Review: Burnout Paradise (Microsoft Xbox 360)

BOP Cover
Genre: Racing
Platform: XBOX 360 (also on PS3)
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Criterion
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 1/22/08

Welcome to Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. Well, actually, this Paradise City doesn’t have any girls, and if you are looking at the grass, you’re going too slow.

The newest title in the Burnout series features much of what made the previous games so popular: fast racing and awe inspiring crashes. But unfortunately, it also features some differences which make the game a lot less fun.

This title is very different than other racing games because, to put it simply, there is no menu. You start the game, and immediately enter a name for your profile, and it’s off to the races. The world is a large, wide-open city that you can explore from the beginning, making it somewhat of a sandbox-racer more than anything. This genre-bending feature is nice, but it can get old after a while. Other than your introduction at the start of the game, and little hints here and there from your in-game narrator, DJ Atomika, you are largely left to do whatever the heck you want.

This is one of my problems with the game: you can basically do anything at the beginning, but there is little direction. Your goals are to essentially complete all the events and collect all the cars, and that’s about it. Your progression is measured by your license. You start off with a Learner’s Permit, and once you complete a few events, you are upgraded to the D license. After you complete several more events, you are upgraded further, until you achieve the ultimate, Elite license.

The way the events work is this: at each of the 8 cardinal points of the map is a landmark that serves as the stopping place for each of the races. The events start at pretty much any intersection in the game, at least ones with stoplights. As you go through an intersection, you hit the left trigger and right trigger to begin the event. There are several different event types:
– Race – Self explanatory. You race several other cars from the starting point to the end.
– Marked Man – You must get from point A to point B and survive. Two indestructible (or at least respawning) black cars try to total you. Wreck more than 3 or 4 times and it’s over.
– Burning Route – There is one of these for each car, so you really only need to do it once. You have a time limit to reach the end of the event, and no one racing you. If you beat the time, you get a new car.
– Stunt – A stunt event gives you X amount of seconds to perform Y amount of point tricks. You gain points from doing things like big jumps and barrel rolls.
– Road Rage – You try to Take Down as many opponents cars as you can without being totaled. Again, if you wreck too often, your car is totaled and you fail.

Most of these events are pretty interesting and fun at times, and greatly frustrating at others. Marked Man is easy if you can manage to avoid the cars, while Road Rage is ridiculously easy if you know how to Take Down other cars. Stunts are the most annoying simply because it can be hard to rack up enough points, and let’s be honest, we don’t play this game to perform stunts. We want to race and crash.

Speaking of which, the crash mode that made the series so famous has returned, in a fashion. They call it Showtime, and it doesn’t hold a candle to the crash mode in Burnout 3, but it’s there. Basically, at any time, you can hit your bumper buttons at the same time to start Showtime. Every street has a record that you try to break, which you do so after causing enough damage. When you initiate Showtime mode, your Boost meter turns into a Showtime meter. The more cars you hit, the more it fills up, and if nothing seems to be hitting you, hit A to cause a Ground Slam, which propels you up in the air a little, allowing you to maneuver towards more cars. When you perform a Ground Slam, a little of your Showtime Meter will be used up, but as long as you keep hitting other cars, you really have no limit to how often you can do it. And hitting busses adds to your multiplier as well, so you’ll want to hit those. While it’s fun, it just isn’t near as fun as previous crash junctions. You can literally go on for hours on a single Showtime, and there is absolutely no puzzle element to it anymore. It’s just “crash, blow up, move, crash more, repeat”. Still, the fact that they have a crash mode at all is good, it could have just been better.

That’s about it for the different modes, and that’s about it for what you can do in the game. It’s a lot about exploration and finding all the new things. There are 400 yellow fences you can break through (usually unveiling shortcuts), 120 Burnout billboards to break through, 75 different cars to unlock, super jumps, and other things to collect. Of course, you get achievements for collecting them all. But the main purpose of the game is to get your Burnout Elite Drivers License, which isn’t near as fun as it should be.

