CRASH ALL THE CARS DAMMIT!
PC Release: January 22, 2008
By Ian Coppock
I’ve been looking back at the drunkenly meandering rants that I try to pass off as opening monologues and I noticed something; I bounce between a few given genres each week looking for new gems. I like those genres, but maybe it’s time to not only shift gears, but blow up the entire box. There’s no better way to chase a heart-pounding, emotionally draining game like Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs than with a hearty swig of fiery, audacious street racing. In broad daylight, in a fast car, far away from monsters.
Now I’ve played racing games before; I played old-school Need for Speed during that franchise’s 90s heyday. I held records for everything that had absolutely nothing to do with driving proficiency, like number of traffic cones knocked over and cruise ships sunk with a well-aimed jump.
I’m happy to say that Burnout Paradise downloads like a charm and let me pretty much pick up and keep going where I’d left off as a hyperactive 8-year old.
Oh, anyway, the story. (Ahem). In a world where humans have apparently died off and cars can drive about on their own, DJ Atomica takes it upon himself to transfer radio orders into my brain. Turns out the DJ can’t shut up about how much he loves cars or the game’s setting, Paradise City. Also known as ‘MURICOPOLIS!
This is one of the problems I have with racing games: they’re all set in a sterile, sunshiny ripoff of southern California. Sure, it’s great driving weather, but even two seconds into my first race car game in 14 years, I’m ready for a change of scenery. Give me a skull fortress, or City 17, or something a little less stereotypical.
I searched around for a main character and facepalmed when I realized he’d been there the entire time; my car was not a Hunter Vegas, he was the Hunter Vegas. Mr. Hunter Vegas. Automobile superhero for the citizens of Muricapolis.
Because race car games are played by hyperactive teenagers whom I suspect are the same two-faced bastards that troll Call of Duty, I couldn’t not get into the spirit of the online mode, immediately adopting some senseless decals and the world’s most sexist paint job. I got into the spirit, but not the actual mode, as EA demands a limb and your firstborn child in exchange for the digital herpes otherwise known as EA Origin. My adventure was completely offline, and on Steam.
Burnout Paradise is an open-world racing adventure, which I commend as a much-needed formula change to the very linear list of very circular tracks. Your objective is to cruise around Muricapolis and pick up various races and challenges. In addition to standard races, Hunter Vegas enters other modes of play. He can smash enemy cars for points, elude the authorities, do tricks along a mad course and find shortcuts.
The point of the game is to complete these challenges and upgrade your license. You start out with a learner’s permit and must work your way up to an elite “Burnout” license. I got the lower-level licenses very quickly, because Burnout Paradise resets the challenges you’ve completed every time you advance. EA, you do realize that I can do the same five challenges over and over and move up that way?
“Yes,” they said, “which is why we double the number of challenges each time.”
“But I can still do the ones I’m a master at, thus reducing impetus to explore more of the city?”
Though that design oversight was particularly entertaining, my very favorite was the lack of a GPS or map device. Races in Burnout Paradise are demarcated only by the start flag and the end flag, the latter of which is somewhere far from you. It’s up to you to somehow navigate a city’s worth of streets and shortcuts without an in-race navigation utility. There’s a compass, but I found my races fragmented by having to pause the game and check my road map to ensure I wasn’t careening into the harbor. The easier races have fairly obvious paths, but this gameplay flaw became annoying at higher difficulty.
Oh yes, and take my advice; if you get lost during a race and see some train tracks, get on them. Even if they’re not going the right way, they will carry you at least near the finish line. This is an infallible strategy for winning a race; it worked in Need for Speed, Grand Theft Auto and Crazy Taxi; it will work in Burnout Paradise.
By far the most entertaining aspect of this game and the object of affection for the aforementioned hyperactive teenagers is the crashes. Burnout‘s crashes are spectacular; the physics account for every detail as your car sails off a cliff or smashes into a wall, crumpling like a crushed soda can. This effect is enhanced when more cars are involved, of course.
If you construe the car as a character (and it’s obvious he is), Mr. Hunter Vegas is a car on the edge who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s utterly ruthless, destroying enemy cars and employing a jet engine that no other car seems to have to win first place. ‘MURICA! Assuming he doesn’t take the wrong exit and plunge face-first into a McDonald’s.
This game’s plot becomes a plot if you consume plenty of caffeine. I found myself having a lot of fun with this game, but I got seriously, unexpectedly invested in the races. I have little to no competitive spirit, so this is huge for me. As for badass Hunter Vegas, I took him to the shop and gas station after the apocalypse that passed for a racing, and he trucked his way to the top. After this he sort of… wandered aimlessly around the city. I suppose the satisfaction of the resolution comes from getting that Burnout license. That’s not bad; I should put that on a resume!
Burnout Paradise is unmatched as an exemplar of the glossed look. Paradise City/Muracapolis is a massive, gleaming city made to look exceptionally ordinary. Shops, skyscrapers, palm trees. The street mapping is reasonably designed but I must point out that everything looks too polished and pretty to be believable. The gritty industrial areas had no rust on their junkyards, or poop in their landfills.
All of this made me feel like a citizen in Syndicate Wars. Perhaps Hunter Vegas has a chip like that in his central computer. The level design is adequate, but again, the environments are too glossy and shiny to make me think anything other than, “oh, yeah. Docks have no grime in real life, either (rolls eyes).”
The game’s music is a soundtrack that made me smirk. It’s headlined by a Guns’n’Roses remix heralding the awesomeness of Paradise City, as well as various grunge and alt rock sounds that may have meant to up the badass but made me feel a little silly. After all, Hunter Vegas’s skill on the road is all about what’s in his heart, not his ears. Like many other racing games, the set list for Burnout Paradise is also very short, so the songs get grating after the first few hours. What’s there to say about DJ Atomica? He’s voiced just fine, probably by a real-life DJ. But he offers little beyond gravelly-voiced driving advice.
The reason I’m reviewing a racing game is because I think it’s important to step back and have simple, dumb fun with video games. Stories and artwork are paramount, both to the genre and my primary reason for playing games, but I’ve found that some of my best gaming stories happened in games with no stories. Already I’ve dispersed awesome crash tales to my friends, family and former driving instructors. After something as mentally exhausting as Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Burnout Paradise was a nice change of pace. Simple, dumb fun. If you’re into that, and epic crashes, go wild.
You can buy Burnout Paradise here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.