The Burnout franchise was undoubtedly in danger of becoming just another one of EA's annual re-hashes - like the staples in the EA Sports line-up; a series of games that could have quite comfortably started following the old '06, '07, '08 format. Instead, they've given us Burnout Paradise and I'm pleased to say that it brings a lot more than just an annual graphics and car catalogue update.
The big new feature here is the free roaming city. No longer are you restricted to select circuits or point to point races with a handful of short-cuts, you're literally given a populous city complete with traffic and the option to take any route you wish to reach your destination. Sure this isn't an entirely new concept for the arcade racer, the likes of Need for Speed and Midnight Club have played on a similar idea, but the experience has never been this seamless.
In fact, once you're passed the game's intro splash screens and initial load, you won't see another loading screen in Burnout Paradise until the next time you start your console. The city is seamlessly streamed while you drive and the game craftily does all its heavier thinking during the race and event briefings.
The most impressive part of all of this is that the core Burnout gameplay hasn't been compromised in the slightest, the races are fast and furious, the burnout boost-meter still functions in the same manner and the over-the-top crashes that made the series famous are more spectacular than ever.
For those not familiar with past Burnout titles, they are unbridled arcade racing. It began as straight up street racing with a boost-meter that rewards risk-taking. Sweet nitro power is awarded for feats such as air-time, driving against oncoming traffic and power-sliding corners. As the series progressed the much loved crash mode and opponent take-downs added more unique and fun ways to drive a car fast.
All of these facets appear once again in Paradise, the difference being that you no longer work through a series of menu options to progress through the game. Instead, each traffic light intersection in Paradise City doubles as an event starting point. There's your straight-up race – first to the finish line deal. Road Rage: Paradise's version of take-down mode, Stunt Run: self-explanatory, Marked Man: get from one end of town to the other without being destroyed by a nasty pack of hunter cars and the new version of the Burning Route mode.
This new system works great, except for one thing. If you bomb out of a race, there's no easy way to start over. The good news is that wherever you end up, you're not far from the starting point of a new event. It's a new approach to the familiar arcade racer career mode that takes a little bit of getting used to, but I think works just fine.
As for unlocking new cars, well of course the game starts you off in the old bomb, literally. Your starting point is a junk yard and several of these venues around the city become the apt storage locations for your growing collection of vehicles. Burnout Paradise includes 75 vehicles all up, divided into three categories: Race, Stunt and Aggression adding a level of strategy on top of the racing – pick the best car for the job that suits your driving style.
Completing races earns you marks on your license with the game rewarding you new cars at set milestones. Most new cars aren't just handed to you though, they just become active in the free-driving game-world and you'll have to hunt them down and take them out before the new vehicle will be added to your collection. If that wasn't enough, each car has its own burning route race, the first prize being an upgraded version of that car. All these little pay-offs go a long way into keeping things interesting in the career-mode and a little less “gotta-catch-em-all”.
That said, there's plenty in Burnout Paradise for the collectors, too. Super jumps, billboards and short-cuts litter the city so there's always plenty to do even if you're not interested in the competitive type racing. At any point during free driving, just press and hold both bumpers and you'll enter Paradise's version of crash mode, suddenly the traffic starts pouring in from everywhere and it's now your duty to cause as much financial damage as possible. Just cruising around the city discovering all it has to offer can also be a lot of fun.
If all that's not enough, hit the in-game menu for the online multiplayer options and suddenly you're still in the exact same location in Paradise City, only now there're other human controlled racers ripping around town – it's that seamless. You can either just mess around in free driving mode, setting various records like longest drift or most expensive crash and of course you can engage your online opponents in competitive race events. Best of all though, are the cooperative challenges, a great assortment of tasks that let you team up with friends, or even a complete strangers online to battle the city together. There're different challenges that can only be tackled with two, three, four, right up to eight simultaneous players.
So gameplay is a winner, how about the graphics? Admittedly, Burnout Paradise doesn't quite stand next to the likes of Forza Motorsport 2 or Project Gotham 4 for visual fidelity, the game-world is still incredibly detailed and it's certainly the best looking game in the Burnout series to-date. The damage modelling is still nothing short of awesome and even after hundreds of slow-motion high-speed crashes they still impress as the car crumples, glass shatters and debris scatters. Frame-rate is largely flawless, with only the very occasional hiccup, nothing that should affect your racing ability though; it's a smooth 60 for the most part.
The soundtrack is your standard “EA Trax” affair with a few good racing tracks and a few rather unpleasant. Whoever thought Avril Lavigne's “Girlfriend
” would make for good high-speed racing ambiance needs a good dose of Slayer therapy. In the game's defense it is dead simple to skip a track or plug-in your own soundtrack and they win some more points back as Gun's n' Roses' “Paradise City
” really does make the perfect intro song for this game. DJ Automica, the game's vocal tutor matches the game's over-the-top style but can get a bit annoying, likewise you can turn him off easily enough too. The engine roars, rushing wind and crashes all sound great, particularly if you have a good surround setup.
I'd go so far as to say that Burnout Paradise is the most fun I've had in an arcade racing game since multiplayer Daytona USA in the arcades. There are just so many challenges and so much content to keep you busy before you even step through that invisible door to multiplayer. If you're already a fan of the Burnout games, this one is a no-brainer. For anyone else, check out the demo first if you're apprehensive - demos for both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 can be found via their respective online services. If only other EA properties could add this much value between their annual iterations.