First off, to get a license, you complete X amount of races. So it’s like 4 for the first, 8 for the second license, etc. When you get a license, all the race slates are wiped clean, and you can complete a race again. And for the Elite License, when you get to that point, you have to complete 110 races, which means that you’ll be repeating many of them. The races are all too long, and here is the real deal breaker: you cannot restart a race. I’ll explain further. In many racing games, when you fail or run out of time, you are presented with the option of restarting the race from the beginning. THERE IS NO SUCH OPTION HERE. So you drive along this long and winding route and fail the race by a mere 1 second, and that’s it. If you want to start the race, you have to drive back to the starting point. This is a huge flaw for a game of this time, especially considering there is also no speed traveling. You can’t jump to a specific point on the map. You can only drive there. So this adds up to a big, big flaw in the gameplay. It completely kills all the fun, because like I said, you do a race PERFECTLY, and you fail by 1 second, and oops, that’s it. Hope you have spare controllers handy.

The gameplay itself is much like any standard racing game. Your left stick steers your car, the right trigger is accelerate and the left trigger is brake/reverse. To Boost, you hit A and to use your E-brake, you hit X. For the uninitiated, the Boost is one of the core features of the Burnout series. Much like NOS, it causes your car to go at crazy speeds. You have a Boost meter at the bottom of your screen which will fill up if you do crazy stuff like drive in oncoming traffic, almost hit other cars, and complete super jumps. But be careful, because you could just as easily crash your car. It is also worth mentioning that this title is less forgiving on rear-ending other vehicles at high speeds than previous Burnout games. In fact, it seems that it’s simply TOO easy to crash your car, which adds to the frustration of a super long race against time.

The graphics in this game are excellent. I suppose we’ve reached that point in games on next-gen systems where you expect graphics to be this good, otherwise it’s a disappointment. Still, the cars are all nicely modeled and look like real cars (though not like actual car models, because they had to make up fake cars for this game) and the environments are also good. Most of the city is an urban environment, and it looks as such, while the rest is up in some hills, and looks sufficiently rural. One definite plus is that there is very little loading in this game. Once you start the game up and are in the city, there is no loading except for when you start or end a race, or when you crash, and even then, it’s very little and is very nice compared to previous Burnout and other racing titles. And even though you go very, very fast, there is no slowdown. So, kudos to Criteron for a job well done.

The sound effects are also fairly well done, but pretty standard for a driving game. The cars, umm, sound like cars. That’s about all you can say, really. The intro to Paradise City was done by a sultry female voice, making me wish she stuck around, but unfortunately, we are left with the slightly annoying DJ Atomika. At least the DJ plays better music than most EA titles. Instead of the mostly unknowns that fill EA games, Paradise features some top name artists, such as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Janes Addiction, Faith No More, and Avril Lavigne. There was even a surprising cover of Route 66 by Depeche Mode that I had never heard before. And of course, they did the smart and awesome thing by getting Paradise City by Guns and Roses, which is featured at the beginning of the game. There are still several crap artists, and the music isn’t randomized apparently, because after I looped through all the regular songs, it started playing themes from previous Burnout titles. Despite that, the soundtrack is pretty good.

I imagine that playing the game from start to finish would end up being a very tedious task. I started getting tired of races after a short amount of time and couldn’t play for very long in a stretch. I ended up spending most of my time trying to complete the Showtime events, rather than doing what I was supposed to. Another thing that irked me and made me no longer enjoy the game is that I seemingly went everywhere on the map, yet still did not unlock all of the events. The pause-screen map shows you which events you’ve unlocked, but not where you’ve actually BEEN. I got tired of collecting the stuff because 400 yellow gates and 120 billboards is too much for me, especially considering it doesn’t get you anything except an achievement near the end. The multiplayer aspects will add some value to the title, though. You can invite your friends to enter your “world” and race together, and even build races out of any part of the world. So while I enjoyed playing and the Showtimes kept me interested, it just wasn’t enough. Not to mention that the difficulty never changes. All that changes is you figuring out the best ways to not wreck in races, and how to have lots of patience for making mistakes.

I do want to give Criterion props, though. They took a game series out of its tried and true roots and tried something new, and it was, for the most part, a success. The way you access events and such is unique, even if it got old. So while the game is Burnout, it’s NOT Burnout. It certainly has the feel of it, but just doesn’t have the soul or enjoyment that I found in previous Burnout titles.

Ratings Summary

Game Modes: Great
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Above Average
Gameplay and Control: Above Average
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Great

Final Rating: GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary
If you are a fan of the Burnout series, you should definitely check this game out. It may not be what you’re looking for, but it’s worthy. I actually think that non-Burnout fans will enjoy it better, because they won’t know what they are missing. This is a departure from any racing game out there (with the possible exception of Test Drive Unlimited). So I’d say it’s definitely worth a rent, at the very least.