Six to Start

Things We've Learnt About Burnout Paradise

Six to Start HQ houses a big TV (usually showing what's on the office server) and an Xbox 360. The reasons for the choice of platform are a little opaque to me, but I believe it has to do with Rock Band, somehow.

However, it's not been that, or Braid, or any of the other high-profile recent titles that we've been playing most over the last couple of months. Instead, it's Burnout Paradise, the latest in the series of racing games by Criterion. Personally, I'd not played any of the preceeding games, but I gather that the way that Paradise offers you a city you can drive around is a bit of a break in the way the series worked.

Previously, the games were very episodic: you were given a race, or crash, or other event, and had to complete it to unlock others. In Paradise, by contrast, there's no mission loading screens; instead, you start a mission by stopping at an intersection. This means you lose the loading screens, but it introduces new problems.

If you're not willing to trust to serendipity, and taking the first mission you drive across, then finding the right type of mission means remembering all the colour codes, looking at the map, and having to learn your way around the city. The latter can be quite tricky (the downtown area is largely a grid, but it isn't quite as regular as most American cities, and towards the edges of the playable area it's not grid-like at all), to the extent that you often need a navigator, both to find missions, and, in the early days, to help you with races. (There are on-screen hints during a race, but they're pretty subtle - the roadsigns change colour and the indicators blink.) Help here would definitely not have gone amiss.

Speaking of races, I gather they've lost a lot of what made Burnout fun. Sure, there are Road Rage events, but the ordinary races don't have much crashing and smashing. Personally, I found all the replays of collisions annoying (although the game has the decency to make sure that you never crash because of one) but I believe this is something of a trademark of the franchise. The frustration doesn't stop at the finish line, though. Lots of events, especially later on, end at the Wind Farm or Observatory, right at one edge of the map, necessitating a long drive back to the centre to find a new race. There's no way of doing that automatically; cue boredom.

Replays also plague the Junkyard, where you find new cars. Once you've found it, that is; again, you have to look at the map (or know your way around) just to change your vehicle. When you're there, every car brings up an animation of it falling from the sky (presumably to mask loading times). Personally, I'm also finding it vexing that it's so hard to discover what you've completed. We're at about 80% complete now, and need to pick off just a couple of jumps and billboards across the entire city, but although the game knows which districts have none left, it only displays this for a few seconds when you first finish one; you can't look that up. That's also a problem for Road Rules, where you race down a particular street as quickly as possible; I tended to finish up smashing into a wall at the junctions that end a route, triggering yet another crash animation and making sure I wouldn't see if I'd managed to beat the time.

The network gaming is a bit of a miss too. The live leaderboards (road rules times, for example) are nice even if you don't want to go online, but our experience with trying to actually play against other humans was poor. A lot of the events seem to consist of "everyone drive here", which is at first tricky, and then boring (as everyone gets tired of waiting for the others to complete the challenge, and instead collide with other players). We also found a lot of flakiness with connections, dropping us out before we'd even got started. Some thought is definitely required here: maybe breaking the city metaphor and moving you nearer the other players would be good.

On the other hand, Burnout Paradise has certainly got some things right. The downloadable content has all been free, and has extended the game significantly (even though we completed the Bike Pack missions in only a few days, and were let down by their racing-centric nature). Mind you, that's probably because there are ads in the game, which drew some attention when Barack Obama used them for his campaign halfway through October. Generally, the in game advertising didn't bother us, but maybe that's part of the joy of being outside the US (although there were some ads for NatWest, which was a bit odd).

All in all, I think we've found it a fun enough experience, despite the flaws. Fixing them in a future game would make the game a lot easier to recommend.