlier, one would memorize the tracks, the traffic patterns, the shortcuts and everything in minute detail, and rely solely on this coupled with true driving skill to be the best. This is no longer possible in the same way in Paradise. Now there are no set tracks, only an open world with literally thousands of ways from A to B and one would really need to get to know the geography of the city like the back of one’s hand to be able to always find the quickest route in a race. The traffic now seems a lot more random than what we’re used to, and I doubt it would be possible to really find or memorize any pattern in a city as large as this. All this means, that in addition to pure driving skill, one now has to rely on a sense of direction (which is totally absent in my family) and one also has to truly know the city and all its nooks and crannies. I think this will make for a truly interesting driving experience when racing even against hardcore old-school burners since this may have the effect of evening out the odds a little. One of the first things you’ll notice when driving events, is that the AI cars have gotten seriously fierce. They’ll stop at nothing in taking you, or each other, down, which makes for a hugely more intense and enjoyable time in beating them at their own game. The AI is also now cleverer than before, making use of shortcuts and the like, at a seemingly random rate (but obviously tied to the difficulty of the event). New to the game is that the AI cars are not marked in any way by nameplates or arrows such as we are used to from the earlier games; only online players are marked by nameplates. I feel this adds a new level of realism to the game, making the AI cars harder to spot in a crowd.
There are three distinct types of car in Burnout Paradise, each with different boosting characteristics combining the best of all the previous Burnout games in one fantastic game. You unlock some of the cars by winning events and some has to be taken down while freeburning to be unlocked. At certain points in the game (after winning a triggering event), the DJ will tell you that “this and that car is now seen driving around Paradise City, shut it down to earn it”. While finding one car in such a big city might seem like finding a needle in a haystack, the secret to finding it is actually in not looking for it at all. If you just freeburn for a while, the target car will suddenly race past you, and the chase is on. A good tip for this is to freeburn around the White Mountain area, since the target car will have less side-roads to use to escape from you should you be so unfortunate as to crash while in pursuit.
The stunt cars have the green boost bar known from the demo, and can keep boosting indefinitely if you can keep adding to the boost bar. The best ways for getting boost in a stunt car is by doing jumps, barrel rolls, flatspins and other stunt-related activities.
The aggression cars have got variable-length boost bars where a chunk is added if you take down someone, and a chunk is removed if someone takes you down (sounds familiar?). The best ways for getting boost in a aggression car is by doing takedowns and driving aggressively.
The speed cars are the only cars in the game where you can only boost when the boost bar is full. If you use the entire boost bar in one go, you get a Burnout, and you can thusly perform boost chaining like in Burnout 2 or Burnout Dominator. It’s all about speed and control.
The events in Burnout Paradise are a mix of old favorites with some fresh blood. The offline events are started when you pull up to an intersection with traffic lights and pull both triggers (brake and accelerate) at the same time. An event can be started as many times as you like, but only one win per event per license level counts towards your next upgrade. This is one of the few improvements I would like to see in the game – the warning that you’ve already completed an event for you current license is sometimes a bit slow (or I’m too impatient), and I’ve often started events that I wouldn’t have started had I known they wouldn’t count. An option to cancel the event while the DJ tells you that you’ve already done it would be nice.
The race events are much like what we’re used to, but with total freedom as to choice of route. As I mentioned earlier; watch out for the fierceness of the competition. That took me by surprise the first times. When you start a race event, the DJ tells you where on the map you are, and where you are going, and then off you go. There are no medals in this game; it’s all about winning or losing, no consolation price for second place. The race events vary greatly in distance, the shortest I’ve found being 1.1 miles, but they usually are in the neighborhood of 2-4 miles. The number of racers also varies from 2 to 8 cars depending on the race.
Road rage is also much the same as we’ve always known; you get a target number and a time limit. Each takedown adds 5 seconds to the time limit. An improvement to the event is that you can now drive through a repair shop and get your car fixed up to top condition and keep the event going longer. There’s even an achievement for fixing your car while at critical damage in a road rage event.
