Wot I Think: Burnout Paradise

By Jim Rossignol on February 9th, 2009 at 7:46 am.


Burnout Paradise was released last week on PC, via a gigantic time-limited demo. It was one of the most popular console games of last year, thanks to its open-world racing model. But is it any good? Here’s Wot I Think.

Playing Burnout Paradise on PC was rather like biting into a large, delicious sandwich, filled with quality meats and condiments. Sadly the first bite revealed that the sandwich also contained an elastic band. Once the inedible foreign article had been spat out, and cuss words uttered, the meal was delicious. After all, this is one of my favourite sandwiches. And I am so very, very hungry.

Yes, those sign up problems were ludicrous. A form that requires you to click and press enter? What? No option to recover previous sign up? Unskippable intro? Broken servers? Yes, it’s embarrassing for them and frustrating for us, but I’m over that now. I’m going to be kind to the rest of the game, because it deserves a manly punch on the shoulder and a big smile.

The distribution of the entire game as a demo might have strained our info-pipes, but it was a brave, intelligent move. How else can you demo an open-world game? And if the pirated version is going to be out there in a snap of your fingers, no matter what dance the publishers might perform, why not put your legitimate buy-me-in-a-moment demo out there too? Isn’t this the kind of move that all publishers should now be looking at? Putting aside the fact that the demo was clearly too short, isn’t this one of the best ways to distribute, advertise, and sell a game on PC? (No sign of it on Steam yet, which seems like a major oversight.) I’d almost buy Burnout Paradise on principle.

Anyway, before we get the gold-valved heart of Burnout Paradise – a smart, fun, progressive racing game – I’m going to meander a bit.

Racing games are essential to my gaming library. They’re one of the things that videogames do best: that sense of speed, and potential impact – it’s something I fell in love with on the earliest computers, and never let go of. And yet it’s so very easy to fuck up. I think it’s something to do with the tactile nature of the controls, the continuous feedback loop of input and output. If the balance is even slightly out, then the whole thing is a waste of time. You see it all the time.

But these days I feel as if I’m learning to love racing games again. The root of this was when the love affair went sour. It was with Grand Prix Legends, a PC racing game of unflinching realism and startling depth. Having played the game for many weeks, I understood that its dedication to realistic racing was a heavy achievement. I get like that sometimes – I did it with Quake 3. I dreamed about the racing line, about holding on for all those laps. I also understood that I hated the game to its core. I went off racing games in an instant. It took a long time to get them back.

Now, now, don’t think I’m judging you, Grand Prix Legends Fan. Because you are, in fact, one of my closest friends. I understand your interests. For me, though, games need some give. I take games far too seriously, clearly, and I can’t do that with racing games too. I want Midtown Madness. I want to drive round the track backwards in Indy 500. I want to fly off a bridge at 150mph, and be laughing.

Racing needs to have some kind of bungee effect, where I’m always able to claw things back. I don’t want realism. I want the illusion of just-about-gripping-tarmac, not the reality. I want to crash horribly, with all the spinning glass and shards of metal that entails, and be instantly back in the race. Having been burned in the past, and drowning my sorrows in the sci-fi speed-porn fantasies of Wipeout games and their hover-rocket pretenders, I am now re-learning my love for wheel and lap-time racing games. Particularly the ones that do not care too much. Last year was particularly rewarding. GRID was entertaining. Burnout Paradise was better.

Criterion’s bold open-world racing game isn’t the prettiest trinket, nor is it quite as ferociously compelling as earlier Burnout games. Nevertheless it feels astonishingly responsive, and rewardingly solid. The design is all about functionality of fun. It wants to sell you two things: a sense of speed, and the believability of its collisions. And it does that.

