Monday, February 11, 2008

What's wrong with Burnout Paradise

No, that's not a question. There's a lot wrong with Burnout Paradise. On balance, it's a good game, and the problems I have with it tend to be isolated rather than systemic -- which is to say that they don't poison every aspect of the game, and it's mostly possible to ignore them.

Still: they can be really irritating.

Most of the issues stem from the decision to go open-world. In some ways this move was genius, especially considering the amazing, seamless integration of multiplayer. And it's nice to have some latitude simply to dick around, experimenting with jumps and optimal race routes. Still, I'm not convinced that the benefits of this new design outweigh the costs.

For example, once you start a race event, there's no way to restart or quit. Big deal, you say? Imagine this: You've started a race, and you're zipping along, trading paint with another contender. Ahead, the road doglegs left before entering a tunnel. You take the turn wide and rocket into what looks like a shortcut. Except it isn't a shortcut. You've stumbled onto some train tracks, and they take you into a freestyle stunt zone that has no easy exit. As you're squinting at the upcoming route to try to find a way back onto the road, you're putting miles between yourself and the finish line. Not only can you not win at this point, but you still have to find a way out and limp to an eighth-place finish before you can do anything else.

Now is it a problem that you can't restart or quit?

Another dismaying omission: they've done away with aftertouch. Aftertouch, you may recall, was the ability to take control of your car during a wreck and steer its mangled corpse into the paths of oncoming racers. It isn't just that it was a clever and often hilarious way to score takedowns. In fact, aftertouch was a crucial part of what made Burnout great, because it integrated crashes into the gameplay in a way no other game did. Instead of taking you out of the game, they drew you further in. In Paradise, you get lovingly rendered but essentially useless slow-motion crash scenes. It's especially vexing when you're heading somewhere in freeburn mode and accidentally clip an island or something, and then have to watch a pornographic shot of your wreck for several seconds. There's not even an option to skip it.

While tooling around the open world can actually be great fun, the obligatory inclusion of hidden collectables makes no sense in the context of Burnout. What I always liked about the series was its fanatical devotion to its core gameplay tenets: speed, jumps, and wrecks. Every event type played to one or more of those. "Burning Route" is all speed. "Road Rage" is all wrecks. "Crash" is jumps and wrecks. Races are a combination of all three. Speed, jumps, and wrecks. Burnout Paradise has a free-roaming mode that includes yellow gates, which mark shortcuts (helpful for speed), and Burnout billboards, most of which can only be accessed by finding huge ramps (good ol' jumps). With 400 gates and 120 billboards to smash -- with achievements for completing either task -- that's a lot of speedin' and jumpin'.

Just one problem: To find the Burnout billboards and yellow gates in Paradise, though, frequently you have to... stop in your tracks. Slamming through gates is awesome when it happens organically. It's possible to reach a zen-like state of Burnout where you come bombing down the hills, streak across city limits, and pound through one gate after another, weaving through oncoming traffic, slashing your way through parking garages and leaping over rooftops. But that's much less common than driving down the street, seeing a gate pass by, slamming on the brakes, and backing up. Most of the billboards require a similarly slow-paced reconnaisance and plan of attack. Essentially, this part of the game rewards stopping. That's antithetical to the Burnout ideal.

Worse still, although the shortcuts can be helpful, finding gates and billboards doesn't actually have an impact on gameplay. Compare this to the agility orbs in Crackdown. Acquiring those made your character stronger, and better able to complete his tasks. Furthermore, finding agility orbs gave you the ability to find even more agility orbs. Instant, satisfying feedback. Aside from the achievement points, there's really no point to clearing the board in Burnout Paradise. That's upsetting, coming from a franchise that had previously been so lean and mean. And that, ultimately, is the biggest thing wrong with this game: there's too much fat on the frame.

Criterion has added all sorts of features that don't really make sense in the context of what Burnout usually does. I liked the drive-thrus a lot for things that mattered to gameplay, like the body shop and the gas station. Without even taking your foot off the gas, you can repair your car's damage or max out your boost meter. That's brilliant. And then there are paint shops, which change your car's color. Really? I can't imagine needing anything less, at any time, for any reason. "I'm trailing in this race with under half a mile to go. There's only one thing that can save me now: new paint job!"

Still, all this makes it sound like Burnout Paradise is no good, and, as I said up top, that's not the case. It is a good game, with lots of features that work wonderfully. Tomorrow, I'll talk about what's right with Burnout Paradise.


Anonymous said...

I share similar issues with the game, though I still found it captivated me more than recent Burnouts. This was a big risk for Criterion, and being their first open-world game it's expected they don't get everything perfect first time. They'll listen to the feedback and nail it next time, likely.

One of my biggest problems, which was covered on the 'Save the Robot' blog (The Empty Streets of Paradise City), was with the world itself, which I already expressed through a large comment on the post in question. Long story short, the realistic world of Paradise City is a complete juxtaposition of the Burnout ideology, and hence the world just isn't that engaging to explore.

Anonymous said...

I haven't tried this for racing specifically, but for other events if you want to quit them early... just stop. I've done this with both Road Rage and Showtime mode, so I assume it works with all events. After your car is stopped for about 10 -15 seconds, it will end the event for you.

Nice? Yes. Intuitive? No.

Daniel Purvis said...

OH, there is a way to get out of races, you just have to go Showtime. As you can guess, however, that shares it's own set of annoyances, like the time it takes to revert back to the normal cruisy mode.

Mitch Krpata said...

Well, on one hand, it's good to know that you can quit out of the race events if you really want to.

On the other hand: what the hell.

Anonymous said...

Although you got some good points there (God, how I miss aftertouch...), I think you complain too much.

Burnout Paradise keep the thrills from the previous installements and opens to the likenings of other players. You are picking because the game have more than you wish for? You only smash billboards if you want to. Sounds like someone complaining about the ambulance mission in GTA just because he doesn't like ambulances...

You should be thankful to be able to play such an incredible game. I waited all my life to play a game like this, and although I know the game has few thing to get better, the overall experience is far to great to be moaning about insignificant things.

By the way, you can quit an event. Just stop and don't press any button for 4 second.

Anonymous said...

To quit an event just stop your car for several seconds. Maybe you should read the manual, or listen to the DJ in the game.

Mitch Krpata said...

Or I should read my comments!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if you where not so far up your own arse complaining and actualy playing the game you wouldnt suck so much at the game =] for anyone looking to buy it its a great game.

If the no restart botheres you so much learn to play so you will win the races and then will not have to restart =]