Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Game Review: Burnout Paradise

Image courtesy of Joystiq.com
I want to start this review out by making it clear that I am not a big fan of the current Electronic Arts. With the recent set of faux pas including the botched Sim City launch, the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco, and the failure that is EA's Steam competitor, Origin, there is a lot to dislike about EA these days. The only reason I have a copy of Burnout Paradise is because it was offered in one of EA's previous "Humble Bundle" sales. The "Humble Bundle" is actually a fundraising effort in which EA and Origin will sell you a pack of six games for any price you choose, with the proceeds going to five different charities. Luckily, all but one of the games can be unlocked through Valve's Steam service, which means not having to deal with the horrid service that is EA's Origin. It would seem that EA might be on the path to redemption with some gamers thanks to the Humble Bundle, but enough about my dislike of EA. Let us get to the real purpose of this review: Burnout Paradise.

Yes, Burnout Paradise is a bit old now as it was released about four years ago, but being a racing game, I could not help but write a review about it. I am not usually one to go for arcade style racing games, as I much prefer the realism of games like the Forza Motorsport series. After experiencing how much fun I could have with arcade style racing games after playing through Forza Horizon, I thought I would give Burnout a try.

The first thing players should know about the car portion Burnout Paradise is that this game's focus is not entirely on racing, like that of EA's other racing franchise, Need for Speed. In addition to races, players are encouraged to perform stunts and essentially drive recklessly. In a sense, it is kind of like an open world version of Need for Speed where you are actually encouraged to drive dangerously all the time as there are no police to hinder your progress. In fact, the entire city you drive in, dubbed Paradise City, is essentially set up to allow for maximum mayhem.

There are three types of cars, each with different boost styles. The type of car corresponds to its strengths and weaknesses in the different types of races. The first car type is your general, all-purpose stunt/racer. These cars aren't necessarily the fastest, or the strongest, but are good for performing stunts as the boost can be used at anytime, and boosting increases acceleration quite a bit. The second type of car are your heavy duty cars, which consist of heavy SUVs and big land barges. These are the cars that can take a lot of damage and dish out some serious damage. Though slow and lumbering, boosting gets these hulking machines up to speed pretty quick. Just don't expect to be performing any quick maneuvers. The final car type is your highly maneuverable speed machines. Quick and agile, these are the cars you want to use if driving fast and getting around corners is your priority. The only downside is that you can only boost in this car when the boost meter is full. Boosting in these cars offers a moderate speed increase.

Corresponding with the three car types are three main race styles. The first race type is a general, point-to-point race against other racers. This is the most basic type of race and is most similar to other games that involve street racing. The second race type is a "knock-out" style race which breaks down into two styles. The first style involves knocking out a set amount of other racers within a given amount of time. You can knock opponents out by forcing them into walls, other cars, or ramming them hard enough. The second style is a point-to-point style race where you are being chased by a group of black cars trying to knock you off the road. Get to the finish line without taking too much damage and you win. The final race type is not really a race, but more just stunt medley. Perform stunts to reach a certain number of points within a given time window to win.

As downloadable content, players can download four motorcycles to ride through Paradise City. Unlike the car portion of the game though, the only things you can do with the motorcycles are ride around the city and participate in solo, timed, point-to-point races. At this time, I unfortunately only have two of the four motorcycles as the other two motorcycles must be unlocked through finishing races. Even though I only have two of the four motorcycles, I often find myself having more fun with them than the cars. The smaller size of the motorcycles makes them easier to weave in and out of traffic, and makes parts of the map inaccessible by car, accessible. While stunts are easier to do with the motorcycles, thanks to their far superior acceleration, you do not get any points or boost since there is no boost for the motorcycles. Of course,  you can always just have fun doing wheelies throughout the city.

Overall, the game play mechanics are what you would expect for an arcade type racing game: The transmission is automatic and automatic only (which annoys me), physics are pretty far from realistic, and damage is cosmetic only. That is not to say that the game is boring though. There is certainly enough variety and challenge in the various racing modes to keep players entertained for quite a while. If you get bored playing by yourself, there is also always the option to play online with other people. However, considering the game's age and that it is not the most popular racing game franchise, I doubt there will be that many people playing online.

Graphically, the game is still in pretty good shape for a four year old game. The damage, while mostly cosmetic, is quite realistic looking. The programmers behind Burnout did a pretty good job modeling damage physics. If you hit a wall hard enough, you get to watch your car crumple like a beer can in slow motion. I think what surprised me the most was that the programmers were able to model the recently introduced IIHS overlap test fairly accurately before the IIHS caught on to this type of crash being common.

Of course, the game is not without its share of issues. While no one really expects ultra realistic physics in an arcade style racing game, it does bother me that vehicles virtually handle all the same. Front wheel drive cars oversteer just as easily as rear wheel drive cars, and the game just seems to be devoid of understeer at all. The only difference you can feel between cars is weight, and only when it is a huge weight difference, such as going from a light weight, front drive sport coupe to a hulking SUV.

Another downer would have to be the city the game takes place it. Graphically, the city is fairly well designed. Textures are decent and there does not seem to be many graphical glitches regarding the city itself. What does make it a bit of a downer is that it feels like a J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie. The gratuitous use of shinny objects during the day time becomes annoying fast. When night time rolls around, things are dark and a bit dull looking. The only things that seem to stand out are the big, red, and bright Burnout Paradise billboards scattered throughout the city that you are supposed to smash into for stunt/boost points. As a side note, these signs disappear when riding a motorcycle.

The Motorcycle portions of the game, while fun, can get repetitive after a while. Because of the game's age though, it does not seem likely EA is going to add any additional content regarding motorcycles. This is a real shame since the motorcycles are a lot more fun than the cars. As I was telling East Brother when I first started playing this game, the motorcycle portions reminded me a lot of an older, street racing inspired game, Midnight Club 2. If there were more than just the timed point-to-point races, I think the motorcycle portions could be a major part of the game rather than feeling like an afterthought. Also, it bugs me that the two motorcycles I do have access to right now, despite being two different types of motorcycles, sound exactly the same.

The last negative I want to touch on is the music. For whatever reason, it seems as if EA cannot pick songs to create a decent sound track, even if the livelihood of the company depended on it. I can understand picking Paradise City by Guns 'N' Roses as the city the game takes place in is called Paradise City. None of the other songs picked seem to jive with the content of the game. After listening to about ten minutes of the songs available in the game, I gave up and turned the music off. This criticism does not apply to just Burnout though. EA's Need for Speed franchise suffers from the same problem!

So, is Burnout Paradise a game worth getting? Let me put it this way. I am glad I did not buy the game brand new. I do not know much about the Burnout franchise, but I can say with certainty that when this game came out four years ago, it was no where to be seen on my radar. That said, Burnout Paradise is not a bad game at all. It is fun and entertaining, but can get a bit repetitive. The graphics are still pretty good for a four year-old game, and the damage physics are fun to watch. Like most arcade racing games, it is not without its faults, but considering that the ultimate version of the game (which includes all downloadable content) is on sale for $19.99 on Steam as a digital download, it could be worth a look. Too cheap to buy the game at full cost right now? Wait for a Steam sale and it will probably be on sale at 75% off.