Burnout Paradise

12th June 2009 – 5.19 pm

Burnout 2 on the Gamecube has to be one of my favourite racing games, with its excellent mix of high-speed racing, superb car handling, and visceral and detailed crashes that augment instead of hinder gameplay. I am quite excited, therefore, to have a copy of Burnout Paradise bundled with my Xbox 360. I have been spending quite a bit of time burning my way around Paradise City, throttle fully open. But it isn't all about handbrake turns or barrel rolls off cliffs, unfortunately.

First, I haven't been playing the game intensively and I still could do with never hearing Guns n Roses' Paradise City song again. Of course I can see the connection, but it has become quickly tedious in its repetition every single time I load the game. Maybe I can change the order of the tracks, which I think I have tried to achieve, or load my own songs, but I think it would be better simply to have it start during the attract sequence, if it is really necessary, and then switch to a new and random order of songs as soon as the player enters the main game. This is a minor quibble, though.

The driving in Burnout Paradise is at least as fast and smooth as in the previous game. The cars hurtle along with a superb sense of speed, yet remain responsive to user inputs and wonderfully able to hold the road. I really feel like I am in control of the car and can make it do what I want with a bit of skilful manipulation, which is exactly what I am after in a racing game. The last problem I want is trying to fight the controls. Drifting to get around corners at greater speed is still present but seems less used, with more of the turns requiring a jab of the handbrake to change direction rapidly, either dumping all your speed or just a little.

The roads are well-designed for fast driving, using mostly a block structure in the heart of the city, presenting mostly straight roads that cross each other at right-angles, and some more winding roads with long sweeping bends further out in the countryside. There is rarely a problem of running out of room when trying to get to high speeds. And the whole city is available to be driven through, including side and back roads, shortcuts and car parks, mostly accessible by crashing through bright yellow barriers. The barriers are a nice touch, highlighting where the shortcuts and side roads are as well their absence indicating where it isn't feasible to drive off the road.

Sometimes, though, it isn't possible to stay on the road, either because a corner wasn't quite where you expected it to be, other traffic selfishly got in the way of your street race, or you hit the car's-width concrete wall placed in-between two yellow barriers, and this is where the game starts to falter. The Burnout series is known for its huge crashes, with wheels flying off, bonnets flipping up, windows smashing, and Burnout Paradise is no exception to this, even taking the level of detail higher. To show off all this detail, whenever you crash the game switches to a slow-motion camera for several long seconds, showing just how the physics engine crumples and smashes your car, perhaps in a way to stroke the technical designer's ego, before reverting to normal speed. This slow-motion camera may be vaguely interesting the first couple of times but it quickly gets irritating. It isn't helped when the same excruciating level of detail is shown for a head-on collision with a wall, where all the momentum is transferred in to a very solid object for the most boring crash in racing history. For a game that is all about speed, slowing the action down and keeping the player away from high-octane action is a curious design decision and one where there really ought to be an option to disable.

When you want more of a challenge than simply racing through the streets of Paradise City alone you can participate in challenges, which can consist of races, stunt runs, or takedown challenges where cars battle each other off the road. There are no traditional races in Burnout Paradise, in the sense that you select the race or series of races you want to attempt and then race around a set circuit, instead the freedom of being able to explore the city is paramount and events are built in to this concept. Each event is tied to a traffic-controlled intersection and you begin an event by reaching the intersection and revving your engine. It's a neat idea but deeply flawed, if only by the other complications the game puts in your path.

First, there is no easy way to repeat a failed event. When the event finishes you are left driving around where the event finished, so to start it again you have to navigate back to the appropriate intersection. I hope you remember where that was, because there are many intersections and most of them look alike in the grid layout. Even when I thought I'd found the same event again I have ended up participating in a different race than expected. Being able to repeat an event simply seems to me to be basic functionality in a racing game. [Edit: as noted in a comment, there is an easy way to repeat an event, so this is not really a problem.]

Second, some events require a specific car to be driven, with cars being available as unlockable content. Even when specific cars aren't needed, a specific type of car would give a significant advantage, either using a speed car for racing, stunt car for stunts, or muscle car for withstanding damage. But you can't change cars at the intersection through the menu, you need to go to a scrap yard to do that, and whilst there are quite a few scrap yards dotted around the city it still presents the problem of trying to find one, getting the right car and then sharing the problem of finding the same intersection again. Expecting a player to find a scrap yard, choose a specific car for a single event, then return to the intersection is ridiculous in a single-player game when it could easily be accomplished with a simple menu, and is made more irritating when the event doesn't even let you know on the spot if you have unlocked the car you need or if the trip to the scrap yard will be in vain.

