Criterion has not taken the safe route with Burnout Paradise, as the internet confusion – and anger – over the demo proved. It is not something you’re likely to appreciate based on a demo. I never tried the demo, but the retail experience really has to be sat down with and taken slowly. Burnout is about going very fast, but initially Paradise does not give you any sort of direction to head towards.
It does not take long for it all to settle in. After one night’s play, I appreciate the effort of making a videogame world without menu screens, but don’t quite approve of the hoops the player is put through to achieve this. Especially changing your car is a pain. The idea is that you drive freely anywhere, and start events at any junction by hitting both gas and brakes at the same time. The inability to restart events sounds like a big deal, but it really isn’t. You just head elsewhere and maybe retry that one once you’ve gone around the gameworld once more.
A big thing is that you have to navigate yourself. You only have a compass direction to head towards, and need to pick your way through the road system on your own. It feels a lot like real driving in that respect.
And of course (of course) it looks fantastic and sounds very EA. (The radio host is not that bad, really, certainly nothing comparable to the teethgrindingly annoying guy in Burnout 3: Takedown.) Initially, the world seems just large enough to offer variety and just small enough to not be overwhelming. I’m a little concerned about how it’ll stack up to extended play. It can be a little monotonous, like Burnout Revenge was.
The physics are pretty convincing, except for Show Time mode, where they’re clearly put into service of overall mayhem, feeling radically different to the rest of the game. Show Time does not feel like an adequate replacement for the absence of Crash Mode, but it’s a nice valve you can tap anytime you need an instant laugh. Just hit both shoulder buttons to engage – anytime, anywhere – and you instantly go into slow motion and your car is flipped over to crash into traffic. You can keep going for as long as you have boost, which you use to rebound off the street whenever you come down. My first attempt took me close to two miles!
I was initially worried about how the Burnout handling model would do without invisible force barriers keeping you on course. In the first, slowest rides, this is never a problem. We’ll see how it works out in the speeds the series is known for.
I wanted to try the online mode tonight, too, but the game crashed when I started it.
As a single highlight, Marked Man is such a natural addition to the offering of game modes. You’re given a target, and a bunch of heavy cars are sent to hunt you down before you get there. Great fun.