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The first truly next-gen incarnation of Burnout hits the streets of Paradise City and TVG has the verdict...
- Stunt events provide fresh challenge.
- Brilliant soundtrack and effects.
- Car classes add depth.
- No Aftertouch or Crashbreaker.
- Open-world hub doesn't suit Burnout.
- Death of the Crash event.
Imagine that it's 1973 and you're the wife of a loving husband who's serving in Vietnam. Now imagine that he has returned home and - far from it being the joyous reunion that you expected - your husband is still the same person deep down inside, but a part of him has died and he'll never quite be the same again. This is how we feel after having played Burnout Paradise for many long hours over the past few days.
Set in the sprawling Paradise City, the first truly next-gen incarnation of Criterion's Burnout defines the term 'open-world' for a driving game. From the initial loading screen until the end of play, there's absolutely no front-end whatsoever and the city-come-hub is the only interface you'll ever experience. Whether you need to change vehicles, play online, or start a new event, all of these demands can be satisfied purely by cruising the city itself. Vehicles can be changed in one of Paradise City's many junk yards, online play can be accessed with a mere flick of the d-pad, while events can be seamlessly entered from one of the many junctions across the city.
All of this is certainly very impressive but you really have to ask yourself: does it suit the Burnout gameplay that we know and love? TVG says no and here's why: in our opinion, the most perfect Burnout game (maybe even one of the most perfect games of the 21st century so far) is Burnout 3: Takedown. Success depended on split-second reactions, while the sensation of speed (coupled with the fear of ploughing headlong into a bus) was enough to make gamers forget about blinking for one minute and 15 seconds of a Burning Lap.
This adrenaline fuelled gameplay hasn't been lost altogether in Paradise but the sprawling, open-world environment has diluted it considerably, leaving a shadow of the classic Burnout style behind it. The beauty of the linear events and closed game-world of previous Burnouts was that developers had more control over each race, rather than loosening the reigns and diluting the experience with a greater degree of player choice.
Take traffic as an example: the linear track designs from previous Burnout games allowed Criterion to stipulate where rush-hour traffic would appear, as well as areas that were a bit quieter. The result of this was the frantic pace of tracks where you'd be thrown into a heaving intersection of side-coming traffic, and then treated to a couple of corners of relative calm, before being thrown right back into the action amidst a crowded row of toll-booths.
While there are elements of this in Paradise, it's nowhere near the same levels of calamitous mayhem in previous Burnout games. This diluted traffic makes the risk-reward element of going against oncoming vehicles for extra boost more of a reward-reward experience. Unfortunately, this isn't even the most significant downside to the open-world environment.
The Crash event has become synonymous with Burnout fans over the years. They were basically set-pieces of chocker-block traffic where the aim was to cause the most damage possible (denoted by $) with a single pile-up. Exploding gas tankers, jack-knifing timber lorries, and tuk tuks pinging across the screen like alarmed marmosets were the appeal of this brilliant event, which attracted the obsessive gamer as much as people who were usually indifferent to driving games.
Once again, Burnout 3: Takedown nailed this event with features such as Multipliers and the Heartbreaker. Each crash was a puzzle where the challenge was figuring out how your smouldering heap of scrap metal could bounce off that tram and into the X4 Multiplier, while simultaneously avoiding the en-route Heartbreaker icon. For some reason, Criterion has decided to do-away with this event that has engendered the Burnout experience over the years.
To replace the iconic Crash events, Criterion has opted for the diabolical Showtime mode. At any point while you're cruising around the city, Showtime can be started with a simultaneous tap of L1+R1 (LB+RB on the Xbox 360). The traffic is then ramped-up around you, the camera goes into slow-motion and your vehicle is put into a roll. Similarly to Crash events, you're tasked with taking out as many vehicles as possible (with buses acting as Multipliers) and achieving the highest damage costs before your boost runs out. Putting your car into further flips is achieved by doing 'Ground Breaks', but this also depletes your boost which acts as a kind of time limit on the proceedings.
