Saying the Burnout series is now more akin to EA’s other carmageddon crash ‘em up’s the fragmented NFS franchise is like saying Pac-Man was a subliminal message about drug abuse and exorcism. Parallels will be inevitable when two series of similar bent are released from the one publisher, and when that publisher is named EA any generosity of thought is replaced with thinly drawn lips of suspicious bated breath.
Now imbued with sandbox fever Burnout Paradise is the seventh title in the flinging cars at the scenery family, and presents you with a virtual world of some miles wide and equally ambiguous length long with which to arse-tear it around like a dog going to work on its worm-riddled starfish, the maggoty road-side furniture engaging your assault on the landscape with assaults across your bonnet and paintwork.
Being able to re-enact Stathamesque chase-downs to the finish line with a climactic photo finish capturing the exact moment you send both your car and a helpless wall skywards in a balletic explosion of pixels and petrol developers Criterion have basically given you the keys to a destructible city chock-full of challenges and achievements, turned their backs to leave with the words ‘Turn the lights out when you’re done’ their only advice.
As par-for-the-course you’re given a broken down lump of crap-metal to begin your asphalt assault, subsequent less-shit cars becoming unlockable through winning races or purchasing DLC.
Disturbingly, there is no driver represented within the seat or behind the wheel, every single vehicle within the gaming world imbued with its own version of the Knight Industry Two Thousand computer as they purposefully pootle and crash along the highways and byways beside and beneath and about you.
Similarly absent are and NPC pedestrians and anything representing evidence of life, the entire game void of humanity in a manner that lends well to the fancy you are on a re-imagined planet Cybertron, where instead of robots its vehicles and instead of transforming into vehicles you transform into fail.
A generous map of roadways to sully with skid marks are neatly bedecked with the meat of the game itself, the race challenges and events. Pulling up short to any of the many intersections or traffic lights triggers an on-screen instruction informing you to ‘Begin ‘X’ Event Press and Hold L2 and R2’.
It’s a great way of keeping immersion in the game but falls somewhat short in being effective, in that most of the time you’ll be slamming both shoulder buttons fruitlessly unless positioned EXACTLY where the triggering bit sits.
The races themselves are the usual ‘get here from there’ affair, with the general route highlighted before each race but ultimately completely of your own choosing. Whilst a nice idea the on-screen map needed to help plot a route provides as much use as a blind seeing eye dog when it comes to complimenting your navigational skills.
The area it displays is always too close to allow a fuller idea of the time-spoiling and race ending intersection coming up, and has so many lines and routes plotted thereon it’s impossible to decipher where you at a glance – an essential piece of kit for a game so festooned with wrong turns and scenery that oft-times appears as a turn despite really being a heady brick wall.
The vehicles handle as nicely as any NFS franchise has employed in the past, EA’s rule of ‘Brakes are for pussies’ extending to each vehicle you commandeer and steer through the streets. But coding them from Baco-foil means the slightest tap of a butterfly’s wing sends your showroom scrapheap special into a flick-book of Yoga positions, even the heaviest steering car unable to withstand a head-on glance with a cliff at one hundred miles an hour mid-way through a handbrake turn.
It encourages you to not bounce around the corners using the scenery as steering, but with the brakes only having ‘not being used’ and ‘distending your bowels through your mouth’ as options of choice, you are forced into playing Paradise’s other game of ‘driving through the forecourt of the car repair shop without sticking it into the wall’. Attempting such a feat will almost always end up badly, and even when mastered the desire to drag your stinkheap across the magic tarmac once more to continue the misery begins to wain somewhat.
You can begin a Crash Event at the press of a few pad buttons, the idea simply one of points acquisition through destruction, your vehicle the bowling ball down the highway lane of cars and coaches. A press of a button launches your car to the air, and enough rhythm with your thumb will provide a plentiful supply of bounce momentum to leave the roadway awash with bits and pieces of steel and SUV’s.
Tiring of the main game proper lends you to indulging in some off-shoot achievement fillers, billboards needing to destroyed in exchange for such rewards, with crash barriers and other objects remarkably alike in their ‘acquisition through driving into/through something’ trophy motif given for destroying all the aforesaid ad’s and fences that dot the island like scabs on a smackhead.
But this too is nothing to get giddy over, the slur of samey gaming GTA has been beseech-ed with leaking through the seams of Paradise as yet another billion-odd trees or destructible detritus needing your bonnets gentle stroke turns up to pad the gaming time.
The in car view is useless and out-car is just beyond use, frustratingly placing the camera perfect for admiring the exhaust of my chosen steel steed but less than ideal for negotiating narrow alleys with blind turns whilst trying to outrun the homicidal Herbies behind.
Irony, perhaps, but the NFS: Hot Pursuit release manages to deliver all Paradise’s plus points of destruction and dicking about with none of the niggles and nasties associated with unseen entryless points and unusable views. Indeed, it’s a case of one as much as the other, both franchises so inexorably linked in production and execution as to be two sides of the same coin – albeit a coin found in the centre of a fresh dog-pile.
And being the boot to tread in the middle of the pile stand the graphics themselves, a gorgeous rendering of facsimile scenery and trees, the whites ever so white and the skies a blazing gleam of toothpaste fresh shine. They are clearly impressive, yet are bequeathed unto a game resolute in refusing player admittance lest they grubby up the kerbs.
The negatives don’t make the game an impossible task, yet adding to the challenge by way of uncompromising views and fragile racing bullets only creates moments to admire the scenery anew, your car doing a Neo as the other competitors zip past and your boost button a game-changing mechanic – in that it changes to being a game you are playing to, once deployed, a game you are watching.
Burnout Paradise is GTA-Crash for the motor-phille, and with other vehicles to collect and even bikes to try once and instantly forget there’s enough content to keep you playing long past the fourteenth EA released update.
But therein lies the rub, being an ungodly mess of fragility and foreshortened views, both needing the other to be more than they are to make up for their own shortcomings. An eager hand may snatch this game from the shelves, but it will be a heavy heart that ejects it from the tray.