It gets worse. After a few crashes, desperately tolerating the slow-motion tedium, another problem becomes apparent: your car gets slowly wrecked. The amount of abuse your car can withstand is finite and doesn't get fixed until you visit a repair garage. Luckily, the car's speed and handling don't appear to diminish with damage, just the amount of further damage it can take before it is destroyed. This becomes important in events, where the problem of car durability becomes painfully obvious. If you start an event in a car that has been through a few crashes without repair you could end up completely wrecking it with just a couple more missed corners, the result being a failed event. Unlike previous games, you can crash out of a race, which to me is a huge disappointment. In order to mitigate this possibility, particularly with takedown challenges, it is best to have a fully repaired car, or close to it, before starting an event. This means more wasted time driving around, looking for a garage, instead of actually racing.

What would make much more sense is to pull up at an intersection, be able to pick your car, have it fully repaired, and then start the event. If you fail, an option comes up asking if you would like to repeat the event or continue free-wheeling through the city, either with the same car selection or by going through the selection process again. This is what racing games are about and, somewhat ironically, exactly what Burnout managed to perfect: racing around without having to worry too much about getting lost or crashing. Having repair garages and scrap yards around the city would still be a good idea, as it gives the freedom to change and repair cars at will, but expecting players to visit them every few minutes is a huge drain on game time. I commend the developers for creating a fully developed city to drive around in, and it offers a great feeling of freedom to do so, but they have overlooked some simple playability issues.

The freedom of the city is also unfortunately a problem when racing. The races take place along the streets with only a starting point and a finishing line for the race, no route is marked. The mini-map in the corner of the screen and the compass at the top help guide you to the end, but ultimately you can drive wherever you want to try to get to the finish. The car also helpfully flashes its indicators to signal the expected road of choice, but in such a fast game where there are so many choices of roads to take some of the simple cues can be easily missed. Whilst being able to take any route to the finish line allows for shortcuts and alternative routes to be chosen it also means that you can go entirely the wrong way unintentionally.

Again, it is great that the whole city is free to be explored, but it impairs gameplay considerably when you drive down the main road instead of taking the minor road off a concealed fork, forcing you to make a u-turn as all the competitors race off behind you. Whilst there may not be a single route that is best, and many sub-optimal but valid ones, there are definitely wrong choices of routes and it would be good at least to be gently guided away from them. In Burnout 2 glowing blue barriers appeared if you strayed away from the set course, which you couldn't pass, and although the free-roaming design of Burnout Paradise wouldn't allow physical barriers it would surely be beneficial to have instanced glowing and insubstantial blue barriers appear across obviously wrong route choices during races, guiding players visibly without impeding movement.

As it is, too much time is needed in learning at least every major road before attempting to participate effectively in races, particularly when it is difficult to practice the race routes because of the lack of ability to repeat them. I want it the other way around: I want to be able to race effectively sooner rather than later, relying on my ability in being able to control the car, not because I have memorised the layout of the city. There is a horrid tendency to waste time in Burnout Paradise in order to get anywhere. I have turned the console off too many times because I can't find an intersection that doesn't require a car I'm not even sure that I've unlocked, or have failed a challenge because I didn't take a few minutes finding a repair garage before driving on egg shells to an intersection, or simply because the stupid slow-motion crashes became too intrusive to the otherwise-fluid action. And it's a great shame, because there is an amazing game here waiting to be played, but it is hidden behind time-wasting distractions.

As a final note, I must compare the single-player game to the on-line mode. When connecting via Xbox Live to a game hosted by friends many of the annoyances magically disappear. There are no slow-motion crashes, because of the obvious problem of synchronising a slow-motion crash with everyone else racing at speed, so the crashes are full-speed and dramatic, quickly getting you back in to the car and racing. The problem of car durability is as good as negated, as it seems like you come out of every crash in a newly repaired car, not gradually getting worse until you are automatically knocked out of and excluded from whatever event you are involved in. And with cooperative challenges selected from a menu, which can be called up regardless of your location, there is plenty to keep skilful players entertained without having to trawl through the city finding just the right intersection. Burnout Paradise is a completely different game on-line, a simple and superb racing game in a complex arena, and one that I dearly want to be replicated in single-player mode.

  1. 4 Responses to “Burnout Paradise”

  2. You can restart the last event form the D-Pad even if an event is failed hit right on the D-Pad and down to restart last event ,you will warp to that point.

    I'm in love with this game, but that may be because I never played burnout before in any other format. It's all extremely new to me I forgive it's little mistakes because on the whole it is fun.

    Your right about the online version of the game though, so much more fun!

    By Shuttler on Jun 13, 2009

  3. Oh, that's great to know about restarting the event. Thanks!

    By pjharvey on Jun 13, 2009

  4. hi guy's i was wondering if you knew why burnout paradise the ultimate box runs at 10 fps and is really annoying because its slow.

    thanks r.s

    By rambojambo on Jul 20, 2009

  5. I have the Burnout Paradise Ultimate Box, as part of a bundle with the Xbox 360, but don't experience the slow frame-rate that you are seeing. I'm afraid I can't help, sorry.

    By pjharvey on Jul 22, 2009

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