There is literally a gulf between the brilliant gameplay of previous-gen Crash events and the lacklustre offering that is Showtime. It's as if you're 10 years-old again and you ask for a mountain bike for Christmas but, instead, your parents buy you a tethered ball in a cup. Somehow, the word disappointing doesn't quite describe it.
Aftertouch has also been taken out, meaning that the days of multiple, post-crash takedowns are long gone. Similarly, the use of Crashbreaker in Race and Road Rage events is also no longer available. Championed in Burnout: Revenge, this feature allowed you to turn your car into a tactical nuke after you'd crashed, unleashing fury on any surrounding opponents. It added considerably to the brilliant Aftertouch feature and it's very hard to understand why Criterion has decided to drop the gameplay dynamic completely. In a Q&A with TVG last December, Nick Channon (Senior Producer on Burnout Paradise) explained why Aftertouch wasn't included:
"It just didn't feel right. We have this very strong vision of where we want to take Burnout and it evolves every year. We add lots of things and we take things away, and it didn't feel right. If you look at Showtime, it's really all Aftertouch and we use it a lot in that area, but not in the other modes."
As you might imagine, Races and Burning Routes (as well as the new Marked Man events) take on a new lease of life in the sense that you must find the quickest route from a designated start, to the set finish line. The exact route that you take is completely up to you, so you'll spend half your time staring at the mini-map or compass on the HUD, figuring out the best route to take (you can also pause the game and check out a larger map if needs be).
Similarly to the diluted traffic, this type of gameplay really doesn't suit the Burnout style. Feverishly navigating, while driving at breakneck speeds against oncoming traffic tends to mess with your immersion in the game rather than ramp-up the experience. It's a bit like sneezing on the motorway: once you've opened your eyes again, you're on the hard shoulder dragging along an SOS phone behind you. Now, replace the motorway speed limit with 250 mph in a nitrous infested beast and you'll see why a brief look at the Paradise City map results with your car wrapped around a tree, or inexplicably two miles up the freeway when you peel your eyes back to the road.
The bottom line is, Burnout has always been a game where your eyes have to be glued to the screen, and that's part of its appeal. To break-up this gameplay with maps and alternate routes just detracts from the flow of the game. The shortcuts in Burnout: Revenge were the perfect balance for providing alternate routes as they didn't require you to constantly check your direction, and the gameplay was more immersive as a result.
Thus concludes our list of huge disappointments about the first truly next-gen Burnout; now for the good things about the game: firstly, it's still fun to play. It's not really in the same league of sheer addiction that previous Burnouts have been, but it's still fun. Secondly, the car class system provides variation in the boosting gameplay, bringing more depth to boosting than we've seen in previous Burnout games.
There are three different classes of car in Burnout Paradise: Aggression, Speed and Stunt cars. All three have different boost systems which lend themselves to certain events. The Aggression boost system is similar to the one in Takedown and Revenge, so it gets longer when you make Takedowns and fills up with boost as a result of aggressive driving (e.g. drifts and driving on the wrong side of the road). The Speed boost system, on the other hand, has certain similarities to the early Burnout games. You have to fill it up before you can use it and, if you can Burnout non-stop until it's empty again, you get an instant refill. The third car type (Stunt) goes had-in-hand with Criterion's new Stunt events. The cars have a boost system that is tailor-made for the event, with boost building-up as a result of long drifts, huge airs, barrel rolls and flat spins etc.
You may have noticed that barrel rolls and flat spins are new to the Burnout experience and they definitely add a lot to the gameplay possibilities. The flat spins are helped along by the new E-brake (which is essentially a handbrake), while the barrel roles can be executed on one of the many lopsided stunt ramps found across the city. However, the barrel role is fiendishly difficult to pull-off, which is reflected in the fact that it provides the biggest Multiplier in a Stunt event.
