Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burnout Paradise

As soon as I got my Ps3 a few weeks ago, the first thing I did (besides run updates) was download PAIN and Burnout Paradise.

PAIN weared off on me quickly, despite the enticement of trophies. The thing that kind of disappointed me was that though PAIN is listed as a full game, there are so many expansions for it that it feels more like a demo. You get multiplayer, a couple modes, and one character, out of many. The other characters all have to be bought, ranging from $1-2. In its basic form, PAIN is only about 1/3 of what it could be, when you look at all the expansions. Its a clever tactic, but the game concept, while funny at first, got repetitive and boring quickly.

I've never been much a fan of racing games. Really, the only one I consider myself good at is Mario Kart. While I do enjoy Midnight Club 3, I don't usually play it by myself much. Nonetheless, its always a good idea to have a good racing game or two for each system. Which brings me to Burnout.

As mentioned before, I downloaded Burnout Paradise off the PS Store, instead of opting to go for a disc game. Why? Well, no reason, actually. *shrug*. But I'm glad I made the purchase, because this is one really fun game.

A lot of things about Burnout Paradise feel streamlined and easy to use. Right when you first start the game up, you're greeted by DJ Atomika (same dude from the SSX series, namely SSX 3) who guides you through the raw basics, providing you with your first car, and getting you your Learner's Permit. After teaching you the controls, you're basically set lose. You'll be given a fair share of tips along the way, but there's a lot of stuff you'll have to figure out yourself. Fortunately, there's not too much to understand once things get going.

Paradise is a sandbox-style game. Once you boot it up, you're taken to the junkyard, where your stash of cars that you've unlocked thus far can be found. Once you've chosen your ride, you can go wherever you want. On the outskirts of Paradise City, there are several locales (about seven, I think), where events like Races and Marked Man will always finish. There are no random finish lines. You'll always be racing to one of these areas. Events are started at intersections. At every traffic light in the game, you'll have the option to stop and hold L2 and R2 to start that event. You start right from there, racing to the given locale. In this way, events are never far away. Should you get bored of touring the city, all you've gotta do is sniff out the nearest traffic light and peel out, and the event will begin.

Burnout has many events and things to do. Events include standard street racing, Marked Man, Road Rage, and Mano Mano. In Marked Man, you're challenged to get from the area you started the event to the given locale in one piece. That's it. Along the way, you'll be constantly hounded by bullish computer controlled cars that have every intent of destroying you. Road Rage is my favorite. All you have to do is get a set number of take downs. There's no destination or anything, you just drive through the city with the other racers and try to take them out as many times as you can until you yourself get too damaged to go on. As you complete events, you'll eventually rise up in license ranks. You start with a Learner's Permit, going from C to B to A, and finally a Burnout License.

When you're not tearing through the city, there are things to be done just cruising around. Though not always TOTALLY obvious, Paradise City is filled to the brim with jumps. Ramps, chasms, ledges, all sorts of stuff. Some ramps make you do barrel rolls through the air, which will either make or break you, but is satisfying to see either way. Alternatively, you could build up a whole lot of speed, then ram the E-brake going off a jump to spin through the air like a propellor. In addition to jumps, Paradise City is also sprawling with shortcuts and alternate routes, especially in the countryside. Some of these detours lead to super jumps, which are jumps known to give you much bigger air (a couple even have trophies dedicated to them), and are indicated by flashing yellow caution signs visible from quite a distance. Others lead to special areas not shown on the map that have their own opportunities for insane tricks (trophies are dedicated to a couple of these too.). Moreover, there are dozens of "Burnout Signs" scattered throughout the game that you're challenged to smash through. Most of them can be hit going off the numerous jumps and super jumps.

With the addition of the v1.5 update, the game also features bikes. Although the bikes aren't available for use in events with cars, they have their own events, and even a separate lisence to fill up.

Exploring the city can also be hugely rewarding. Besides the aforementioned special areas, the game features dozens of service stations around the map. Junkyards, when entered, let you choose a different car from your collection. When you drive through a repair shop's drive-thru, your car is instantly repaired to pristine condition. Gas stations pump you full of boost, to help you sprint that last quarter-mile. At first, only a few service stations will be known to you. But if you take the time to explore the city and find the rest, they'll appear on your map as you find them. The thing is, you can drive through these stations' (except for junkyards) drive-thrus during events, with no slow-down. Having a bunch of repair stations already mapped out, for example, is a very useful thing during road rages, as you'll know the nearest one to head to to get your car back into shape, and prolong the battle. And its nice to not have to drive all the way to the other side of the map after a race in the countryside to swap out your car because you only mapped out one junkyard.

Gameplay is fun and addictive. The controls are simple and easy to understand, and though I thought it initially strange that the HUD lacked a speedometer, it eventually became irrevelent anyway. Though the game doesn't exactly "reward" you for crashing, it does treat you to incredibly cinematic, slowed down replay of your crash. You can watch in awe as your car slowly grinds itself up, the frame shrinking, the glass shattering, and the wheels falling off. Though its generally very entertaining, it can of course be frustrating, as you watch all your rivals streak by.
Takedowns are also very entertaining, and though most of them are well earned ones, I sometimes wonder if the computer is purposely wrecking themselves. Often, even what I judge to be a tap will send the target careening across the road and smashing into the side wall. Nevertheless, the crashes are always satisfying, and the game encourages you to really destroy the opposition by rewarding you with hefty boost bonuses for successful takedowns (in fact, besides jumps, takedowns are the fastest way to build up boost), informing you of chains (10 takedowns in a row! gotta..keep..going..), and treating you to a cinematic slo-mo replay of your victim's demise. The takedowns are even classified. Ramming a car's side nets you an instant T-bone Takedown, while hitting a jump and somehow landing right on top of another racer will flatten him, earning you a Vertical Takedown. Its all very entertaining.

Online is also done impressively well. There's no need to pause the game, or even go through a loading screen, to jump into an online game. The D-pad opens and navigates the "Easy Drive", which lets you choose from a variety of options. All you've gotta do is select "Play online", and you instantly jump into a multiplayer game, with other players appearing on the screen with seemingly no loading time. From there you can all either just cruise around and mess around with each other, or set up events or challenges to do.

All in all, Burnout Paradise is an incredibly fun and addictive game. It also features trophies, by the way. An 8.5/10.

Some gripes:
-As to be expected in a street racing game with a city environment, casual players may find themselves pressured to master the delicate art of checking your minimap, mapping out your what road to take next, and racing at the same time. Because Burnout challenges you to go fast, you really shouldnt be taking your eyes off the road at all. Some will find solace in the compass function, but I don't trust it over the minimap.
-I do wish bikes could mingle with cars in events, perhaps instead of having a whole other side of the game dedicated to them.

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