Burnout Paradise Thoughts

Since finishing Fallout 3 a while back, I have played several games on my PS3. The most enjoyable, so far, has been Burnout Paradise. For a budget title that came out a long time ago, it really surprised me. If you are even remotely interested in driving games, this is a game you should play (I have no idea how it compares to other Burnout titles though, as this is my first). Anyway here are some thoughts on the game:

  • It’s a “sandbox” style game, meaning that there aren’t really “levels” or linear progressions. You’re simply dropped into a city and you drive around looking for various events. There isn’t really a story of any kind… indeed, there don’t appear to be any humans in the game (i.e. no pedestrians, no one appears in other cars’ seats, etc…) From this, I gather that the game takes place in a futuristic world where humans have become extinct and cars have become sentient, roaming our abandoned cities, doing jumps and smashing into one another. When I first heard about the open sandbox style of the game, I was a little unsure about it, but it turns out to be a fantastic framing device for the gameplay, ensuring continuity between events and allowing you to pursue more open-ended pursuits (like smashing through billboard signs or finding the big jumps). One neat thing about the open world is that the entire thing is available right from the start – you don’t have to unlock anything (though you do need to discover various landmarks like gas stations and junkyards, etc… but discovery is as simple as driving past the landmark). Every traffic light in the game represents some sort of event, and you can trigger any event at any time. As you progress throughout the game, more cars become available and you gradually get better and better “licenses.” There are probably a couple hundred things to do in the game, so there’s generally something fun to do at any given time.
  • While it’s an open world game, there are several events that you can participate in. A big part of the reason I like this game so much is that the events aren’t all simple racing events (which I find kinda tedious and which can get on my nerves after a while). Sure, there’s a few racing style events (where you race other folks or the clock), but there are a bunch of other events that liven things up. There are Marked Man events, where you have to make it to a specific point on the map while other cars try to make you crash all along the way. Then there’s the Road Rage events, where you have to “takedown” as many other cars as you can. Finally, there’s the Stunt Runs, where you attempt to chain together various jumps, spins and smashes to reach a certain number of points. All of the events are pretty well balanced and fun, and again, I really appreciated that there was more to do here than just racing against other cars.
  • Speaking of cars, there are a ton of cars available in the game. None are real-life cars, but they can still be a lot of fun. There are three basic classes of cars, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are speed cars, which are all about fast accelleration and high top speeds, but which usually suffer from a weak chassis and often have handling issues (usually pretty good during races). Aggression style cars can take a lot of damage, but usually aren’t very fast and handle like a tank (perfect for Marked Man and Road Rage events, though). Stunt cars can take a fair amount of damage and also have some pep too them. These are probably the most well rounded cars of the bunch, though once you get later in the game, the only thing you can really use them for is, well, stunt runs. Each car has a “boost” that is recharged by doing things the car specializes in (i.e. do a jump or a spin, and you’ll racharge some boost in your stunt car, etc…) The only real complaint I have with the cars are with the speed cars. They often look the coolest, but can be really difficult to drive. Since they seem to be made of tinfoil, i also found myself totalling the car often. Considering that you can get up to really high speeds in these cars and that many of them have super-sensitive contorls that make handling somewhat difficult, it can be quite easy to total your car with even the slightest ding. And every time you smash the car, you have to sit through this animation of your car crashing in slow-motion. The first couple of times you see this, it’s pretty cool. After a thousand times, it gets kinda old. So the speed cars could use a little tweaking, but otherwise, the cars are a blast.
  • There are a couple of other things you can do. For instance, there are a number of high jumps and billboards throughout the city. There’s also something called Showtime, which is basically a “crash mode” style minigame where you crash your car and try to inflict the most damage possible on other cars and street property. If you get on a crowded road, you can keep this going for an amazingly long time, and I have to admit that crashing into a ton of stuff and demolishing whole city blocks worth of cars is pretty damn fun. Less exciting are setting time records on various roads. There’s also an apparently deep online mode that I never played (maybe I’ll check it out at some point though).
