The Ultimate Box
When Burnout Paradise was first announced for the PC, it was easy to get carried away in the swell of excitement and aplomb. Criterion pelted us with movie after video after film after screenshot, all at maddeningly high resolutions so they could be stretched across five monitors stacked atop one another. They smugly crossed their arms like a victorious M. Bison, as the PC version of the massively popular console racer tore along at 60 frames per second. On a laptop. There was, in effect, some fanfare about the release of Burnout Paradise on PC. And it was entirely warranted.
We rarely see a developer this excited about a port to PC, and putting genuine thought into how things should work on release. Criterion's got a lot right - the full-featured trial version for example, which allows people (like you) to play the game before shelling out for it. They got a bit wrong too. The interface and menus are still clunky and weird, and even though 360 pads are fully supported it feels bizarre having to use Fl and F2 flip between pages of menu options. There's also some awful, awful registration malarky going on here too. Not only do you have to submit your details to EA before playing online, but you'll be hammering your keys in confusion at the interface they give you to do it.
On A Mission...
The registration is where the clunkiness of Burnout Paradise ends. Once you're in the titular Paradise City, you're fully part of this huge, sprawling, open-world racer Criterion have created. You begin with no more than a handful of cars (and some bikes from the free add-on packaged with the game), and a low-grade learner's license. Events are placed at every junction in the city - if you spot some traffic lights, there's something for you to do there. Paradise features no goal either, other than to work your way through the license ranks so you can earn more cars.
From the outset, you're free to roam the city and discover the myriad of collectables and smashables crammed into every ounce of available space. Even billboards can be driven through, as long as you can figure out how to reach them. The first shortcut-signposting flashing yellow barrier you plough through cheekily announces that you've discovered one of 400 of the things. The in-game radio personality DJ Atomika will hint at secret jumps and events in the city. You can even, at any time, parallel park with a handbrake turn and receive a percentage grade for doing so. Even driving down a street will compare your score against other players who've driven down that street, and tell you if you're the fastest. You really can't avoid achieving things in Paradise.
There are five kinds of events: Road Rage, which spawns several opponents' and tasks you with ramming them off the road or into other vehicles; Marked Man, in which you must reach a point on the map without being taken out by several tenacious, and rather menancing, black Al cars; Stunt Run, in which you must jump off ramps, spin, drift, head into oncoming traffic and barrel roll your car to earn points; Burning Route, which is a car-specific time trial between two points; and the simply titled Race, which is a race from whatever junction the event starts at, to one of eight final locations in the city.
These Races aren't as simple as you might think, with Paradise City remaining open throughout the events. No route is flagged up, and while flashing street signs at the top of the screen suggest which turns to take, nothing prevents you finding your own way through the city and potentially discovering shortcuts along the way.
The city is littered with detail - hidden ramps, multi-storey car parks, and further outside the city, back roads and dirt trails - it makes exploration worthwhile as you uncover the shortest paths through familiar territory.
Feel The Need
AI cars take varying routes too, and as you're all converging on the same finish line it often makes for some exciting last-minute encounters, with eight cars piling into the same street at high speed.
Speed is something Paradise does beautifully. At its core, this game is an arcade racer, and as such the cars and bikes you're driving and riding go really, really fast. The game delivers an incredible sense of speed too, and it's here that the smooth, locked frame rate sees a pay off. Criterion have always insisted on this 60fps standard for their games on console, and it's obvious why -at the speeds you're racing the game becomes as much about your reaction times as your cornering prowess. Driving into oncoming traffic and drifting increases your boost bar (which, it shouldn't need explaining, gives you more oomph), and you'll spend a lot of your time with your eyes trained on pairs of rapidly approaching headlights, or scanning for traffic lights in preparation for a junction.
When you muck it up, you muck it up spectacularly. Shunts and scrapes are fine, but collide with a vehicle at speed or plough headfirst into a wall and the camera flips to a cinematic perspective and time slows to a crawl.
I can't count the number of times I've had to write "time slows to a crawl" in this magazine, because the world and his wife have an unshakeable stiffy for time manipulation - but Paradise's slow-motion crashes could be considered art. They're beautifully rendered; metal crumples gently as cracks race across windscreens. Bonnets fold up, doors are shorn from their hinges, and the car frame twists and distorts. The sound is horrifying - a bassy rumble accompanied by a metallic screech and the tinkling of shattered glass.
Every event indulges in this crash porn - every opponent you force i into a wall gets 1 their own slow-motion death parade - but the Road Rage event in particular glorifies vehicular violence. T-bone takedowns, car takedowns, bus takedowns, vertical takedowns (when you land on top of an opponent), your actions are monitored and specifically celebrated at every turn.
You Will Compete
Reams of statistics record all of your doings, and in-game achievements reward particularly amazing things you've accomplished (two barrel rolls in a single jump, for example).
Four hours in however, and you'll start to feel the crash fatigue. The scenes, while eminently pretty, are unskippable, becoming a patience-testing penalty for your inability to keep the car on the road. It's symptomatic of a larger problem with Paradise: play it for any length of time and you'll soon grow weary of the repetition of events.
While the boatload of distractions clotted about the city will occupy you for a time, the game is best digested in short bursts - you'll keep coming back to Paradise, but it isn't designed to hold your attention for long stretches of time.
Part of the problem is the game's lack of direction. What's freeform can also be described as aimless, and unless you're particularly bothered about upgrading your license (which essentially unlocks higher difficulty tiers) you might find the lack of structure off-putting.
Going online gives the game some purpose. The transitions from single player to online is seamless, and you can jump into Freeburn (the online mode) at any time. In there a game leader can set one of 250 Freeburn Challenges - make a certain jump, boost for a certain length of time - and set up races between points of his choosing, and host Stunt Runs and Marked Man challenges.
We lament the loss of some of our favourite bits from past Burnout games, though to compare this game to its predecessors - games which were never released on PC - would be unfair. Crash Junction mode, in which your aim is to rack up the most damage (represented by what we always imagined to be insurance payouts) is gone, replaced by slightly less amazing Showtime mode (see 'Showboating').
Still, Paradise is undeniably fun; it's an outstanding, slick arcade racer from an impassioned and talented development studio. Praise is deserved for the sheer quality of the port, as well as the generous inclusion of so much excellent free content, and the continuing support in the form of downloadable content And while it's unlikely you'll ever get to experience Burnout Paradise splayed across a dozen vertically oriented monitors, even with a paltry 17 in screen you'll appreciate how spectacular this game really is.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode