|Developed by:||Criterion Games|
With the long-rumoured PS4 remaster now confirmed, what better excuse to hit the streets of Paradise City in its original incarnation.
The Burnout series has been a mainstay of console gaming since the original game back in 2001, although my own experience to it has been limited to both this and Dominator on PSP. Indeed if it weren’t for a quirk of fate, I might not have picked this up at all.
Back in 2011, the world ended. Or at least it seemed that way for several million gamers as the Playstation Network came offline following a hack and major data breach. Accusations, law suits and new passwords later, Sony brought the service back online, offering a sweetener to beleaguered console owners in the shape of a free game and 30 days access to premium service PS Plus.
Of course much of this went unnoticed in our household as we welcomed the arrival of our twin girls, an event that would prompt an unexpected period of gaming. Coinciding delightfully with the restoration of network facilities and my PS Plus trial, I took 4 weeks off work as paternity leave to help settle our new babies in.
Why am I telling you this? Isn’t this a game review, not a Woman’s Weekly article? Well you see it turns out that premature babies, at around 4lbs each, slot nicely into the natural crook of your arm as you bend it to hold your joypad. And so with 30 days at home to kill and 30 days of unrestricted Playstation access, I grabbed the wheel and set course for Paradise City.
As it goes, I enjoyed the game so much that after my trial ended, I bought the game outright. It then sat unopened in a box for 5 years. Bloody kids.
Open World. It’s a term we have become used to over the years, although one not traditionally associated with the driving genre.
In a break with automotive tradition, the central hook of this iteration of Burnout is its structure. Instead of a series of individual races, the entire city is your playground. It’s almost GTA-esque, to the point that I kept trying to jump out of my car and assault the nearest civilian, and a framing device that is implemented with impressive skill.
Want to start a race? No problem. Pull up at the next set of lights, give a squeeze of the brake and accelerator and a new event opens up for you to tackle. These include traditional Burnout favourites, including straight up tears from point A to point B, takedown events and even stunt fests, with points awarded for chaining boosts, jumps, barrel rolls and other tricks. It is seamless, allowing you to jump into an event from pretty much anywhere on the map.
The Takedown events remain an absolute delight as you set about smashing rival cars into roadside barriers, other traffic or t-boning them off a cliff. In many ways they are the least demanding as no matter how fast you go and whatever route you take there will be rival cars to smash. Things take a turn in the Marked Man event as you must get to the finish line as a horde of angry cars try to smash you to oblivion. There are no takedown targets of your own here, this is simply about getting to the end in one piece.
The traditional race and the stunt events place more of an emphasis on the environment and it is here where the central premise of the game lives or dies. In race events, you have to drive from one compass point to another, driving say from the southern most point of the city to the northern most. A little map in the corner of the screen gives you some guidance by offering a snippet of the road layout and a broad guide to the general destination whilst your car will automatically indicate when a you-should-really-go-this-way turn approaches. But ultimately it is up to the player to find the optimum route. With so much going on around the city, so many nooks and crannies to drive down, it can be overwhelming in your first few races. I routinely found myself going down the wrong road, having to turn the car in the opposite direction and boosting for all I was worth to try and catch back up with the track. You can hit the pause button and bring up the menu to get a look at the full map, allowing you to plot the next part of your route, but this somewhat ruins the flow of the event in a game built around breakneck, breathless speed.
Similarly the stunt events rely on a certain level of local knowledge. All too often I found myself driving along barren roads, desperately looking for a jump or barrier to bash through, only for the timer to run out as I fell painfully short of the required points target.
Luckily then Paradise City is a joy to simply explore even without jumping into a specific event and it is worth taking the time to do so to familiarise yourself with key touch points. That crucial shortcut or out of the way jump that you burn into your memory circuits can be vital as you race against either opponents or the clock.
There is a certain decadence to driving round the streets observing the rules of the road, stopping at lights, following other cars and being an all round good citizen. But when you’re ready to let loose, the city truly is your playground as opportunities for chaos abound. From gates to smash through and billboards to jump through, jumps to leap off and twisting hills to drive up, bustling city streets and atmospheric night time drives. You can spend hours just finding your own fun without the need to jump into any organised event. Need a top up of boost? No problem. Just find one of the multiple petrol stations dotted around the map, then keep an eye out for them mid-race to quite literally boost your chances. Bumper hanging off? Pull into a garage for a quick repair job. Not only are these little extras fun but they can prove invaluable mid-event when you need something extra to get you through. Repetition and memorisation are your friends in this town. Plus driving down any street unlocks a time trial for that stretch of road, meaning that any random drive through the city turns into an excuse to burn rubber.
Of course all this driving needs some vehicles to go with it and Burnout doesn’t disappoint. Cars come in stunt, speed and aggresion varieties, each suited to a particular style of event. Aggression cars are more robust in the takedown events than a pure speed car. Faster cars are a natural choice for standard racing but the burnout meter must be filled in full before you can benefit from any boost whilst stunt cars are, unsurprisingly, best suited for the rough and tumble of vehicular soft play. Whatever you choose, you are in for a meatily satisfying drive, whether racing at full pelt, barrel rolling through a billboard or smashing to bits in a slow motion feast of car wreck porn.
You start with just a crummy beast of a car, delivered to the local junk yard, with new cars unlockable by tracking them down around the city and smashing them off the road. It’s a great mechanic as you can go about your business just having fun driving, the next unlockable vehicle always likely to come across your vision sooner rather than later, meaning that you don’t have to bear the frustration of hunting it down in a specific part of the city. But that’s not all. Hey, this is the Ultimate Box after all. In addition to the standard cars you also get a selection of bikes, special cars and other goodies to choose from. The bikes are absolutely rapid, allowing you to tear across the city like Street Hawk. And with only a couple of cars and bikes open at the start of the game you’ll need to put some serious time in to unlock them all.
And don’t think you have to go it alone. Any event can be turned into a multiplayer event in an instant by just pushing the right direction button on the d-pad, allowing you to not only make the core events more interesting but also turn your solo timed drag race down city streets into a global timed affair.
That Paradise City is graphically impressive goes without saying, the PS3 still a powerful beast of a console. But what really stands out is how the graphics keep up with the speed. Vehicles absolutely belt around the city but there are no loading pauses, no convenient tunnels to hide location switches. Everything unfurls in front of you as you drive. Music and sound is awesome too, from the titular G’n’R track to the suite of suitable licensed tunes, all backed by a voiceover that introduces races and explains key gameplay elements.
Take a trip down to Paradise City, where the cars are fast and the streets are gritty.
Superb handling, endless options, a supremely designed play ground to drive in and most importantly, that all important sense of speed. This is the ultimate in arcade driving.