  • All in all, the game is great fun. During my Fallout 3 review, I mentioned that I had to dedicate 2 hours of time per gaming session if I wanted to get anything done, and that was indeed something that annoyed me about that game. However, I found myself playing Burnout much longer than that during most sessions and yet, I was having a blast. I think a big part of it was that Burnout‘s events are all short and sweet, so it feels like I’m making a lot of progress every time I play. There were times when I popped it in and just played for like 20 minutes or so, and even then, I managed to do an event or two and maybe find a billboard and smash it. Just knowing that’s an option makes the game more fun to play (whereas, I wouldn’t even bother with a game like Fallout, because I know I wouldn’t get anything done). Burnout also seems to have a massive amount of available PS3 Trophies. While I know they don’t especially mean anything, they do provide tangible milestones and can be fun to collect. Burnout Paradise sucks you in by appealing to the rewards circuitry in your brain, bigtime. This is something most video games do, but this game does it especially well.
  • In terms of usability, the core concept of finding and starting events is good. The only thing the game does poorly at is how you restart an event. Apparently, there was no way to do this when the game was first released, which meant you had to drive back to the starting point, which could be quite far away. However, Burnout has had quite a few patches and free updates, and they “fixed” the restart issue at some point (before I bought the game). The only problem is that the way you restart your last event is really awkward and involves using the d-pad options menu (as opposed to most every other option in the game, which you can do on the fly). There’s no way I would have figured that out without looking it up… but at least it’s there. Otherwise, the game does a pretty good job. The only other complaint I have is the latency when choosing cars in the junkyard. I have no idea why it takes so long for the car/info to appear, but it could get annoying. These are all nitpicks though, and the game does a damn good job keeping you in the game.The game’s controls are reasonably easy to pick up and don’t get too complicated either, which is a plus. I shouldn’t have to talk about this, but this game does a fantastic job auto-saving everything to the point where I almost forgot to mention it (which is how saving games should be these days!)
  • In terms of difficulty, I thought the game presented a pretty good balance (keeping in mind that I’m a cheater – not that I cheated during this game, as it wasn’t necessary). At the start of the game, it’s pretty easy and I think I won most of my events on the first license. As the game progresses, each event style gets harder or at least, the requirements get higher. Towards the end of the game, it gets a bit prohibitive, especially on the stunt runs and the races or burning routes. This might be another minor usability niggle – the city is huge, and once you get to a certain point in the game, the only way to win an event is to memorize, well, pretty much the whole city, including shortcuts and where every jump is located, etc… Again, the city is huge and it can be quite difficult to, for example, chain together the required amount of jumps, spins, and smashes to complete a high difficulty stunt run (though I will admit to a certain rush when I do manage to land an epic stunt run). I’m sure plenty of folks will dissect the hell out of the city and figure out all the fastest routes, etc.. but while I had figured out a few tricks and had certain parts of the city memorized, I never really got there. The game does try to get around this during events that have a finishing point by providing a nice mini-map (which works reasonably well) and a sorta blinking roadsign notification of when you should make a turn, but those indications can be a bit difficult to catch (especially when you’re moving really fast). Some people have mentioned that they would pause the game frequently to look at the larger map, but this isn’t something I felt I needed to do very often. Also, the various shortcuts sometimes make it hard to find the quickest route on a map. Again, these are relatively minor complaints – the game did an excellent job drawing me in and keeping me interested.
  • The game features an apparently robust online component, though I’ve never used it (perhaps I’ll try it out someday). There is also apparently quite a bit of downloadable add-on content as well, including whole new parts of the city and lots of cars. Some of these add-ons are free and will be downloaded when you first play the game (the amount of updates for the game when you fist play can be a bit daunting at first though – it took quite a while to get the game running that first time because there were so many patches and add-ons being installed.) For instance, there was a free add-on that gives you a few motorcycles and additional events, though that mode isn’t very deep (and it kills me that you can’t do the hand-breaking on bikes, which I know is a ridiculous thing to ask for, but still). At some point, I may check out some of the DLC for the game, but I haven’t as of yet…

All in all, I played this game a little less than Fallout 3, but I had a much better time with this, which is somewhat surprising because I’m not a big fan of racing games (but then, as I hope I’ve established above, this isn’t strictly a racing game). It’s a very cheap game, so if you have any inclination towards car games, give this one a try .