A huge risk, but one that's paid off big time.
Welcome to Paradise City, a place that packs more punch than a heavy-weight boxer, more pizzazz than a back-street burlesque, and err, more yellow than The Simpsons.
Burnout Paradise is essentially an open sprawling world chock-full of Burnout goodness, and a huge world at that. In fact it can take up to ten minutes just to drive from one side of the map to the other, which is pretty impressive when you consider the speed some of the cars can reach. What's also mightily impressive is the fact that's it's all done with no in-game load times whatsoever, once the games hefty initial load is complete then you're left to your own devices. The whole city is accessible from the very first minute and can be pretty overwhelming at first, with so many roads and events and other such things scattered all over the place. Look to your left to see a huge mass of mountain terrain, with roads winding off far into the distance, while to your right you have a series of tightly-packed bustling streets. It's only after the first couple of hours that everything starts to come together, routes start becoming recognisable and your ultimate goals start to form.
The game is split up into a number of different areas, and there are many ways to approach each one. The main brunt of the game can be found within the events, and one can be found at every set of traffic lights throughout the city. Just pull up at a junction, screech your tires and watch as you're thrust into a fierce race across the map, or a 'Stunt Run', or become the 'Marked Man', and need to get to a certain point on the map whilst a group of suspicious-looking black vehicles surround you and attempt to smash you into the nearest wall. Each of the five events on offer require you to use an entirely different tactic and you may find that some come easy to you whilst others take a while to master. For example, you may find the 'Burning Routes' easy enough, taking a specific car and driving to a certain point within a set time period. However, the 'Stunt Runs' may prove a little more challenging, as you attempt rack up a high score by stringing together a series of tricks, jumps and flips.
Then you have 'Road Rules' which require a high score on every single road found in the game, yes you heard me right, and there are an insane amount of roads to discover. You can 'rule a road' in two ways, by beating a fastest time on it, or by smashing into as many vehicles as possible and building up a score that way. The latter has been drafted in to replace 'Crash Mode' which has been removed from the series. Instead you now push L1 and R1 (or in the case of 360 owners, both triggers) to start your crash, and continue it by bashing a button which propels you forward, and in turn exhausts your boost. The more cars you crash into, the longer your boost will last, and this is how you prolong your run and increase your score. It's actually pretty fun and provides a lot more interactivity than its predecessor, although it doesn't hold quite as much value and tends to get old pretty fast.
If that's not enough you have 'Billboards', 'Smashes' and 'Super Jumps'. These are similar to collectables and act as side missions that help break up the action and add value to the whole experience. The 'Billboards' are placed throughout the map in an assortment of hard to reach places and there are 120 to find and break through, some are right in your face but hard to get to, and others are hidden deep in the mountains, and only by using your intuition and the right car can they all be tagged. 'Smashes' are slightly easier to come by, these are fences that block off shortcuts and most will be discovered whilst tearing through the city in general play. Then there are 'Super Jumps', 50 in total and each one is marked by a line of flashing cones across a ramp. Most of these are relatively easy to hit and usually send you soaring over a mountain, or a river, or something, via a nifty looking camera sequence.
Overall there is a nice platter of dishes to get your teeth into, and while they could have added a few extra events for variety here and there it all comes together to make for a pretty impressive single player package that should keep you going for quite some time. While it may all feel a little random at first, it matures with time, and if you're anything like me you'll find yourself frantically driving through the city looking for that last 'Billboard' in the hopes of achieving one hundred percent completion.
The online portion is both rewarding and original, and access is achieved through a few simple button presses, making the journey into cyber space easier than ever before. The challenges found here are both different and, depending on your preference, bags more fun. Most of them involve two-to-eight people simultaneously working together as a team to achieve a common goal, this could be barrel rolling over each other, or jumping off a bridge at a certain angle so you all land on the same piece of tarmac. It really is a bizarre social experience and you will probably never have seen anything like it before. It's not without its shortfalls though; it can become a very tiring process when you have to watch the same person attempt a jump for the umpteenth time because they're just that lame, or you're driving around waiting for somebody who has left the game to go grab themselves a cup of coffee. Criterion really has hit the nail on the head with this interesting concept though, and it will be interesting to see how it develops if, and indeed when they bring the next free-roaming instalment to our consoles.
The entire city looks beautiful, from the back drop of the mountains that are visible as you cruise down country roads, to the realistic glint that you get from buildings and landmarks as you dodge in and out of traffic through the town. All the different settings integrate seamlessly as you drive from one location to the next, and you can tell that a lot of work has gone into this aspect in particular. They've also shown an incredible eye for detail, with thousands of different signs and posters littered throughout, the cars even have indicators that blink when they're about to change lanes. Perhaps the most impressive factor is the ultra-smooth frame rate, and the effects that accompany it really create the sense that you're travelling at super high speeds. The car models are also impressive, while they can't compete with the likes of Forza, Gran Turismo, or even Project Gotham Racing; they do come packed with a fair bit of detail. It's just a shame they have no drivers, nor any official licences, that would have given the game that extra level of realism.
The sound isn't nearly as pleasing, and I personally found myself reaching for the mute button on more than one occasion. It's mostly down to the commentator who spurts out a bunch of nonsense every chance he gets. The music isn't the greatest either, and if you take out the inclusion of the ever-awesome Paradise City by Guns N' Roses then what you're left with is a bunch of pop rock tripe and un-catchy techno tracks that grate on you after five seconds. The car-based audio isn't half-bad though, while each model may not be licensed you can certainly decipher what each model is based upon and use that as a comparison, each one revving and roaring like it's real-life counterpart.
This abrupt change to the Burnout series may have been a huge risk on Criterion's part, but it's one that's paid off big time. When you break through the games overwhelming exterior, there is a solid and extremely playable game to be found, with an absolute feast of events and challenges to partake in. Dig a little deeper and there is a whole host of extra content waiting for the more committed gamers amongst us to explore.