‘Burnout’ ditches closed tracks for free-roam driving

On those days when rush hour traffic drives you mad, try playing 'Burnout Paradise.' Courtesy EA Games

The “Burnout” games have a knack for satisfying anyone’s cathartic desire to take their frustrations out on rush hour traffic. “Burnout Paradise” is no exception, and yet, just a few minutes behind the wheel of the game makes clear that this is a “Burnout” unlike any other.

Everything in Paradise City is fair game as soon as players begin; only the cars themselves remain locked until further progress. No walled-off courses are to be found. Instead players see miles upon miles of busy intersections and open mountain roads as well as a lot of conveniently placed broken bridges.

The game truly encourages exploration in the most dangerous ways possible. Completionists are likely to obsess over the plethora of specially marked fences and billboards just waiting to be crushed. Eventually, players will recognize these breakable objects as beacons of opportunity for taking shortcuts and getting big air.

The “make your own fun” mantra applies to the series’ new crash mode, Showtime. Hit the two front shoulder buttons anywhere at any time to begin a wreck. Causing more pileups allows the car to keep rolling longer. Watching a vehicle bounce uphill and change direction may look ridiculous, but the resulting destruction feels oh-so-right.

For all its fresh ideas with open-world game play, however, the most fun parts of the new “Burnout” are still the Race and Road Rage events. The quest for smashing more gates and billboards too often detracts from the simple allure of barreling down a road at breakneck speed against other racers.

Initiating an event requires a more hands-on approach than going through boring menus. Every intersection/stop light in Paradise City is a unique event, and every event cleared contributes to the player’s license upgrade. Once the license hits a new level, the game resets every event in the city. Combined with the abundance of other events nearby, this melts away any desire to retry failed events.

The method of unlocking new rides entails the classic scenario of “win more events, and the game will magically add a new car to your collection.” The more interesting and fun way of adding new vehicles to a player’s arsenal is finding the vehicle itself driving around town and taking it down. Coming across these cars and chasing them is always a thrill, but the arbitrary nature of these vehicles’ locations can make finding them pretty frustrating.

Taking down other competitors is more satisfying than ever thanks to some truly stunning car deformation graphics. Just the right amounts of motion blur, shaky camera and loud sound effects makes every crash satisfying regardless of who is on the receiving end.

The online multiplayer experience also takes full advantage of the game’s open-city structure. Up to eight players can populate a single Paradise City, and what happens there is left entirely up to their imagination. The host can create races from any point in the city, as well as co-operative nonracing events like “have one driver jump over the other seven” or “accumulate 16,000 yards of air time.”

In a sense, “Burnout Paradise” isn’t so much a video game as just a big toy. The game offers little rewards for simply creating massive carnage on the streets, but the act of doing so is inherently gratifying. Whether the series’ open-world experiment was successful or not is debatable, but ultimately irrelevant. Losing has never been this much fun.

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