Sunday 16 September 2018

Burnout Paradise for the Xbox 360

Burnout Paradise, which has just seen remastered versions hit the PS4, Xbox One and PC is an important game. Less for the innovations it inaugurates but rather the end of a trend in gaming it exemplifies. Burnout Paradise presents as an utterly brainless race 'em up that has no plot and precious little narrative except for the commentary from the in-game DJ dropping hints and tips. Then again, while out-of-step with the overall trend, story modes in racing game are rare beasts. Do you really need a fictional backdrop to explain why you're driving at speed from A to B? No, so Burnout Paradise dispenses with such nonsense. All you need to know is that the game presents you with an open world rural-urban racing environment and a number of different tasks you have to undertake to upgrade your licence and progress through the game.

Burnout Paradise is not only the culmination of its own series of games that began on the original Xbox, but is the heir to arcade racing in general. It takes everything about 'tude-tastic 90s racing and cranks it up to utter absurdity. Contemporaneous with Sony's first Motorstorm title and its own emphasis on destruction and mayhem, it takes the mechanics of the earlier games in its franchise and encourages you to be as destructive as possible. There is something pleasing and, at least for me, never frustrating about flying along Paradise City's highways and smacking head on into a pylon or oncoming traffic. Seeing what mess your car can become is part of the fun. Also, there are no human bodies flying about as per Grand Theft Auto. Even if you're playing on bike mode (available via DLC) your rider immediately disappears if you end up coming a cropper.

There's also something in Burnout Paradise for nearly every kind of racer. Events are activated by turning up at the lights at every highlighted junction on the mini-map. You can race conventionally, which typically means racing from where you are to one of a handful of landmarks dotted about the city. And thanks to the open world nature of the game, you are free to take any route. You can do time trials with cars dedicated to particular challenges. There is - my personal favourite - the take down challenge that requires you to smash a number of infinitely spawning opponents off the road. There's a survival mode where a pack of three powerful cars chase and try and wreck you before reaching goal, and there is stunt running. This last one is the trickiest to master as maximising points and meeting the threshold for success means knowing the map well. If you know where the bill boards and big jumps are, you can rack up the multipliers for a mega score and another win on your licence. And after completing a number of challenges the game releases a new car or two into the city. Your job is to run it off the road and then it's available for use.

In addition to the main game there are a number of small challenges you're encouraged to meet. Finding all the drive-thru joints (which come as auto repair, paint shops, gas stations and junk yards), smashing all the barriers to short cuts, locating every super jump, and crashing through every Burnout board all add to the longevity of the game and demand thorough exploration. Indeed, and this is where it proves to be rather less brainless than it immediately supposes. For instance, driving around you'll see bill boards everywhere. To smash them you have to think about how to reach them, and this often involves quite tricky jumps or finding routes onto the top of buildings. Some of them are quite fiendish. And there are also a handful of secret areas - a quarry, a dirt track, an island, and an aerodrome that are not visible on the mini-map. Can you find them?

Burnout Paradise was an early outing on the 360 and PS3. Its graphical presentation was never going to be up there with Gran Turismo, but they get the job done with eye popping colours and little in the way of screen tear. The sound track is also brilliant. All old licensed stuff, ranging from Alice in Chains to Bach to bespoke, forgettable club-friendly filler, whatever the preference there are tunes to suit.

There are a couple of issues with the game. The repetitive character of the tasks is an issue. There's only so many times high-tailing it to the observatory is fun, even with a roster of 75 cars to choose from. More concerning is what Burnout Paradise poses the genre from whence it came. With everything in there, the racing, the violence, the stunts, where can arcade racing now go? It's instructive that Paradise is the last proper Burnout game, and all the recent remaster has done is include the DLC and given it a lick of paint. Criterion have since gone on to make Need for Speed games for Electronic Arts, and while these have an arcadey feel and combine the usual racing with high speed chases, they don't really add anything new. Where then does the genre go, what can it do now? Burnout Paradise is an excellent game most would enjoy, but for all its brilliance what it will perhaps be remembered for is being a glitzy and supremely playable showcase of a genre's end.

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