I love the Burnout games, they're always fun and they're always frenetic. So I was pretty stoked to find out a new one was on the way in the shape of Burnout Paradise. When it finally arrived for me to review (a bit late we know) I was still fairly stoked. This promised to be the Skate of arcade racers, the tip of the iceberg of automotive mayhem!
I was somewhat let down in a way, not by the graphics or the huge free-roaming city that's unlocked right from the start. No, it was the fact that for all the graphics power and push of the 360 it felt like a bit of a step backwards in terms of the gameplay. I happened to like Crash Mode for instance, with the good old Crashbreaker and various combo icons.
The 'Showtime' mode is fun, for a while, and then it quickly becomes nothing more than a whee-whizz-bang exercise in trying to rack up points to beat the best point score. There's no real rhyme or reason to it. You're left with an empty feeling since the old Crash Mode maps took some skill, you had to time your jumps just right and they were great fun to just let off steam.
It's not to say that Burnout Paradise isn't fun, the chance to go online with people and friends at the drop of a hat, the join-in-progress system is seamless and activated with the good old right D-pad, it's great in that respect. Except most people online are idiots and trying to get anyone to do the copious amounts of free-burn challenges with is tricky at best.
Get a take-down and you'll send a mug-shot of your picture to the guy you just took out. The same happens if you're taken down, you'll get a mug-shot of the guy who made you eat wall. If you have a Live Vision Camera then the game will take a picture of the look on your face as it happens. It's quirky, not enough to save Burnout Paradise from being just another run-of-the mill version of the game with all the individuality of the previous games taken out.
Perhaps I've been watching too many Zero Punctuation reviews, or perhaps I'm getting jaded in my old age but come on. No replay camera like in Burnout Revenge, that loses cool points right away. I want to be able to record those spectacular crashes, not just watch them and then they're gone. And don't give me any BS about there being not enough memory, this is the age of the next-generation console, if you feed me that line I'm going to find you and make a telephone cable out of your small intestine.
Also, another major gripe, why is there no way to restart a race you just lost? I have to drive all the way back to a junction, can't automatically navigate by the map. I like to be lazy like that, adding false hours of gameplay onto a game where you have to drive back along the same stretch of road and try to remember the junction where the challenge was, is just annoying. That's not fun, that's frustration. Skate got it perfect, Skate was awesome for being able to either free-roam or zip right to something you wanted to do.
The gameplay has been sharpened though, there are a lot of new things added to the Burnout experience, like custom paint shops where you can drive through and get a new colour as you go. Repair shops where you drive through and get repaired during a race, allowing you to go that extra mile. Gas stations that give you full boost. There is also around 70+ cars to unlock by either beating challenges or taking down the custom jobs that you see driving around the city.
As you complete races and challenges, you earn points towards your next license permit: going from learner all the way up to the top, as you do so you'll unlock new bonuses and cars. You'll notice that there are some new game-types in the game like Marked Man, where you're tasked with getting from point A to B and surviving as computer AI bad-guys try to take you down.
There are also various ways to earn boost in BO:P. Each car type gathers it differently, speed cars will gain boost for fast driving and reckless abandon. Stunt cars will gain it for insane air and rolls/flips. Aggressive cars will gain it from smashing into other vehicles and takedowns.
The graphics for the game are gorgeous, each car is well designed and modelled, the crash physics are excellent and there's once again a feeling of insane top speed that only the Burnout series can provide. The only problem is, with all this open ended city gameplay, secrets galore and challenges there's no actual feeling that you want to do any of them except to get the next permit.
Unlocking cars is fun for a while, but there's no way of appreciating the sheer automotive carnage that ensues when you plow into another car and send them crashing off into a wall. Or you get hammered into a pylon and the crash physics deform it around the metal pole. It's there in glorious slow motion for a few seconds and then it's gone, never to be repeated in the same way, the moment lost.
The races are spectacular with plenty of short cuts and total freedom; you're not confined to a single track. They're A-B races with no need for laps or anything; you put your foot down and battle to the end regardless. Yet after you've done a few, you start to see the shine flake off the paint and the graphics don't make up for the fact you're missing the feeling of accomplishment. Your annoying radio announcer rambles on in the background and you're left feeling suddenly disconnected from the game.
I reached a critical mass of sorts with it, too much freedom in a way. It was nice to see those reigns come off, but I wouldn't have minded a little more meat on the bones since I don't really desire to constantly one-up my friends who're online or race custom races with other users. Sure there are people out there with a highly competitive spirit that probably think I'm talking a load of old cobblers, yet for me, it's a simple case of: I got bored.
Which is the first for a Burnout game.
The truth is, open ended gameplay, big cities and spectacular crashes don't make up for a lack of important features and modes missing from an otherwise fun and decent game.
Perhaps another Burnout game will reset the balance, but for me, Paradise City isn't as fun as getting some Revenge.