The Burnout series has come a long way since its first incarnation on the Xbox and PS2.  The series has always emphasized speed and risk, rewarding the player with turbo to increase your speed.  Crashes were spectacular events with car parts and pieces flying all over the street.  The racing was always felt like you were on the edge of your seat, white knuckles on your hands from gripping the controller so tight, especially when racing against the traffic.


Not one to rest of their laurels, Criterion has tried to add something new to each game. In Burnout 2, the invention of Crash Mode, where you tried to cause as much carnage on the road as you could, became one of the signature traits of the series.  Burnout 3 introduced Takedowns, which caused more mayhem on the roads since hitting a car didn’t always mean an instant crash, but instead you could rub against other cars and force them off the roads.  The Aftertouch system was also introduced, where you could direct your crashed car in which direction you wanted to try to take down other cars.  Burnout Revenge added a Revenge system that made you form enemies depending on who took you down or who you performed a takedown on.  But what are the changes for Burnout Paradise, and are those changes for the better?

Since Paradise is the first game in the Burnout series developed from the ground up for the Xbox 360 and PS3, the graphics really reflect that in Paradise.  The Burnout series has always emphasized speed, and Burnout Paradise is no different.  The racing feels as fast as ever with the environment speeding past you as you powerslide your way down the streets.  You can almost feel the wind breezing past you as you play.


The particle effects are spectacular as always in Paradise.  When you crashed in other Burnout games, you would see the car debris fly all over, and in later Burnout games you went into slow motion to use your Aftertouch.  Now a crash won’t cause you to go into Aftertouch mode, but you get to see your crash from a spectacular camera angle.  Often times you’ll be viewing your car from an overhead view, slowly seeing your car crinkle up like an accordion.  If you remember when Microsoft introduced the XNA platform by showing a spinning cube and a race car hitting the cube multiple times at multiple angles, then you have a good idea how spectacular the crashes are.  The sparks flying while rubbing against other cars light the screen up like fireworks on the 4th of July.

Racing has a lot of sound, from the roar of the engine, to the release of your boost, to the screeching of tires.  Tiburon has nailed all of these sounds before and that hasn’t changed with Paradise.  You can hear all of the damage that happens with crashes and rubbing up against other cars.  The visual clues help to enhance the visual cues in the game.


The EA Trax system is back in full force, and the annoying DJ is back.  However, the DJ doesn’t say as much as he did in previous games and only comments every once in a while.  Most of the time his comments aren’t very relevant, but sometimes they will give you clues to the other happenings around Paradise City. 


The music does do a good job of adding to the intensity.  The soundtrack is similar to other Burnout games, with a heavy focus on rock and alternative-sounding songs.  The music goes full force while racing, but get into a crash and the volume goes down so low that you can barely hear it.  It adds to the pain caused when you crash and really enhances the crunching and debris.

The driving controls in Paradise are similar to most other racing games.  Those familiar with the Burnout series will mostly feel right at home.  The left analog stick steers while the left and right triggers brake and accelerate, respectively.  Hitting A activates your boost, X uses your handbrake, and Y changes the camera view of the car.  Using the Left Bumper gives you a rear view of the action.


Instead of using the standard menu system, Paradise has changed the way they do events.  Each intersection on the map has a different event.  To activate the event you hold both triggers down at the same time while at a full stop.  The Showtime mode is very similar, except you hit both bumpers at the same time to activate it.


Racing as intense as the Burnout series requires tight controls.  Racing against traffic, powersliding along curves, and running into rival cars takes precise controls.  The Criterion team has done another amazing job, making sure that you have complete control of your vehicle.  The triggers are responsive and you can tell that the amount they are pressed makes a difference.  Steering your vehicle is responsive and making a small adjustment to the analog stick is different from slamming the stick all the way over.  The handbrake has the right amount of slide to it, giving you enough friction to slide without going completely out of control.  Other arcade racers could learn a thing or two about tight controls, making the game thrilling with near misses and speed.

