First things first. This is not a full review of Burnout Paradise. I’m working on that. Instead, it’s an early reaction to the fact that the menu system that held the game together has been dumped, in favour of you have to drive around Paradise City looking for something to do.
What the hell were they thinking?
One of the many joys of the Burnout franchise – and surely it got no better than the still-wonderful Burnout 3? – was that it quickly got you to the action. There was no faffing: you chose what you wanted to do from a menu, got sent straight to it, and if it was going wrong half way through, you started again. A bit of loading time was the compromise, but in the midst of a good crash junction, you were hardly going to worry about that.
But in a prime example of change for the sake of change, Burnout Paradise has gone with the trend for a free roaming city. Developer Criterion, presumably having spent too much time with Grand Theft Auto and Need For Speed, has decided that you must drive around and find things to do. That you must read a map to work out where you have to get to. That you must go right back to the start yourself if you screw up. That you must win events rather than earn medals of different colour. And that you must explore.
I knew this was going wrong when, because my car was in a state and about to fall apart, I stopped at some traffic lights.
In a Burnout game.
Who the hell came up with this? The Burnout games have been a majestic arcade festival of carnage, trimmed down to a lean menu structure, and even on an off day, they’ve been amazingly good fun. Who cares if whack your car a bit? That’s surely part of the appeal?
But here I was, sat, stopped at traffic lights, waiting for them to go green. It felt like my driving test, not the greatest arcade racing franchise of the past decade. And I was sat because I needed to drive through an auto repair shop to fix my car, before I could take on another race.
It’s the new direction for Burnout, clearly: let’s add some hassle.
The pity is that the game itself, the core action, is brilliant. But the horrible way it’s structured now has led me back to Burnout 3 and Burnout Revenge. They didn’t have races where you all but had to check a map to work out the route. They knew that you were there to drive cars in a manic, over the top way, and they respected it.
Burnout Paradise sort of knows all of that, too. It just got cocky, and decided it was so good, that exploring would be a brilliant new addition.