The functional nature that extends to everything in it: this is the fifth (?) time an open world racing game has been attempted, and pulled off (first being this), thanks to the simplicity of its challenges. Roll up to an intersection, spin wheels at the traffic lights, and you can be thrown straight into a race. When the race is done, you’re still on the same street, rolling to your next goal. It feels organic, zipping about, always rolling into the next challenge. The open world feels integral to the experience, and it changes the tone of racing, just Stalker’s open world changed the tone of shooting. If nothing else, it points the way for other open world pure-racers, such as FUEL, and suggests they might have a future. (This game is nothing, nothing, like GTA.)

It’s superbly brutal too. The road rage events, where you simply have to destroy your opponents, give new meaning to the term “muscle car.” In fact, cars aren’t simply rewards in Burnout, they’re trophies, in the hunting sense: you collect cars by forcing them off the road and wrecking them.

There’s no hidden agenda here, just caricatured automotive ultra-violence. Some folks have suggest that the lack of a circuit-based, here-to-there kind of racing model means the game doesn’t pull you in, but I reject that. As soon as you’ve found the beat of doing event after event, you have no problem with forward momentum. Collecting cars, beating the various events – which include staying on the road as other cars try to take you down, mad stunt routes, waypoint-driven tours around the cityscape, as well as straightforward races – it’s a well-punctuated progression, allowing little sideshows of car-swapping housekeeping and exploration between the events. Hurtling off the given route and still thundering your way into the lead makes for brilliant racing, particularly when the last few moments of a race are a wheel-grinding chariot-race to the line.

The bikes – added to the game after its initial console outing – are a new game mode in themselves, focusing more of sheer speed. The bike events are far less numerous, but they feel minimal, brutal There are fewer cars on the road. You move faster, even without the Burnout boost. Far more than with the cars, you are dragged into the notion of open street racing. Enter first-person view on the bikes and you taste what is possibly the best sense of high speed racing in any game. It’s breakneck stuff, even if your rider is never actually visible to break a neck in those brutal crashes.

All this is facilitated by the city itself – a sprawling, explorable space. It’s one of those games where you can really see how game and architecture work together. Just as shooter maps are spaces designed for gun battles, so this is a city designed for high speed absurdity. Those moments when you assume you’ve lost yourself to a deadly crash, and you find yourself bursting through a barricade, across a chasm and onto another road – in what is actually a short cut – make you hoot with joy. Criterion have clearly put the time and effort into testing their city – carving out the secret routes and off-street pathways that make the game such a mad joy. They’ve not tried to bend the game to their level design, quite the opposite: the pedestrian-free avenues of Paradise City are a guiltless exercise in creating an environment that scaffolds your fun at every opportunity. They’ve driven every alleyway, tested every curve and bend, dropped insane, arbitrary ramps and jumps into a city where there is nothing but motorised lunacy.

This becomes even more obvious in the drop-in drop-out multiplayer, when you find previously unseen portions of the city, where you and your chums enter playgrounds of ramps, jumps and death-traps. Obliterating your vehicles over and over is a distinct joy.

Having lost my 360 disc earlier in the year – a pitfall of physical media – this is the first game I’ve bought for myself this year. It makes sense to me: it Alt-Tab’s out perfectly, and I can put on my own music, or stop to correct Kieron’s spelling mistakes on RPS. I am using a 360 controller, but it seems to play reasonably well with a keyboard too. This is a decent conversion to PC, but there are some problems. No text chat in multiplayer, for example, and people are also reporting some crash bugs, which will hopefully be patched out. While it runs beautifully on a mid-spec gaming PC, it hasn’t really been buffed for the higher end PCs, and could have been a shader-number more beautiful.

I suspect Burnout Paradise will keep some people at arms length with its manic, broadly ludicrous take on racing – not to mention the piss weak rubbish that pads out the soundtrack, the nauseating radio DJ tipster, the sheer macho bullshit of it all. But it’s brilliant, and I recommend that, at the very least, you play the demo.

