An open-world arcade racing experiment in Detroit debris
Don’t tell Newton: Ramming your hot rod full-speed into a concrete block, idling minivan, or in-game ad billboard in Burnout Paradise doesn’t really slow you down. The game is a steady, fuel-injected dose of momentum from spark plug to finish line. Pushing over Paradise City’s 20 square miles of pavement for just an hour means accumulating new cars, completing events, knocking over barriers to find shortcuts or spontaneous jumps, earning license upgrades, setting street-specific high scores, or just streaking a newfound scenic route with rubber.
The game combines the feel of impulsive, mission-based sandbox titles like Grand Theft Auto and Tony Hawk with loose, forgiving, driving mechanics—making for disposable, whimsical racing with a persistent career and surprisingly good online mode. Every major intersection in the city is a gateway to a racing event. Spin your wheels at a stoplight and you’ll activate a point-to-point race or one of four other variations on the standard sprint: Road-rage events have you side-swiping a set number of opponents within a time limit, stunt runs are all about racking up points with long drifts and high jumps, and in our favorite, “marked man,” you’ll try to escape a set of ominous black sedans before they can smear you into the median. There are vehicle-specific challenges, too, and as you spend more time in Paradise City, you can earn the keys to rival cars roaming the streets by pushing them off the road.
Some cars earn a boost from stunts, others from banging against other vehicles and objects in the environment, and still another type gains it by just maintaining a high speed.
When you understeer a turn (Burnout’s sluggish map-guidance interface is one of its only shortcomings), you’re treated to a slo-mo sequence of your coupe compressing into a steel accordion. You’ll never see a pre-rendered animation—plow into a passenger van, pole, or unlucky bus near top speed, and the game catches each frame of your chassis’s crunch from a cinematic angle. These scenic crashes don’t affect your car’s performance, and they’re an anchor for the game’s forgiving, unfrustrating design.
Seamless presentation is one of Burnout Paradise’s best qualities. Criterion keeps the experience accessible: Loading screens are a rarity, the player’s stats and best times are all recorded alongside an excellent in-menu city map, and hopping online is a matter of two keystrokes, where you can roll through events or “freeburn” with up to seven other players. The PC release bundles all the updates the console version has seen in the last year: a night-day cycle and dynamic weather, new online game modes, and a handful of motorcycles to hop on when you get tired of four wheels.
Bikes! No, you can't whip chains at passers-by like in Road Rash, but the choppers are a good wheelie-popping diversion when four-wheeling gets old.
Burnout Paradise is a memorable arcade racing experience. What holds it back an rpm or two are the relatively predictable events—after you’ve won 20 or so challenges, the lack of more dynamic content (police, racing factions, tournaments, or multi-race events) makes the single-player seem tedious. Once you’ve explored the city enough to get a feel for it, Paradise loses some of its charm—busting over a dirt ramp and power-sliding through oncoming traffic as you round a blind corner into a telephone pole is spontaneous only the first few dozen times.
Impulsive, pick-up-and-play appeal with addictive progression and persistency.