I have my Criterion Elite license, which means I have won every race, unlocked every car and ruled every road. I have 350 out of 350 on the Freeburn Challenges. I have all the achievements you can get without having a camera (and if I ever find a spare $40 laying around, I’ll get those too). And now I’m spending my time chillin’ helping out other folks on their challenges or looking for races, so I think its fair to say I’ve seen the entire game… so here are my thoughts.
Overall, this is a fantastic addition to the Burnout series of games. If you like the older Burnout games or like racing games, definitely think about picking this up. It is worth it. But instead of looking at the game as a whole, lets take a moment and look at a bunch of the design choices of the game, or missing features, and rate those either as a Pro (good idea) or a Con (bad idea).
1) Speed and the speedometer. Some people bemoan not being able to know their car is going 209 miles per hour. Instead, each car has a Speed rating and a Boost rating. Speed is a vague “your car is this fast” metric, and Boost is a vague “and you can increase to this fast sometimes” metric. One of the things I hated about Burnout Revenge was that when playing online, the top speed of the cars was set for races independent of the car. The problem was that while you may like the handling of a particular car that normally maxed out a 175 when playing solo, it turned into crap handling at 209 when playing online. The result: everyone plays the same damn cars, always, because they handle best at 209, the only speed Burnout Revenge people seem to want to play at. By taking the number away and giving a generic rating, and not having the max speed set separate of the car choice, it allows the players to pick the car with the handling AND speed that they like. I’ve raced against people who use the PCPD Special (fastest car in the game) using cars with half the speed rating, and have been able to win, because at my slower speed I can control the car better than they can at super sonic speed. To me, this is clearly one case when hiding the numbers from the players was the right decision. Pro.
2) Shortcuts. In older Burnout games, races had built-in shortcuts. There would be a turn that was fairly sharp, but before you got there you go “off road” and take a more gentle turn. Burnout Paradise was built with a completely “open” race design: You are in the city and racing from point A to point B… go! The awesome feature here is that while the game has plenty of the old style corner cutting shortcuts, you are also free to use entirely different roads if you want. Knowing the streets becomes important, and I’ve played many races that start me off facing some direction, west perhaps, but from my street knowledge I know that immediately turning south and taking the “longer” route is actually faster because there is likely to be less traffic and straighter roads for better boosting. At first, its kind of a pain in the ass that there are no race barriers keeping you on the right path, and more than once I ended up on a road that curved and sent me the wrong direction, but you get used to it and it becomes part of the challenge to find the best route that fits your style of driving to get you to the finish line first. Pro.
3) Restarting a race. Related partly to item 2 above, the game is “open” so when doing a fixed race, like doing a one on one from the north side of town down to the shipyards, you can take any path you want. When you lose and you want to try the race again, you have to drive back to the start of the race. The advantage to this is it allows you to learn the streets better, to find new shortcuts. The downside is that after doing any race a few times, you have pretty much learned the best path possible to the finish, you just keep losing because you hit traffic, or screwed up that jump, or some other minor bit. Normally, if you fail a race a few times in a row, you can blow off steam by ruling some roads or do another race to take your mind off of it, but when you get down toward the end and there are no more roads to rule and no other races nearby to do, you end up driving the same race back and forth. There is a point where that drive back to the start stops being a potential learning journey and turns into an anger filled trip of hate and self loathing. A “You lost! Restart race?” option would have been a welcome addition to the game, especially on those really long races from the city out into the mountains. Con.
4) More than racing. Burnout Revenge was fun with all its racing and blowing things up, but Burnout Paradise takes things to a new level by adding actual co-operative game play in the form of the Freeburn Challenges. Meet up at a locations, everyone do a particular stunt, collectively do a number of stunts as a group. It really adds a dimension to an online racing game that it, in my opinion, really needed. Pro.
5) Setting up online games. Its so easy, with a little on screen menu, you can join a game in progress or host your own. As the host you can choose challenges or races, even build your own races. But back to the challenges, while they are fun, they come in 7 flavors, for 2 players up to 8 players, and you can only choose challenges from the list for the number of players in your online session. The only mechanism for limiting players is to change the access (Open, Friends/Recent, Invite Only) and to kick people. If a session was left Open, I would either have 2 or 3 people, or 8. Most people complete the 2 and 3 person challenges with friends, but going to 4 and beyond you start having to join random games or open your games to random people. Once you have 4 people in a session, you will quickly have 8, and eventually, you don’t need anymore 8 person challenges, so the only option is to close the session to Invite Only and either wait for people to drop or kick people out until you get down to 4, 5, 6 or 7 people. Personally, I always set the game to start a race, one or two people would drop and then I’d cancel the race and go back to challenges. Or pick an 8 person challenge I know people hate… like power parking (using the emergency brake to parallel park between two cars on the curb), or using boost (yes, there is a challenge where all you have to do is be driving and hit the A button, yet people will quit rather than hit A and see what the next challenge is, it took me almost 3 weeks to get than challenge complete). Rather than jumping through these hoops, I would have liked to have had the ability to set a max number of players. Con.
6) Microphones. Dealing with the Freeburn Challenges often means dealing with people who a) refuse to do the challenge or b) simply don’t know how. I will gladly take the time to meet a player at the dam or the park and show them how to power park if I know they don’t know how. However, about 50% of the time online, the microphones either flat out don’t work, or only some people hear you. In most games, if you don’t hear from a player its because they just don’t want to talk. In Burnout Paradise, there is a good chance its because they CAN’T talk. Even worse, I’ve been in games with 7 other people, 3 of which can hear me, and 3 of which I can hear… and those aren’t the same 3 people. So while in most games, you can safely assume that even a guy who is not talking back can hear you say things like “Hey, are you going to come over here and join us?”, in Paradise City he may not hear you at all. Now, I realize this isn’t a design decision so shouldn’t really be on this list, but it frustrated me enough that I just needed to throw it in somewhere and rant about it, so its not going to get a Pro or a Con, it gets a Fail.
7) Finding a race. The first thing you have to do in Burnout Paradise is find the races… literally. Races begin at intersections in the city, you have to drive to the intersections and go slow enough (stop) to discover the race. Fair enough, I actually enjoyed that part. Same thing went for the drive-thrus (repair shops, gas stations, paint shops and junkyards). The mini-map on the HUD would indicate the nearest drive-thrus, even if they weren’t visible on the map to help guide you toward them. If you were driving a car that could be “upgraded” through a Burning Route race, it would also show, like the drive-thrus. One thing you could not do was to bookmark or way point a race. It would have been nice to have been able to look at the large map, select the race I wanted to do and press a button to “pin” the start, then back on the mini-map have it show like the Burning Routes and drive-thrus, so that I could navigate myself to the race without having to sometimes check the map again… and again. Just being able to set a way point in general would have been nice. Con.
I’m sure there are other things that could be discussed, but these were the things that stood out in my mind and either really good ideas or as poor decisions and missed opportunities… and that one ranting bit about the microphones. Anyway, Burnout Paradise is still a great game, and they plan on releasing content expansions with more “city”, more challenges, and more race types, so its only going to get better.