Burnout Paradise has taken the concept of the open world and added it to the Burnout universe.  The concept isn’t that new if you have played Test Drive Unlimited or Midnight Club.  You drive around looking around for intersections.  At these intersections you’ll find different events.  Some of the previous events like Races, Road Rage, and Burning Route should be familiar to veterans of BurnoutParadise introduces Marked Man and Stunt Run events.  Marked Man has you driving from point A to point B as fast as you can while the other drivers try to take you down.  Getting to the end and you complete the challenge.  The object of Stunt Run events is to complete as many stunts using boost, drift, and going airborne to get points and create combos.  I really enjoyed the Marked Man events, but I really didn’t care for the Stunt Run events.  The Stunt Run seemed a bit too much like a gimmick, while Marked Man really brings up your adrenaline with several cars chasing you.


The races are no longer a single path like previous Burnout games.  In the mold of Midnight Club, you can get from the start to the finish any way you’d like.  Street signs towards the top of the screen flash to help you find out the preferred path to get to the finish.


This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to do while you aren’t in some kind of event.  Exploring around the map, you will find a large number of other activities.  If you see a yellow barrier, you can run it over and find new paths not shown on the map.  Super Jumps require the use of ramps and boost, and when you do you’ll see the camera shoot spectacular pictures of the airborne car.  Burnout billboards are strewn throughout the area with the objective of jumping through them however you can.


A staple and favorite of the Burnout series has been the Crash mode.  That has been removed and now we have something called Showtime.  At any time on the road you can activate the Showtime mode and your car starts flipping over.  You then direct your car using the A button to Ground Break and hop along the street, taking out as many cars and causing as much damage as possible.  As you hit cars your Ground Break replenishes.  Hitting buses also increases the multiplier and really increases your score.  You also get points for how far you send your car down the road.  At the end, your car will be a shell of its former glory.


When you are able to acquire new cars, you actually have to earn them through taking them out on the street.  Often times they just show up out of no where and you go into a mad chase after them.  It does feel more satisfying taking them down instead of racing against them to earn the car and win the challenge.


All of these things are a great deal of fun, and fans of the Burnout series are going to be in familiar territory.  The speed is as fast as ever.  Still, the design changes bring down the score from a great game to a very, very good game.


Several important buildings on the map are used in different ways.  The Junkyard is where you get your vehicles and where any of the cars you’ve won go to.  The gas station refills your boost meter.  The auto repair shop fixes any damages to your car.  The paint shops change the color of the car to whatever you want.  You will have to find most of these buildings yourself, so you may have to drive around a while until you have all of them.


First of all, if you want to change your car you have to find a junkyard.  Some cars are better suited for speed, while others are well suited for stunts, while others can take more damage.  While you can perform the challenges with the current car you are in, except the Burning Routes, it would be nice to be able to choose that right away.


Secondly, if you want to try a different event, you need to drive around and find that particular event.  I got sick of doing races because it seemed like that was the only event I could find, except the Burning Routes, but then I’d need to drive back to the Junkyard and get the right car and then come back to that intersection.


Finally, you can’t restart any of the events.  If you aren’t successful and want to try that particular event again, you have to drive back to the original starting line.  There are also areas where there aren’t very many events because of a lack of intersections.  Having the option to restart if you mess up or the dog climbs up on you while playing would have been a nice touch, even if it meant some kind of loading time.


Even with these issues, I found myself addicted to Paradise, especially at the beginning.  Trying to get more points and increase the grade on the license kept me going on with that “one more race” feeling.

The map of Paradise City is large.  While it isn’t Hawaii like Test Drive Unlimited, there are several areas to explore.  It will take a while to find all of the buildings and complete all of the challenges.  In fact, even if you get your “A” license, it will take a while to get your Paradise license, and even longer to get an Elite license.  The game has legs if you are a completist.


There are plenty of multiplayer options, but one of the best features involves the Xbox Vision Camera.  If the people you are playing against have their camera running, you can see their reaction when you take them out.  It’s a cool feature that lets you feel a little more like you have a buddy there with you on the sofa playing along with you.

Criterion should be commended for trying to try something different in Burnout Paradise.  There are some definite quibbles with the title, but the underlying gameplay is so good that it’s actually easy to dismiss them most of the time.  It would have been nice to be given the option of the open world or a menu screen and the option to restart, but there is so much to discover that it’s hard to criticize them.  Burnout Paradise is a great game and the enhancements definitely make the game stand out on its own.  If we could have a mix of Paradise and Revenge in the next Burnout game, we’ll probably have the best Burnout game yet.

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