Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Criterion Games
Release Date: January 2008
Excluding the offshoot and recap titles (Dominator and Legends, respectively), the core Burnout series has always maintained an unrivaled level of intensity and innovation within the racing genre. Each title has represented a significant improvement over its immediate predecessor, culminating in 2005's brilliant Burnout Revenge. But if you thought the additions of takedowns and Road Rage were important, wait 'til you see the overhaul in the works for Burnout Paradise, the first iteration developed from the ground up for next-generation consoles.
"We really wanted to take all the rules and conventions of Burnout and other racing games and break them and change them all," said Craig Sullivan of Criterion Games. How did they plan on accomplishing such a goal? By eliminating the vast majority of the menu screens, structure, and linear paths that define most racing games on the market.
Welcome to Paradise City. It's easy to look at this as an attempt to mix together elements of Burnout with a game like Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but Paradise offers so much more flexibility than Need for Speed ever has. Paradise City spans some 170km of drivable terrain, with 65 named roads that come together to form 155 junctions. Each junction features a race event that can be started by simply "spinning your wheels" (clicking both triggers, or R2 + L2 on the SixAxis).
From there, the game gives you a starting point (where you're at) and a finish line, and the rest is up to you. Take any path you want to point B — just be sure to get there before your aggressive competitors. The entire city is opened up from the start, and you'll never run into the "invisible fences" that have limited the pathways in Need for Speed and other open-world racers. As such, your knowledge of the city and its numerous winding paths will ultimately affect your ability to finish in first, so non-race exploration is certainly encouraged.
While cruising around the vast terrain of Paradise City (which includes Palm Bay Heights, Harbor Town, Downtown, and Silver Lake), we saw several different environments, including an urban epicenter, winding country roads, massive highways, and an intense mountain climb (with a cleverly placed ramp near the top).
Exploration is also stressed due to the myriad of bonus objectives that are littered around the world. Every smash, jump, and shortcut found is counted by the game, and it stands to reason that unlockable goodies will be rewarded to intrepid drivers. Burnout billboards are also seen in hard-to-reach spots, and slamming through one will add to your stunt total. Paradise City also appears to be packed with several amusing Easter eggs, such as gaining boost for speeding through a drive-thru lane or earning a random paint job after passing through a body shop.
Also on the docket for Burnout Paradise is a shocking refinement of the wreck system that has long defined the series. Slamming into a wall, median, or innocent motorist no longer means an automatic reset for your vehicle — there are now multiple levels of damage.
"In previous Burnouts, you just had a crash, and you were reset," said Sullivan, "In Burnout Paradise, if I crash the car and the wheels stay on, I drive out, and now I can drive off. That's a whole new thing!"
And that doesn't just apply to your first crash. If you can keep the wheels on, you can continue to drive your hobbled vehicle, and as we noticed during play, a heavily damaged car drives much differently that a freshly minted one. Once our circuit racer had been rammed four or five times without falling apart, it was noticeably more difficult to drive, but we were glad to have not lost precious seconds waiting to restart.
While we're not yet sure about the inclusion of all our favorite modes (c'mon Road Rage!), we are happy to report that Crash Mode will be returning in a big way as Showtime Mode. Unlike the pre-set, objective-heavy mode of the past, Showtime will allow players to start a crash anywhere and at any time.
"As I'm driving around the city, I'm looking for a good place to crash the car. I can just start the crash; the game starts measuring and scoring straightaway," explained Sullivan. "You've never seen anything like it, in previous Burnouts or in other games."
Between the 155 races, the hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of miniature objectives, and the always-active Showtime mode, Burnout Paradise is shaping up to be a game that keeps players busy for months, if not longer. But we're forgetting perhaps the most exciting enhancement — easily accessible and incredibly enjoyable online play. Sure, online play was a key component of Revenge and Burnout 3: Takedown, but the single event format of those titles made it very much a structured affair. Such is no longer the case in Paradise City.
With just a few presses of the d-pad, I was connected to another writer sitting just a couple of feet away from me in the room at Electronic Arts' Los Angeles compound. Using the mini-map on the screen, we were able to locate each other and start the smashing. I couldn't even tell you the name of my opponent, but based on the way we were cheering and laughing hysterically, you'd think we were the best of friends.
One of the key aspects of this overflowing enjoyment was the integration of the Xbox Live Vision (or PlayStation Eye) camera into online play. When you take down another racer, the camera (if attached) will take a picture of the fallen driver and send it to your screen, pasted on a fake newspaper with the headline, "TAKEN OUT!" It was an absolute blast, and one of the most amusing uses of the Live Vision camera seen to date. Just remember to wear clothes when you play. Please.
Our trip down to Paradise City was brief, but we came away impressed by the new direction displayed in Burnout Paradise. It is a Burnout game through and through, complete with the aggression, intensity, and superb handling the series is known for, yet the innovations and additions look to take Paradise to an entirely new stratosphere. Additional details are expected to flow out of Santa Monica this week at the E3 Media & Business Summit, and we'll be sure to keep an eye out for this exciting evolution of the acclaimed franchise.
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