Burnout: Paradise is the fifth instalment in Criterion Games’ excellent series of smashy crashy driving games, and it retains the essential elements of the previous games while moving in an interesting new direction. Burnout’s hook has always been fairly simple: it’s not just about racing, it’s about shoving, slamming or casually nudging your opponents into walls, pillars or other cars, resulting in a satisfying slow motion zoom on their twisted wreckage as it slides to a halt or (preferably) describes a graceful parabola off the nearest cliff. Running a rival car off the road like this is called a “takedown”, and performing takedowns (as well as other stunts like driving in the oncoming lane, or drifting around corners) rewards you with Boost, a limited resource which you can use for a bit of extra acceleration when you need it.
This much remains the same, but Paradise moves on from the traditional structure of the previous games, in which you’re presented with a menu of different events—races, Road Rage events where the object is to take down a target number of opponents in a time limit, and so on—which you progress through in order of increasing difficulty. Instead, it drops your car onto the streets of Paradise City, a fully-explorable open environment complete with civilian traffic, and leaves you to your own devices. Driving around, you can stop at any junction and press the accelerator and brake at the same time to start an event, one for each junction in the city. All of these take place in the full, open environment of Paradise City, rather than restricting you to a linear route, so Races let you get to your destination by whatever route you like, and Road Rage events let you drive wherever you want, competing for takedowns along the way. (The last attempted event can be restarted with a quick menu selection, a feature which I gather wasn’t present in the original version, a pretty inexplicable omission. But hey, it’s there now.)
The events are as much fun as they ever were, and they gain an added strategic element by not restricting you to a fixed route to your destination. Even Road Rage, with no destination to reach, has an extra level of depth thanks to the open world, as it’s easier to get takedowns with less risk of crashing on the emptier country roads on the outskirts of the city than on the busy streets of the city centre. There are a couple of new event types, too: Marked Man charges you with reaching another location in the city before a team of aggressive AI opponents wreck your car, and Stunt Runs give you a time limit in which to amass as high a score as possible by drifting, boosting, jumping ramps and smashing billboards.
Ah yes, billboards. There’s a tradition or an old charter or something which states that any open-world game must have some sort of obscure collectible scattered around its environment. Burnout: Paradise has three different kinds, the most numerous being Crash Barriers, yellow fences that can be easily smashed through, usually leading to short cuts, alternative routes or ramps useful for Stunt Runs. Then there are red Burnout billboards which need to be smashed through, often by means of a nearby ramp. The third are Super Jumps, which are especially large or spectacular jumps marked by flashing blue traffic cones. Searching for these quickly becomes compulsive (to the point that the merest glimpse of something yellow in the distance can cause an immediate unplanned detour just in case it’s an unbroken Crash Barrier), and this gives you a fairly compelling reason to just drive around Paradise City taking in the sights. Which is fortunate, because Paradise City is huge and complex and beautiful, and it’d be a shame to spend all your time rushing past it at top speed. Though, it is just a little eerie that there isn’t a single human being to be seen anywhere, not even driving the cars.
On which subject, cars are another type of collectible available in Burnout: Paradise. But rather than being hidden around the city, new cars are unlocked by completing various events and other achievements. Some go straight into your collection, accessed by driving into any of Paradise City’s five junkyards. Others, however, aren’t given to you directly; they drive around the city and have to be taken down before they can be driven. This is one of those simple but brilliant ideas; a sedate cruise around the city in search of unbroken Crash Barriers or billboards can be instantly turned into a high-speed pursuit as one of these unlocked cars screams by you, radio blaring tauntingly.
The series’ transition to an open world hasn’t been without casualty, though. The much beloved Crash Junctions of previous incarnations are gone, replaced with something called Showtime Mode. At any point, a button combination will turn your car into a wreck which you can (inexplicably) continue to propel along the streets, sliding and tumbling, as long as you have boost, which is now acquired by hitting other cars. Collisions also increase your score in the form of damage caused, but if you go too long without hitting anything you run out of boost, and Showtime’s over. It’s a reasonably fun diversion from time to time, but it’s all too random, without anything like the component of strategy and planning that made Crash Junctions so compelling. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why this feature couldn’t have been included in something much closer to its original form, and its omission is disappointing.
Despite this one misstep, Burnout: Paradise is an extremely successful evolution of the series. It might have seemed like a case of shoehorning an established franchise into an ill-fitting open-world structure, just because everyone else is doing it, but in practice it works brilliantly. It develops and expands the series without losing sight of the core ideals that made the games fun in the first place: the simple pleasures of going fast and making things go boom.