David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-03-17 01:51:01
Burnout Paradise - Rank A (updated 9/18/08)
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Also available for PlayStation 3
In my Burnout Revenge review, I mentioned what a phenomenal game Burnout 3: Takedown is, and the difficulties of making a sequel for something that exceptional. You can either attempt to refine it further, or redesign it from the ground up. Burnout Revenge was the prior, and the tweaks resulted in a noticeably weaker game. Burnout Paradise is the latter, and this reinvention of the Burnout franchise, while not Rank Superb, is nonetheless startlingly good.
Instead of a series of menu-driven races, you're simply thrown into the massive, gorgeous, and intricate Paradise City. You can drive anywhere you like; the entire city is unlocked right from the start. There are a zajillion secret shortcuts and stunt ramps to discover, you can kick up a race event at any stoplight, and every stretch of road is a different time trial or wrecking event to establish records on. Instead of being forced by rails to take specific turns, it's entirely up to the player to determine the optimal route to the finish line.
The freedom this organic design provides is both Paradise's excellence and its flaw. We gamers have been indoctrinated (by the limited technology of older games) to expect our hands to be held through a series of predetermined hoops, and to treat games as objectives to defeat. As soon as we're offered the freedom to craft our own decisions, we're bewildered and paralyzed by the lack of structure. A significantly altered perspective is required to properly enjoy Burnout Paradise. Think back to the toys of your childhood. Let's go with toy cars, to pick an example entirely not at random. They weren't something to be beaten, you simply played with them. Likewise, it's important to go into Paradise City with the mindset that you are exploring and playing - to simply do whatever occurs to you next, as opposed to rattling down a checklist of goals that are imposed on you.
This "play" ultimately consists of getting to know Paradise City. Even when you're not engaged in an event - scratch that - especially when you're not engaged in an event, you need to invest the effort to learn how the streets and highways intersect and how to exploit the shortcuts that intertwine through them. Your frustration will be precisely commensurate to your lack of familiarity with the environment.
For example, the numerous races can begin at any intersection, but they all end at one of eight finishing lines. You have a marker on your screen that gives you the general direction and distance of the destination, but if you are unfamiliar with the streets, it's possible (even likely) that you'll take a wrong turn and immediately find yourself out of contention. I found myself continually pausing the race to examine the city map, but this stuttering navigation process took me entirely out of the visceral sense of speed that is the hallmark of Burnout racing. Games typically ramp up in difficulty, but I found Burnout Paradise to be increasingly easier (and more enjoyable) the more I played. Interestingly, the progression of this game is more internal (personal knowledge of the city) as opposed to an external series of in-game unlockables. The fun factor grows geometrically as you foster that intimacy with Paradise City.
Criterion's complete commitment to this "open world" design is abundantly visible in every aspect of Burnout Paradise, and certain ramifications might displease you. If you lose an event, you cannot immediately repeat it. There is no artificial dialog box offering the option to whisk you back to the starting line. You simply continue on wherever in the city you happened to be when you failed. You could manually drive back to where you started, but this is not the intent. Paradise City is so jam packed with activities, that you're supposed to simply move on to the next event that catches your eye. I fully understand and agree with this decision, but all the years of artificial restarts and respawns and continues have conditioned me to find this natural sequence to be vaguely unsettling and dissatisfactory.
Also, there are "Burning Routes" that upgrade your cars if successful, but you have to bring the specific vehicle to the event. This involves driving over to a junkyard, getting in the specific car, and driving back. I interpret this annoyance as maintaining the philosophy of a holistic game world, but it would have been less tedious to have an artificial menu option to simply swap cars on the fly.
Another casualty of this game design is Crash Mode. These were intricately designed stages wherein you'd plow your vehicle into traffic junctions with the goal of creating the most massive pileups possible. They played like action puzzlers, where you'd have to strategize the point of impact and secondary explosions to wrack up the property damage. These would've been virtually impossible to seamlessly build into Paradise City. Instead, Crash Mode has been replaced with Showtime. When you activate this mode, your vehicle turns into something of a pinball, chaining wrecks together in order to continue inflicting destruction. It's a visually comedic feast, and entertaining in a shallow way, but in no way does it match up with the awesomeness that was Crash Mode.
Also, for some reason that eludes me, Aftertouch (the ability to steer the momentum of your wreck after you crash) and Crashbreakers (option to explode your vehicle after a crash to take opponents with you) have been excised. Crashing used to be half the thrill of previous Burnout games, but now they're merely non-interactive cut scenes that do little more than show off the physics engine. Now, crashes are just as frustrating as they are in any racing game, instead of a viscerally satisfying explosion that takes your guidance into account. I have no idea why these Burnout staples are absent from Paradise. Thankfully, the subpar Traffic Checking mechanic from Burnout Revenge is nowhere to be seen, and the classic Burnout function (using all of your turbo in one go, for yet more turbo) has returned.
