For a game as fast, stylish and visceral as Burnout Paradise, whoever decided the hardcore challenges should be initiated by stopping at traffic lights wants shooting. That person should then be followed immediately by whoever decided not to include a ‘restart challenge’ option. Anyone left alive at Criterion can then sit back and bask in the praise that the rest of this review is going to be filled with.
You see, Burnout Paradise is brilliant in so many ways. It takes the brutal violence that made Takedown and (to a lesser extent) Revenge such works of genius, and applies it to a living, breathing sandbox world that ends up being more fun than the old-style game within it. Races are great, takedowns are still fun, but the city brings a whole new element of exploration that the franchise has previously lacked.
The usual race types are joined by a few new additions: you get basic races and Burning Route time trials, Road Rage takedown challenges, Marked Man survival tasks. There’s no Crash mode any more (boo! hiss!) but in its place are two new additions. Stunt Run challenges give you a set time to score points by jumping, barrel rolling and generally chucking your car around; Showtime is basically Crash mode but without the tactics of the run-up.
Thumbs up to all the new challenge types but the loss of Crash mode is gutting. Criterion has said this is because it would have taken you out of the real-time, living world, and this is also the reason for the traffic light challenge activation and lack of restart option. Personally, if you’re going to include a Showtime mode that lets you cause a mini-earthquake to flip your car on top of a bus (seriously), we’d put up with the unrealism of not having to drive all the way back to the start of a race, thank you very much.
That aside, Paradise takes the usual sandbox approach of filling the city with collectibles: smash through all the city’s shortcut gates, hurtle through all the Burnout billboards and find the super jumps, complete with slo-mo cinematic stunt angles. It’s nothing particularly innovative, but it’s all done with the series’ usual gleefully aggressive style.
It actually reminds me of Assassin’s Creed in many respects, in that for the first few hours I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the challenges, preferring to just cause havoc around the city. The vehicle-based action is a little limiting – I lost count of the times I spotted a great vantage point for a GTA-style sniper-fest – but the range of environments keeps things interesting.
You start off in the Junk Yard with a learner’s license and a basic stunt car, which can access only the earliest challenges. For the majority of challenges you need better cars, which can be earned either by winning challenges or by hunting down the bonus cars in the city. These are revealed one at a time, and you have to find them and take them down to earn the car, which seems like a nice touch. However, when you realise that the target can usually be found simply by stopping still for ten seconds and waiting, that route of progress soon gets old.
And, unfortunately, that’s Paradise‘s one major flaw. The lack of structured missions – something GTA does so brilliantly – means the feeling of progression is not always as exciting as it should be. The whole map is open from the start, so all you’re unlocking is cars and, therefore, races. While the closed-bridge scenarios of Vice City and San Andreas are admittedly a little contrived, they at least keep you striving to get them unlocked in the knowledge that something entirely new awaits.
It’s not the end of the world, though, particularly as the online Paradise City is chock full of irritating chavs just waiting for you to cream them in a Road Rage across the waterfront, and you can even use a webcam to show them just how smug you look afterwards.
Paradise doesn’t quite live up to its name – it would be a hell of a lot closer if they’d finally got rid of the intensely irritating DJ Atomika – but for such a great leap from linear to open-world gaming, the latest Burnout is a surprisingly enjoyable way to kill time until the real king of the sandbox games – Grand Theft Auto 4 – arrives in April.
4 out of 5 stars