400 smashes and 120 billboards smashed, it's crashed again. And I'm secretly hoping it will have taken my save game with it for a second time. I've got a horrible feeling I'll end up starting a new save game otherwise, just so I can smash everything again. I have a bit of a problem, and it involves Burnout Paradise.
I like breaking stuff. Not in real life - the consequences are slightly too high. But when there's a thing in a game you can gently tap and it excitingly asplodes, I can't resist it. People complained that Max Payne 2 was too short. I say they clearly didn't shoot and smash every object in every room before they moved on. Show me a game with breakable windows, and I'll show you a game where I'll waste bullets and health doing so. Perhaps it's an OCD thing, maybe it's purely about the immediate satisfaction of watching a thing crumple or smash, but whatever the motivation, there's been nothing that so perfectly understands and tolerates this desire as Burnout Paradise. This is a game that not only provides me with hundreds and hundreds of opportunities, but celebrates and rewards this neurotic behaviour.
When I reviewed Burnout Paradise for PC Gamer I must have clocked at least 30 hours before I wrote the review, and then who knows how many more afterward. While I (rightly) criticised it for being lacking in variety of game types (just five offline modes starts to feel rather dramatically wanting when you're being asked to race to the damned Wind Farm for the nineteenth time) and for failing to put enough carrots in the game to incentivize progress to the none-insane, there was no doubt it was love.
Then, as is the case with so many games, others snuck in to replace it. The dripping of DLC for the game proved to be ludicrously overpriced and certainly didn't inspire me to go back in. I knew it was there, but oddly enough it took the noise from the 360/PS3 release of Big Surf Island extra content to revive my desires. The island is a huge new area added to the city, filled with new tricks, treats, smashes and challenges, and it got a whole bunch of console players to revisit. Enough people around me chatting about it, playing it in lunch hours, tweeting about it, etc, and I booted it back up in the evening a couple of weeks ago. The PC doesn't have the Island yet - and Criterion again have fallen into their demoralising habit of not acknowledging this, let alone offering a hint of a release date. (So many times have we received emails from their PR people announcing some new DLC, etc, only to have my queries as to whether it's true for the PC version met with admissions that, no, it it's not. When the front page for the PC site still has the words "Burnout Paradise PC will be available in February 2009" in the top entry, it doesn't bode well.) But despite the disappointment of this ghettoisation, there was stuff left to smash in my vanilla build of the game.
It only took a couple more evenings to clock my full Burnout license (received when you've completed approximately one hundred of the races/challenges) and find every billboard and all but four smash-gates. I should probably explain these:
Throughout the enormous and completely wonderful Paradise City there are billboards. Some of these are for real-world products like Burger King (while unfortunately cannot be destroyed - however, there's enormous amounts of satisfaction to be had by driving Gillette vans off the road), 120 of them are bright red Burnout Paradise posters that just ache to be driven through. Many are elementary - ride the ramp near them, or just drive off the raised motorway exit, etc. But many require a degree of puzzle solving. Some can only be smashed when you successfully launch yourself from the correct ramp on the top of a nearby multistorey carpark. Others need you to discover an off-road route running behind buildings and through hills, leading to a dirt launch that when hit with enough velocity will propel you over a drop and plunge through its hoarding as you land.
The smash-gates are even more plentiful. There's 400 of these yellow metal fences blocking the entrances to shortcuts all over the city. Just tapping into one receives the declaration on screen of a successful smash. When you first start there's so many of these you can't move for bumping into one. They're a constant source of destructive award. But the further you progress, the more elusive those last few become.
So it was with all 120 billboards broken and 396 smash-gates smashed that my PC crashed mid-game. Rebooting and reloading, it had forgotten me. Total amnesia, all my progress lost. And no way to recover it. I felt pretty bad about it. But part of me was delighted.
It's been about a week and a half, and I'm proud to say (yes, proud) that all billboards and all smash-gates are complete once more. Such has been my ridiculously obsessive focus on clearing these that I've only just secured by A class license, a full 75 races/challenges away from the full Burnout License (which even then falls far short of the Burnout Elite License). I've got the most daft collection of cars, going from crappy to mid-range, and then suddenly leaping to the two super-swish vehicles awarded for completing both sets of destructions. This has led to the rather satisfying ability to win ever street race by about half the length of the island, ridiculously over-powered as I am with these cars.
The joy of Burnout Paradise is never getting to where you were heading. You might plan on entering a particular race, but something's going to distract you on your way there. Perhaps it will be something to smash. Maybe it's a Superjump you suspect you didn't complete yet. It could be a whole other event. And possibly best of all, it's a flashy car that goes flying past you, forcing you to skid around a corner and pursue it to drive it off the road, and thus add it to your collection. I love those moments, where a random event completely distracts me and suddenly I'm hellbent on winning this moment.
Hopping online is always another worthy exercise. You can always be sort of online, setting best times on stretches of roads and so forth competing against other players to break records. But the full online mode, hooking up with friends, gives you yet another reason to circumnavigate the island. Offering its own obsessive option, with around 400 mini-challenges to complete with buddies, you'll find yourself scoring barrel rolls on the beach, then making your way to the other side of the city to try to leap through a concrete cylinder in a construction site, inevitably trying to knock each other off the road on the way.
And it just crashed again, in just the same way as lost my save game last time. I'm not sure what to think. I mean, I want the full license again, and I have the rather hopeless desire to find every Superjump the island has to offer (although I'm put off this by a) it not involving smashing anything, and b) there not being a clear indication whether it's a jump I've completed before). I want to carry on playing online with chums and that requires having a decent car to keep up. I don't want to be back to the rubbish starting cars. But... but! But it would mean all those yellow barriers would be standing again! All those deliciously red billboards would be unbroken, ready for me to burst through once more! A whole fresh island of things to find and destroy! Which will it be?
Burnout has broken my idiot brain in so many excellent ways. The other day when watching Liam Neeson struggling with his American accent inTaken, as he drove the wrong way up a motorway in an exciting car chase I informed my companions that he'd be building a lot of Boost doing all that Oncoming Traffic driving. Today, in fact, someone has leant me a car for four weeks while they're out the country. I'm pleased to say that driving it to my home I never once had flashes of the game, or desires to destroy any advertising hoardings I passed (driving a car for the first time in six months gave me enough to concentrate on), but firing up Burnout when I got home this afternoon, my first crash was suddenly horrifying, with images of complicated insurance forms and devastated owners flying through my brain. (I'm particularly pleased about the first half of this, since it was playing GTA IV last year that gave me the impulse to drive into a police car - something I thankfully resisted. And they say videogames can negatively influence you!)
But here's the worst of it. As I stare wistfully at the contents of the Big Surf Island pack, wishing they'd tell me when I could add it to my PC game, my eyes only focus on two things in the list:
* The Dust Storm Buggy available to drive straight away
* 8 Incredible New Cars to Win
* 15 Events (Including all New Island Tours)
* 10 Freeburn Challenges
* 12 New Roads to Rule
* 75 Island Smashes
* 45 Island Billboards
* 15 Island Mega Jumps