Under a certain time limit, you're given a lofty score to beat. The trick is to chain stunts with boosts in order to keep a combo going, adding Multipliers with difficult moves throughout. The second you break the stunt/boost chain (or whenever you crash), the combo is over and that score is tallied up with the rest of your combos in the allotted time period. If it sounds complicated, that's because it is, but it's also well worth the perseverance to master this new event type.
The second new event is Marked Man. It's basically a mirror image of Road Rage where, instead of taking as many cars down as possible, you have to avoid being taken down by an entourage of menacing black cars. They only know the main roads though, so you can avoid their attention by taking shortcuts where possible and win the event by reaching a designated finishing line. It's an entertaining variation on Road Rage and certainly keeps things interesting, but it's not quite as pioneering as the Stunt events. All in all though, Criterion has provided a solid pair of new event types here.
Graphically, Paradise looks good. The crumpling bodywork during wrecks is impressively detailed and certainly makes good use of next-gen hardware. As for Paradise City itself, glossy lighting effects are tastefully cast across the environment and, while it's not eye-wateringly stunning, Burnout Paradise can certainly hold its head up high amongst other next-gen racing games on the market. The PlayStation 3 version seems to have a very slight visual edge over the Xbox 360 game, but this is hardly surprising given the PS3's impressive system specs and the fact that Paradise is one of the few games to have been developed for the PS3 first and then 'poured' onto the Xbox 360.
Burnout Paradise's soundtrack is better than any Burnout game to date. There's the obvious choice of Guns N' Roses' Paradise City of course, as well as tracks by Adam and the Ants (Stand and Deliver), Faith No More (Epic), Alice in Chains (Would?) and even classical pieces composed by Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Couple that with the roar of gruff muscle cars and the thunderous bursts of flaming nitrous, and you've got a winning combination for sound.
Paradise's multiplayer features have been shifted around significantly for Paradise, as previous Burnout games have suffered slightly by not being particularly accessible to the less hardcore audience. Senior Producer, Nick Channon, explains why the multiplayer features have seen such significant changes:
"We want this game to appear to our core Burnout fans, clearly, but also to casual gamers. Burnout has always appealed to more casual gamers and we weren't going to have casual gamers online with the way it has been done in previous Burnout games."
It's probably easier to get into an online game in Paradise than with any other game out there. All you need to do is press right on the d-pad and, as long as you're on Live or PSN, you'll be able to cruise into an online lobby seamlessly. These lobbies are referred to as 'Freeburn' and, in short, they treat the whole of Paradise City as one interactive game lobby.
In Freeburn it's possible to take part in Road Rules, which are score based games where players attempt to set the timed record for a section of track, or the Showtime high score on a particular route. There are also traditional online Races where hosts can control which vehicles are available and what license class is required for gamers to enter (A, B, C, and D Licenses, depending on your progress through the single-player game).
Up to 8 players can race online and there are also specific Challenges for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 player games. These Challenges range from all 8 players needing to pull-off an 800 yard jump from somewhere around the city, to 4 players achieving 2,400 yards of oncoming driving on a specific stretch of road. There's an extensive library of these Challenges, so you won't get through them anytime soon.
This is all well and good, but what's happened to all the multiplayer events from previous Burnout games that we've grown to love like a bonkers uncle? Given that Crash events have been eradicated from the single-player, it's no surprise that the related multiplayer modes from Takedown/Revenge aren't included. But what about the Road Rage multiplayer mode (a variation on Project Gotham's Cat and Mouse)?
There is a straight forward answer to this, which is that it wouldn't have worked in Paradise City's open-world. So, Paradise City is left with Race events only, as well as a horde of multiplayer mini-games (some of which are more like Xbox 360 Achievements). The resulting gameplay doesn't provide the Burnout substance that fans of the series crave. It's yet another example of Criterion's open-world Paradise stifling the Burnout experience.
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