Review by bluej33

Reviewed: 09/08/08

A high-reaching project that is ultimately less than the sum of its parts

I don’t tend to give a crap about racing games except for maybe Mario Kart but when Burnout Paradise rolled around, I felt I had to try it. Why? Because open-world sandbox games have always had this weird inexplicable appeal to me and despite the fact I don’t particularly like Grand Theft Auto, the idea of a GTA-esque racing game was strangely appealing. But when you get down to it this is not a particularly well-executd open world and while it’s better than most standard Need for Speed crap that I’ve played before, it leaves an empty feeling after playing it.

So, Burnout Paradise is set in Paradise City, a futuristic metropolis where cars drive themselves after having wiped out the human race (ominous foreshadowing, if you ask me). Paradise City is named such solely so that EA could use Guns N’ Roses song of the same name, and if you don’t like Guns N’ Roses you shouldn’t buy this game. Their song Paradise City is blaring for a solid 80% of the time you play. Talk about grating -- and it’s not a particularly auspicious start for the game.

So, you play the role of a driver-less vehicle and have the one non-obliterated human being on the radio to help you out -- a weird guy with a native-America-sounding name and refers to himself as a DJ, despite playing the same three songs over and over again. There are two ways to play Burnout Paradise: you can go through and compete in a variety of events or you can ride around creating the most spectacular crashes you can and laughing at the utter destruction that you can so easily cause.

Needless to say, going with the former option is probably the way to get the most out of Paradise City. There’s a different event at every intersection, ranging from races to…more races…to some takedown events that prove to be pretty entertaining. It’s a really standard racing game, with go and stop buttons and some boost to boot. Oh boy.

Where fun really comes into play with Burnout Paradise should be with mapping out your own route to get from point A to point B during a race. Sadly, this potential is wholly squandered thanks to some pretty serious design flaws. Firstly, the AI generally knows the fastest way through the city to the finish line; following the AI opponents until the last leg is a surefire way to win just about every race. Secondly is the fact that frankly, it just feels that the game doesn’t want you creating your own paths. Thanks to a really cramped map, you’ll often take a path off the beaten track only to find out it doesn’t merge with a road you thought it did.

Flying around in some pretty sick cars, taking down opponents, and crashing into innocent bystanders (cars) should be pretty fun. And in many ways, it is. But during events the open city mechanic really does more damage than anything else, because there are so many little roads in the city. You’ll be constantly opening your map every several seconds, making sure you’re going the right way. This completely messes up any pacing that the game might have and doesn’t mesh well with the idea of high-speed racing.

One good thing that I can say for Burnout Paradise is that the open world approach, aside from causing a significant problem during events, works out pretty well outside of races. The city is fairly extensive and there are tons of varied environs, from curving mountain roads to inner-city gridlock. But the biggest problem is that Burnout Paradise doesn’t feel like a cohesive package; there are two separate aspects to this game and they never really get along to provide the racing experience that could have been possible.

On the one-hand, you’ve got the exploration, and on the other the actual events. Riding around the city is fun enough, and it’s in this area that the sandbox idea works quite well. Cruising through Paradise is an enjoyable experience because it’s varied and because you really can do whatever you want. The second aspect of Paradise, and the one that works less well, is the actual races, takedown challenges, and other events.

These are just superimposed on the open world mechanic and frankly, it just doesn’t work. It’s a creative and ambitious idea, yes. And yet it’s not so much a fault of the developers as it is an inherent problem with the idea. Like I said, having to constantly check the map just isn’t conducive to a good racing game. The development team tried to combine two styles of play and the fact of the matter is that these two styles just shouldn’t be combined.

On top of this, you’ve also got the fact that because the events are scattered throughout the city, there is a very finite number of them (you can’t unlock new intersections like you could unlock new events in a more menu-based racing game). As a result, the game has you repeating the same events over and over again. It’s a shameless move on the part of the developers to extend the life of the game and comes off as decidedly lazy.

But this isn’t as huge a problem as you might think, because in actuality there’s very little difference between ANY of the events. Sure, they’re all “different”, but there are only eight finish lines throughout the city so before long you’ve pretty much finished up all the game has to offer. Burnout Paradise’s events just sort of meld together to form one big, uninteresting mega-event. The different races all feel so similar and the idea of an open city gets lost anyway when all you care about is reaching the finish line.

If you do bother unlocking all the unlicensed cars and completing all the events the game has to offer, you’ll never really encounter much of a challenge. Even at the end of the game, there’s no noticeable change in the AI. Your opponents tend to be dumb as bricks and the only time they really prove a hindrance is when the accidentally whack into you and knock you off track. You’ll seldom have to try an event more than once, and when you do lose it’s almost always because of a wrong turn thanks to the map.

I admire the idea behind Burnout Paradise, but ultimately it just never comes together as the game it wanted to be. It’s still a decent racer, but you’re going to have to get over some seriously annoying design issues to get the most out of the title. As a game, it just never really figures out what it wants to be and as a result tries to blend to mediums that don’t mix well. The end result is a game that feels awkward and clunky, and it’s one that’s hard to enjoy. Yes, it’s better than a lot of racing games out there and if you’re looking for a more ambitious racing title than Burnout Paradise may very well fit the bill. The way I see it, we’ve not yet got a really stand-out racing game. And sadly, Burnout Paradise is not the game to fill that void.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Burnout Paradise (US, 01/22/08)

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