One of the new event types in the game is the marked man event. I would imagine this is an evolution of the red team / blue team online road rage event we’ve seen earlier, only in a single-player environment. You are “the marked man” and have to escape from a horde of black AI cars trying to take you down (fiercely) to a destination marked on the map by your friendly neighborhood DJ. The damage model is the same as in a road rage event; you can crash a certain amount of times (based on the strength of your car and its condition upon starting the event) before you get critical damage. If you crash or are taken down while the car has critical damage, the event is over. You can, as in road rage, get you car fixed up during the event by driving through a repair shop.
The burning routes in Paradise are each tied to a specific model car (though you can use any equivalent of the model); one for each unique car model (Hunter Cavalry, RT Roadster, and so on). The first time you win a burning route for a car model, you unlock a beefed up version of the car (the RT Roadster burning route unlocks the Burnout Roadster for example).
Stunt run is the other brand new event in Burnout Paradise, although it has some similarities to Maniac mode in Burnout Dominator. You get a target number of points to achieve by doing combos of stunts (jumping, boosting, barrel rolls, flatspins, reversing (!), and so on) with certain triggers which adds multipliers to your combo score (such as big air, billboard smash, barrel roll (adds 2x multiplier), and so on). You also get a time limit in which to achieve the score, but even if the time runs out, the event will not be over until your combo is done. A combo is over when you crash or haven’t added any points to your combo score for a certain amount of time. It is also important to note that repeating stunts will not give you points, so there’s no use in doing a 10000 yard drift circle or jumping over the same jump over and over again. While playing, I found that the easiest way I could get points in stunt run was actually not in a stunt car, but in a speed car. I’d just start off by getting a couple of easy multipliers and start a boost chain keeping the boost alive for as long as I could. If you get a long enough boost chain, you get loads of points.
Not an actual event as such, but an important aspect of the game, showtime is the pinnacle of the evolution of what once was crash mode. Instead of setting up ramps and specific traffic at specific junctions for you to try to get a big crash out of, it’s now up to you to find the ideal places to wreak havoc and deal loads of damage. You can enter showtime mode anywhere in the city, at any time while freeburning by pressing both buttons above the triggers on the controller at the same time. This suddenly puts pricetags on every car you see, and you go straight into a crash. Each impact with a car adds boost to your boost bar, which you can use to roll your wreck around (if you get enough speed, it’s actually jumping and flying around). Each bus you hit adds a +1 multiplier to the score, and you get a bonus for the distance you travel from the point where you started the event. The total sum of devastation you manage to grind up is the score for that event. The score is tied to the street where you started the event, and if you beat the current record for that street, you get a Showtime Road Rule for that street.
After playing the game for a while, I’ve found that there is only one thing to be said for this game; it’s the racing game of the century! This is Burnout taken to a whole new level, and to all those whiners who complain that Criterion have ruined Burnout for not making a remake of Revenge, I can only say this; This game IS Burnout as its creators intended it to be at this time, as every other Burnout has ever been. The current game represents what the masters of Burnout think Burnout should be, and who are we, the players, to complain just because we’re not used to this game mechanic being removed compared to an earlier game, or that feature being added? We, the players, should embrace change and adapt to it, to make sure we really CAN call ourselves BurnoutAholics, for to be a BurnoutAholic is to be true to the game in whatever form its creators feel represent what THEY think is Burnout. If Alex Ward or anyone else from Criterion games read this, I would like to thank you for enriching my life by creating the Burnout series, which has been a continuously evolving concept which, in my opinion, has now matured into the best racing game ever (a title previous held by every other Burnout game in my book). I can’t wait to see what you guys will give us next. This time, you have truly given us Paradise on Earth!
*STILL* a true BurnoutAholic - Jasman / Yean Budobu