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86 Comments »

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  1. Jockie says:

    My favourite thing about the game is that they actually bothered to make a console port PC friendly, i mean the menu controls aren’t great. But that it actually lets you alt-tab with minimal fuss (2-3 seconds max for me) means you can have a quick blast on it, indulge in whatever insanity you feel like at the time, whether it be crazy stunts or blistering speed, dipping in and out of the game at whim. Alt-F4ing to close the program works as it should as well, with the game shutting down in a couple of seconds.

    Shame they totally butchered Crash Mode though.

  2. Premium User Badge

    MonkeyMonster says:

    Its the mode where you have to cause the biggest crash possible that only just tops my hubba hubba meter (from maybe burnout 2?) But the sheer joy of racing against other humans and you nudging them into a hilarious crash etc… One to play against my brother for sure!

    and then I re-read the post above (sad face)

  3. bhlaab says:

    I like this game, but two things annoy me: The lack of a custom radio and the fact that finding your way to the finish line is so much of a hassle that it distracts from the actual race. The minimap could be a LOT clearer and it would be nice if you could set waypoint markers on it.

  4. Trousers says:

    I played the demo and thought it was great, but…

    Seriously? They got rid of the “jump your car over this bridge, cause a 200 car pileup” mode?

    That was really the only reason I was going to buy this : (

    Thanks for the heads up RPS commentators, I was this close to christening by new credit card with a purchase..

  5. The_B says:

    Because I’m annoyingly persistant, I’m also going to request that you lovely RPS readers who want to join other RPS readers in Paradise City could do a lot worse than checking out this forum thread with player names in as well as adding your own.

    I am of course – The_B See you in game. Probably my wreckage first mind.

  6. Markoff Chaney says:

    One other thing to point out about the races that some other readers pointed out – Be mindful of dinging sounds and flashing lights. The preferred route of any race is spelled out to you as you approach a turn. You hear some beeping (or dinging) and you can see the turn signal on your vehicle light up showing the direction you should turn. Also, if you look up at the street name signs, one of them is blinking if you need to turn that way. If you miss your turn, helpful blinking starts back up usually at the next intersection. Be mindful, however, if you miss the first turn you’re out of the approved best path. I’ve won races from going alternate paths, however.

    I’m still sad I lost my crash puzzles. :( I just remembered one of the other things I loved in prior Burnouts that’s missing – Aftertouch Takedowns. I’d pay another 40 dollars to have those 2 things in Paradise.

    I posted in that thread as well, The_B. Thanks for the reminder. I meant to post yesterday, but a gnat caught my eye or something.

  7. Drool says:

    I don’t understand the “events are repetitive” complaint. It’s a racing game. By its very nature it’s about driving from A to B and back again. All racing games do this, but Burnout Paradise gives you a giant city to roam around in when you feel like it.

    This game hits the, “Oh what’s that, I bet there’s something cool down there,” button that only open world games can.

    Of course I haven’t played Burnout since the first one so I don’t have any sort of longing for crash mode. Showtime is a fun diversion and I’m ok with that.

  8. Irish Al says:

    @bhlaab

    The map is indeed not spectacular and it’s also hard to distinguish between orange and red race markers on it.

  9. Anthony Damiani says:

    “(This game is nothing, nothing, like GTA.)”

    It’s an open-world, ultraviolent, fun-over-realism, modern-day urban racing game.

    How different could it be?

  10. unclelou says:

    I don’t understand the “events are repetitive” complaint. It’s a racing game. By its very nature it’s about driving from A to B and back again. All racing games do this, but Burnout Paradise gives you a giant city to roam around in when you feel like it.

    But it’s not that giant, or maybe simply feels no different enough. There was more track variey in Burnout 2. Much of the city layout is rather interchangeable, with the exception being the east side with its couple of uphill/downhill roads. And with its only 8 endpoints, you inevitably race on the same sections again, and again, and again.

  11. unclelou says:

    West side, baby. I meant West side.

  12. StalinsGhost says:

    Alice in Chains – Would? Faith No More – Epic. Soundgarden – Rusty Cage. Janes Addiction – Stop.

    Oh mai.

    I very nearly bought it on those terms alone. Shame about the rest of the music mind.

