I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Burnout series and from what I could recall, burnout Paradise fell into the latter category.
It was part of Xbox’s Games With Gold rewards program recently, so its presence had been taunting me in the “ready to install” section of my Xbox One ever since. I used to LOVE Burnout 3 Takedown on my Playstation 2, it’s probably even my favourite game on that console! I kind of enjoyed Burnout Revenge on the Xbox 360 as well so I was wondering why I got rid of Burnout Paradise so quickly after buying it upon release. This article will be an investigation into why that happened.
Well I hate to admit my new experience with the game didn’t start well: Since I’m living in Belgium, Xbox decided that I would probably want the French version of the game. I live in the northern part of Belgium however, where most of us speak Dutch. Regardless, if I was given the choice I wouldn’t have gone for either as I’m used to gaming in English: the menus make more sense to me and I find most of the Dutch translations to be cringe-worthy. There is no language select in this game, so you’re stuck with the language you purchased it in. My French is good enough that I can understand most of it though, I’m just happy this happened on a racing game and not an RPG.
Graphically the game also isn’t a stunner. I remember playing burnout 3 on my PlayStation 2 and it had cutting edge graphics for the time. I used that game to show off what the PS2 was capable off and it remained one of the better looking games during the console’s lifetime. Burnout Paradise isn’t really ugly by any standard, but it isn’t exactly the prettiest racer on the Xbox 360 either. (That honour goes to either one of the Forza games or Split/Second in my opinion).
What’s important to point out here though, is that the game scales really well somehow. I’ve played it on Full HD TV and streamed it to my 4K XPS 15 laptop. Neither impressed me very much. I’ve since purchased a 4K 55″ TV (with HDR) and Burnout Paradise looks significantly better on this. Though it’s hard for me to tell what role the TV’s processing chip played in this.
Performance wise the loading seems to happen faster when playing the game on the Xbox One, but that’s about all the improvement I could notice. Some other games had better draw distance when played on the XBO and I did not experience this here.
As for the game’s soundtrack, it’s a pretty enjoyable list, though previous burnouts had more songs to my liking. My favourite tracks to race to are NERD’s Rockstar and, I’m afraid to admit, Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend.
The title song Paradise City on the other hand… Well, I hope you really like it as you’ll be hearing it a lot! I personally grew tired of it quite fast. Outside of the soundtrack there also some voice-overs that tell you what to do in the next race, but in my case these were also in French and I already expressed how I feel about that.
Burnout Paradise is the first game in the series to have an open world and I think this lies at the core of why I didn’t like the game when it released. Previous Burnout games had set courses you could race on, sure some of them could be done in reverse and you had plenty of shortcuts (those were part of the charm and knowing them was your main advantage over friends that came around to play), but here you’re just given a starting point and an end point for the races. The environment also isn’t as varied as in the previous games as you’ll spend 100% of your time stuck in this one city and it’s not exactly a big one: you can get from one end of the map to the other in a few minutes.
I remembered crashing a lot during my first races as I kept staring at the mini-map which didn’t even accurately show your finish line as it was too far away.
This time around I decided to ignore it for the most part and just use the other racers and the blinking street signs as indications of where to go next. Doing this has led to fewer crashes and a more enjoyable experience all around.
There are still a lot of times you’ll crash your car where you wouldn’t have in the other games though. Burnout used to have a lot of walls you could stick though, it wasn’t the ideal trajectory but if your car is going blisteringly fast you don’t mind the extra safety-rails keeping you on track. In Paradise City on the other hand, there are a lot more obstacles to crash into: jumps that you didn’t quite make, walls in the exact same colour as the street, shortcuts that you didn’t take well enough or times when you have to make a 90° turn at 200MPH.
Speaking of shortcuts and jumps; these are without a doubt the most fun you can have in the game: just driving around and discovering the “collectibles” scattered around the map. I would advise you to first explore the map and find as many of these as possible before even attempting the races. This way you’ll also feel less inclined to go for that billboard, super jump or shortcut that you don’t really need to win the race, but which tickles your achievement-brain and you just NEED to get it.
Still, when it comes to racing, the open-world aspect of the game seems more like a handicap rather than a benefit. I wish they had some of the assisting features other similar games like Need for Speed or Forza Horizon applied: part of the road that lights up showing you the ideal path to take. Forza Horizon for example also has the rewind function so you can undo a mistake. In Burnout Paradise, you’ll have to restart the race.
Restarting a race is something that I hadn’t even discovered how to do when I first played the game, I legitimately thought I had to first quit the current race (by e-braking and keeping the button pressed for several seconds no less, the person that came up with this brilliant concept should be run over by a car without brakes) and driving back all the way to the starting point. Turns out the restart option is available from your D-Pad if you press RIGHT a few times. Why they didn’t just have the option available after pressing your Start button, I’ll never understand.
To start a race or other event, you’ll have to drive to an intersection and do a full stop (again). A small change in icon shows you the races you’ve already done and when you do well enough on them you’ll also gain a better driver’s license unlocking more cars and races. I just wish there was a better interface to start these races. I understand it’s an open world game, but a list of races (with a clear indication which ones you’ve done and how you ranked on them) would have been a very welcome addition, especially if they’d let you start it from that list.
Playing Burnout Paradise for a longer amount of time now, it did seem slightly easier than its predecessors though. I think this is mainly because there is no longer any rubber banding going on (a technique often used in racing games that teleports cars to right behind you, used to keep the race exciting). Most likely this is because you can now see the other cars on the minimap so it would be to blatantly obvious. The game also has issues knowing who is in the ‘lead’ as often it will tell you your position is 7th out of 8 and you make a turn or drive of a bridge and suddenly you’ve crossed the finish line first.
Another strike against it is that they no longer have the Crash mode available to you. Burnout games have been well known for having a kind of score attack mode in which you had to rack up the damage as much as possible. They replaced this here by “Showtime” which is only available if you have a stunt car and activated anywhere on the map by pressing both bumper buttons. You basically bounce around and have to hit as many cars as possible, and a bus will give you a multiplier. It’s also fun for a while but I feel like you could keep this up forever while Crash mode felt more like a puzzle that you needed to solve. I also hate to add that the honking horns in this mode will drive you crazy, especially if you’ve been at it for minutes on end.
I kept the biggest flaw for last though, but this is one most racing games these days make: it has NO split screen multiplayer anymore! I’ve always loved playing Burnout singleplayer, don’t get me wrong, but the biggest value the games had for me was being able to play them versus a buddy next to me on the couch. It was even one of the few games I could get my girlfriend (now my wife) to play with me. Without this mode, I just couldn’t see myself playing this game over Burnout Revenge, which is also available on the Xbox 360.
To make up for this, it does have online multiplayer, which can be accessed rather easily and has some fun modes and random challenges (like “hit the most billboards”). sadly I’ve never been much of an online player. One interesting idea they had though, was adding a ‘best time’ for each street, which you could then compete over with friends on Xbox Live. I even encountered a friend that hasn’t played on Xbox for ages but his time had been recorded for the ages.
Burnout Paradise was my least favourite game in the series and while that sentiment hasn’t changed, I have as a gamer. I’ve found it to be more enjoyable than I remember but it doesn’t stand up well to its older brother Burnout 3 Takedown which holds a lot of nostalgic value for me. It also compares unfavourably versus the other open world games available on the platform. All things said, boosting your way through traffic and scoring takedown after takedown is still a lot of fun. I’m just left wondering what could be if Criterion decided to have another go at it on the current Console generation. I just hope to god they ditch the open-world approach and bring back Split-screen!!