The multiplayer function is terrific. Again, keeping with the design philosophy, there is no exterior menu for gathering together - Paradise City itself is the game lobby. Up to eight players can seamlessly hop in to play cooperatively or competitively. Even just tearing around the city together and trying to T-bone each other is a blast. (Remember what I said about playing?)
Ultimately, the core of Burnout Paradise will be fundamentally familiar to long time fans of the series. It's still about blazing speed and spectacular crashes. It still has tight controls and sizzles at an unwavering 60 frames per second. I'm aching to give Burnout Paradise an "A" for being so ambitiously innovative, but according to my own guidelines, it warrants a Rank B for the amount of frustration that must be borne in order to fulfill its potential.
Shockingly, Criterion's lead platform was the PlayStation 3, and for once, this version of the game looks ever so slightly better than the Xbox 360 version. They prove that a talented developer can coax the PS3 to match or exceed the 360's capabilities. However, the difference is functionally negligible, and if you're torn between the two, I'd suggest that you choose whichever platform you have more friends on. Aside from that, the Xbox 360 offers the usual benefits of achievement points and custom soundtracks. This might be a deciding factor; aside from the theme song (Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City", duh), the game soundtrack is fairly awful. Also note that you cannot go online with the 360 version if you do not have a hard drive.
[Edit: the "Cagney" update enabled custom soundtracks for the PlayStation 3 version.]
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David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-09-18 15:56:20
Burnout Paradise Downloadable Content
The "Davis" update is available today (9/18/08) and is a mandatory download for online play. It introduces motorcycles to the game, as well as packing on a slew of new events to tackle. In addition, it also implements dynamic weather, and day and night cycles which affect the density of traffic in Paradise City. Also, headlight illumination bobbing in the dark always looks cool.
Best of all, it's free.
I'm pulling hard for the continued success of this game. It appears that Criterion's revenue model is to tap into unobtrusive in-game advertisement and a steady slow burn of sales of the game itself. Most titles rely on their opening month to turn a profit before leaping to the next sequel, but Criterion looks committed to supporting Burnout Paradise for a good long while without nickel and diming consumers for the privilege. There were four largely redundant iterations of the Burnout franchise in the previous console generation, and I much prefer this approach of steadily expanding the scope of the one focused title.
Planes and an entire new island to explore are purported to be upcoming offerings. Criterion hasn't announced the pricing on future updates, but I'm hopeful that they'll continue to find corporate sponsorship for the excellent work they're producing.
In light of this continued support and improvement, I'm upgrading Burnout Paradise's grade to a Rank A. It's far and away the best arcade racer of this console generation, and deserves continued consumer support.
[Note: A hard drive is required for these updates.]
David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-03-05 07:03:15
Burnout Paradise DLC Guide
With the advent of paid downloadable content, I felt it necessary to compile a guide that would sort out the confusion of these downloads. All of them are free unless otherwise indicated. I've also converted the Microsoft space bucks into real dollar costs for you.
Bogart - Patch that fixed minor bugs.
Cagney - Update that added online versions of Stunt Run, Marked Man, and Road Rage; as well as 70 additional online challenges. Also a few new vehicles, and additional game fixes.
Bikes (Davis) - Added motorcycles and events for them, along with a day/night cycle.
1.6 - Nerfed the game in positive ways, reducing the frustration of certain events. This also involved adjusting car physics and visual cues. I was wondering why traffic cones were changed from yellow to blue, and it occurred to me that Criterion was even considering colorblind players. The graphics were supposedly upgraded, but it went from looking amazingly great to looking amazingly great.
This also added a race restart function! I'm so angry that they finally added this feature RIGHT AFTER I beat all of the races the old frustrating way! RAWWWR!
Also, I just became aware that 1.6 includes the functionality of all previous updates. They can and should be deleted to conserve hard drive space.
1.7 - Identical to 1.6 but with the ability to purchase "Legendary Cars" (see below), and is required for online play. Again, 1.7 is all inclusive and all previous updates can be deleted upon installation.
1.8 - Identical to 1.7 but with the ability to purchase "Cops & Robbers" (see below), and is required for online play. Again, 1.8 is all inclusive and all previous updates can be deleted upon installation.
1.9 - Identical to 1.8 but with the ability to purchase "Big Surf Island" (see below), and is required for online play. Again, 1.9 is all inclusive and all previous updates can be deleted upon installation.