  13. ulix says:

    Game also works perfectly with the Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2, even supports rumble (so few games do it on this particular gamepad). Although I’m not really satisfied with the rumble-design.
    Totally over the top in crash-mode, but not even noticeble anywhere else.

  14. A Delicate Balance says:

    I’ve had BO:P for the PS3 for nearly a year as I was looking for half-interesting games to get for the PS3 when Blu-Ray won and I wanted a BR player. I was disappointed from the word go. I know they’ve fixed the restarting the races now, but a year after I bought the game, I really couldn’t care less. I’ve tried to like it, over and over again, but it just fails to please me in all the ways that count.

    In particular I have to strongly disagree that BO:P is better than GRiD. I meticulously played GRiD to completion and have spent hours playing it online, even eventually switching to manual gears for increased control, whereas BO:P is so lacklustre I’m sure I’ll never bother to complete it.

  15. The_B says:

    StalinsGhost – You haven’t played this game properly until you’ve done a Road Rage event to Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend.

  16. iainl says:

    I love, love, love Paradise. After about 4 hours I knew the city well enough that looking at the map wasn’t an issue most of the time, and as every race involves the traffic and other racers doing different stuff the fact that I’m on the same roads is actually useful, rather than repetitive.

  17. Buemba says:

    @A Delicate Balance

    Well, they’re both pretty different games. While GRiD isn’t a full-on simulator it definitely veers more towards realism while Paradise is a pure arcade racer (The type that hardly ever requires you to stop pressing the accelerator). Both games are great at what they do and in the end the “better game” depends much more on personal preference than any of their particular merits.

    But as long as we’re comparing both games: I do think GRiD has much better car damage modeling and tracks, but the over the top twisted metal porn and sense of “Jesus I’m driving a freakin’ rocket” of Burnout suits my tastes better.

  18. KBKarma says:

    … its manic, broadly ludicrous take on racing – not to mention the piss weak rubbish that pads out the soundtrack, the nauseating radio DJ tipster, the sheer macho bullshit of it all.

    Well, I’m sold. I’ll buy it once my machine can handle it.

  19. bansama says:

    As another aside, I had no issues purchasing the game from the demo. The EA website was a little slow when it got to giving me my key, but there it was in under 60 seconds from me giving them my credit card details.

    Yeah, I’m fairly sure this problem is specific to the Japanese store and EA’s love of regionally redirecting based on IP (which is why it won’t work in game either). Someone in charge of the Japanese store obviously messed up something in regard to this game. So it looks like I’m not going to be able to buy it at all >_<

    And I need my “driving fast” fix dammit.

  20. Y3k-Bug says:

    That, and GRID has somewhat horrid control, at least in the later stages of the game, while using a 360 controller.

    The only time that happens in Burnout is when I’m trying the entirely wrong care for the event I’m currently in.

  21. Kanakotka says:

    Just like a delicious saaaandvich, that’s delicious with one bite, it can be too big to be consumed upon one time, while normally that’s not a problem, the sandvich gets stale upon the longer you take eating it, as you find yourself that there isn’t much in the way of filling other than the first few bites, and everything else is exactly same.

  22. VTGamer says:

    Try this for fun, Burnout for me is a multiplayer single player game, what we would do is play a race and then swap out, when you arent constantly doing the same thing over and over again, the game is much less repetitive, because of the open nature of Paradise we generally had a time limit or a certain amount of races, but the glorious part was that even watching, the entertainment of the vehicular carnage was worth it since when you are racing you are not really watching the mayhem that is going on.

  23. Surgeon says:

    I played the original Burnout on the PS2, and thought it was amazing.
    I agree with what Jim was saying on the podcast though, Paradise doesn’t seem to be quite as mental as the previous games.
    Although the sense of speed and feeling of destruction is still spot on.

    The best parts of Paradise for me are Road Rage, and the random encounters with the cars that you need to take down to win.

