Flying through red lights with no regret and a little prayer for each one, you spot the broken bridge ahead. You got off one exit too soon. There’s no time to find another route, you stay your course. Upon take off time seems to slow as you fly across the gap. The landing is all that matters. And land you do, right into the back of a bus. Welcome to Paradise City, get your ass back to the junk yard.
Burnout Paradise is a game that never strays from its open-world sincerity, for better or worse. Previously the series has had restrictive progression, leaving you with little choice in how you play. Think classic unlock-to-proceed structure. Paradise liberates the player, granting a freedom not normally seen in this type of game.
As you compete in events you are never restricted to one area. Not even as you start up the game for the first time are you limited to the type of events available or the portions of the city you can speed through. It’s the Burnout you know, set loose into a new world of possibilities and frustrations.
Simultaneously managing the necessary components of racing can be a difficult task in Paradise. The wall-grinding around corners to victory is no longer present, replaced by the GTA-esque mini-map on the lower right side of the screen. It’s not just for decoration, either. The map will become your most trusted advisor, but also symbolizes the fundamental change that it has brought with it to Burnout. This change is best described as giving the player the freedom to totally screw up.
Burnout has never been a realistic driving simulation, and Paradise doesn’t change that. But it goes without saying that you’ll find no invisible walls (or bright flashing arrows, for that matter) to guide you on your way. Miss a turn and you’ll need to turn around or hope there’s another route that will get you to where you’re going.
This is one of Paradise’s twists on the formula and it ultimately pays off, after you’ve had some time to adjust. But along the road you’ll find it difficult to juggle keeping track of the mini-map, and blasting along at supersonic speeds. There is a system in place that notifies you of the next turn, as your car’s turn signal starts ticking and the street signs at the top of the screen grow larger. But too often will you see the blinking begin when it is too late to make the turn without crashing. The best solution for this problem would have been a more detailed “suggested route” line showing you where to make the next turn on the mini-map.
This same frustrating freedom of screwing up is one of the most adrenaline inducing aspects of Paradise. The option to restart an event would have been nice though, considering how much time you can spend finding your way back to a particular event after failure. And honestly, this smells a bit of artificial extension, since there are a large number of Race and Burning Route events that finish out in the middle of nowhere. With few traffic lights in the vicinity, you’re forced to haul ass back to the city just to begin or retry your next event.
The online FreeBurn Challenge system is peculiar. At times you’ll find brilliance as you complete entertaining cooperative tasks with several other players, chatting away with suggestions and directions. But you’ll also find yourself anxious, bored, and often exceedingly perturbed by the system, waiting on the party leader to start a new challenge, or having a challenge cancelled when on the verge of completion after a player suddenly leaves FreeBurn mode.
Sure, this is more of a problem when you’re taking on Challenges in a non-private session. But it’s also unreasonable to assume that people will have a group of friends available and wanting to FreeBurn with them for great periods of time. And so a public Challenge session should be a viable way to play online, but it simply isn’t. There is no backup to when a player leaves the session and erases the last 15 minutes of progress that every other player has helped with, and it’s absurd and frustrating to no end.
While FreeBurning you can also race against other players if setup by the party leader, but the Road Rage mode is not available, which would be a lot more interesting.
Scattered around Paradise City you’ll find Junkyards, Auto-Repairs, Gas Stations, and Paint Shops. The Junkyard acts as your hub, where you choose your vehicle, and where recently unlocked autos will be placed. If you want to switch transportation, you’ll have to find a junkyard to do so, which can be a hassle. The Auto-Repair station is your best friend, especially when taking on Road Rage and Marked Man events, where victory is only rewarded to those who avoid turning into a steaming pile of trash. Gas Stations refill your boost, which can be the bump needed to catch up in a race if you’ve been Taken Out. And lastly, Paint Shops simply randomly repaint your car.
All of the frustration of missing turns, the elation of pulling off barrel roles, and the demented pleasure gained from seeing your car splinter into a hundred pieces is captured with brilliantly vibrant visuals. Paradise City is truly a sight to behold, from the looming skyscrapers, the rickety mountain train tracks, to the sun blazed downtown streets. It all runs at a steady framerate, supports 1080i and sports a whole bunch of bells and whistles. The game sounds just as brutal as it looks when your car is flying down the street and devilish speeds, or toppling through traffic missing nearly its entire left side, explosions in its wake. The pounding of the impact of taking an opponent out, leaving him behind smashed half way to hell into a concrete wall is magnificent. The same cannot be said for the soundtrack, but that is a minor blemish on Paradise City’s beautiful presentation.
Paradise brings some drastic changes to the Burnout formula, and while it keeps things fresh, everything isn’t implemented quite as well as it could be. The map system is particular leaves you wanting. And the open-world nature of the game never strays, even when it should allow players to retry failed events. And FreeBurn has some tarnish that needs polishing. But if you enjoy the visceral carnage that Burnout is known for and the blistering speeds that come with it, Paradise lets you own the city, street by street, however you want to, like never before.