Party Pack, $10 - This is an offline only mode that sets up a local multiplayer session. Only one player is active at a time, and the controller is passed around in turn. Frankly, when I have people over, we're going to be playing Rock Band, not paying $10 for the privilege of taking turns at challenges.
Legendary Cars, $2-$8 It's $8 dollars for all four cars, or you can purchase them individually. I personally feel that they're overpriced, but they ARE pretty cool, and it's about time Criterion earned some money for their entire year of free support.
Jansen 88 Special, $4 - based on the DeLorean from Back to the Future. It can hover and leave burning tracks, and is classified as a stunt car with 6 speed, 9 boost, and 3 strength. It's clearly the coolest car in the pack, and they know it as it costs twice as much as any of the others.
Hunter Manhattan Special, $2 - based on Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, featuring sirens and a light bar. It is an aggression class car with 5 speed, 7 boost, and 7 strength.
Carson GT Nighthawk, $2 - based on K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider. It sports a Cylon-style light bar, and the spoiler pops up as per "super pursuit mode" when you hit boost. It features speed boost, and ratings of 6 speed, 9 boost, and 10 strength.
Hunter Cavalry Bootlegger, $2 - based on the General Lee, only with a Mexican flag, from The Dukes of Hazzard. You should definitely paint this car orange. It features a horn that plays a bar of "Dixie" (it just occurred to me that the General Lee was manufactured in Detroit; my mind is reeling). This stunt car is rated with 3 speed, 5 boost, and 5 strength.
Time Savers Pack, $5 - this simply unlocks all of the game's vehicles without having to play through the game. As a busy gamer juggling family and work, I can see the allure. This would make progression through the game easier, but I disdain the way this would sap joy from the process of rewards.
Toy Collection, $2-$12.50 - these are cute little RC versions of nine Burnout cars. They run $2 a pop ($3 for the motorcycle), or $12.50 for the whole lot. You can also grab them in $6 packs of four (no motorcycle in these "blister packs". If you want them (how could you not after checking the video below?), the $12.50 set seems almost a reasonable price point for me.
Boost Specials, $5-$8 - Two new high end cars are available, the Hawker Mech and the Carson Extreme Hot Rod. The Hawker Mech features all three boost types that you can freely switch between. The Carson Extreme is the fastest car to date, with the interesting caveat that once you activate the boost, you cannot turn it off. You can buy both of them for $8, or $5 individually.
Personally, I think they're gaudy as well as overpriced, but I can envision some people HAVING to have the Hot Rod to break their friends' Road Rules records. Personally, I don't approve of buying into that sort of arms race - groups of friends who play Burnout Paradise should agree to the regularly unlockable cars instead of oneupsmanship via expenditure of cash. I'm wearying of overpriced vehicles; the DLC I want is the actual game expansion. Hurry up Criterion!
Cops & Robbers, $10 - This new game mode is essentially 'Capture the Flag'. One team is re-skinned as police cars, but there's no functional difference between the cops and the robbers. Both teams attempt to grab the gold and hustle it back to their base. Whoever picks up the gold is slowed down, and taking them down dislodges the gold. Oddly, boosting is disabled in this game mode. Is this DLC worth $10? Only if your group of friends is committed to purchasing and playing it. I personally feel that it should have been included as part of "Big Surf Island" to sweeten that deal. Fracturing the player base between players who paid for this DLC pack and those who didn't is frustrating.
Big Surf Island, $12.50 - This is the first legitimate expansion DLC for Burnout Paradise. "Big Surf Island" is a brand new area filled to the brim with new events, smash gates, jumps, and billboards. It's a fairly small area (comparable to Downtown Paradise City), but the greater emphasis on vertical playing space makes it extremely dense with activities to engage. Some of the most ridiculously awesome jumps are to be found here, and the general flow of potential routes is more conducive to kick-ass combos than the core game. Ramps link to rooftops into buildings to huge soaring jumps throughout the island. In addition to the new play area, "Big Surf Island" also gives you nine new cars, including toy versions of the "Legendary Cars". Another favorite of mine is a military grade humvee called "The Governor". It steers like a diabetic dugong, but it's an unstoppable takedown machine.
I assert that this DLC pack is quantifiably "wicked" and "sick". Test results aren't officially in, but I would state in full confidence that it is even "tight". If you purchase just one paid DLC for Burnout Paradise, this is it. As a pure value proposition, $12.50 is a touch high for approximately four hours of entertainment, but those four hours are absolutely action packed. It earns a Direman Press grade of Rank A.