  24. schac5 says:

    That was cool

    Call Of Duty Comedy Sketch

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhufrnT4818

    From The Whitest Kids You Know

  25. G-Master says:

    @ skillian

    Yeah, it has a party mode, where you complete little challenges in turns, like

    “Do the most jumps along this road” or

    “Drive furthest in oncoming traffic” or “Get the best time around this route.”

  26. Matt Webster says:

    Hi all, we really appreciate all the feedback that we’re getting, as you all know this is our first time on PC so we’re learning a lot!

    In particular I’m interested in players having problems with servers. If you can let us know at mailbag@criteriongames.com with PC Server Problems in the subject line and we’ll do whatever we can to solve them.

    Thanks again, hope you don’t mind me using this page for our customer feedback requests!

    The Burnout Team

  27. Drool says:

    Custom soundtracks and text chat Mr. Webster. That is what I desire for ultimate Burnout PC perfection.

    I haven’t had any problems with games online other than mouthy Russian dudes, but your in game news feed is still borked.

  28. Matt Webster says:

    Thanks, we’ll add that to a nice-to-have list!

    We’ve had some reports on the new page and I’m in the process of changing the error message. Seems some version of IE don’t come with the same security settings (or users play with them)

    If you go to Tools \ Internet Options \ Security Tab \ Custom Level Button

    Search for the scripting level, you should have

    “Active Scripting – Enable”
    “Allow programmatic clipboard access – prompt”
    “Allow status bur updates via script – enable”
    “Allow for websites to prompt for information using scripted window – enable”
    “Scripting of java applets – enable”

    That should sort it!

  29. Matt Webster says:

    actually… we think that just enabling “Allow status bar updates via script” should fix it…

    -Matt

  30. Drool says:

    Man, I don’t even know where a shortcut to Internet Explorer is on my PC. Who uses IE anymore?

    But thanks for the tip I’ll go fix it up.

  31. iainl says:

    Paradise doesn’t seem to be quite as mental as the previous games.

    Spoken like someone who hasn’t reached the later cars; they’re eyeblendingly fast.

  32. jalf says:

    @Matt Webster: Any chance of seeing the game on Steam?
    I’ll buy it the moment I can get a version with no limits on how often I can download/install/activate it. (Obviously a non-Steam non-DRM version would be even better, but any version with no limit on activations will do)

    Loved the demo, so this officially gets on my coveted and highly exclusive “list of racing games that don’t suck” (which now contains a whopping 2 games. Doesn’t get much more exclusive) :D

  33. bansama says:

    Yay, I finally got through to the Japanese EA store support system (which was offline itself =/) and within an hour, they fixed the problem with Burnout paradise. Snapped it up as soon as they informed me =)

    The only problem I have now is that none of the ingame news information displays. It just gives the message “News not available”.

    Also now looking forward to the “cops n robbers” content, the one thing I found missing with this game.

  34. Tom says:

    Thanks for your message Mr Webster!

    A editable playlist is highly welcome because most of the soundtrack is simply bad teen rock music.

    But also the soundtrack menu is awfuly badly done, it doesn’t make any use of the resolutions and size of our pc screens. It is obviously a copy of the console menu, like all the rest of the game menus which are a real pain, honestly.

    I’ve had issues of savegame corruption when exiting to windows via the bottom choice in the ingame options menu, those corruptions don’t happen if I first leave to the main title screen and then exit to windows.

    Your game if for the rest a really really good game, It surpasses the NFS franchise on every level for me, mainly because there is none or very little frustration from missing a turn or not winning a race. I’ve been longing for a pc version of any Burnout for years, thank you.

  35. Y3k-Bug says:

    A question to the room:

    Anyone else have problems getting the Winamp’s global hotkeys to work while playing the game?

  36. 1nsane says:

    Guys i have problem with the game:
    My steer wheel isnt working on it. I have: Trust Steering Wheel GM-3200 VFB. Do you have anything to do with the settings to get it work, or just plug & play?

    PLz help me