I hate racing games. In my experience, they’ve always been far too focused on realism and the fact that you should have used a certain tyre in those wet conditions. I wonder constantly whether they’re actually simulations or games. However, there’s one series which I’ve always been able to tolerate, and in most cases enjoy: Burnout. Last year, the series made its debut on the gaming paradise that is the PC, with Burnout Paradise.
How does it work? The idea is that you have a couple of starting cars and a whole city to play around it. No restrictions, just a big old city for your enjoyment. None of the city is blocked from you, or needs to be unlocked. You’re basically dropped in as a whipper-snapper of a street racer, with a driver’s license. Paradise City apparently made street racing a vital component to life, so the more of the events you complete, the higher your license is. All you need to do is find the events.
These events are started at traffic junctions by performing an eponymous burnout (Accelerating while braking for those who aren’t street. Like me). Completing these events upgrades your license from the beginner crap that you start with, to the elite. Every license upgrade clears the map and you can redo the events you’ve already done. What events are there, I hear you ask? 5 separate types: Race, Stunt, Road Rage, Marked Man and Burning Route.
The Race is your typical street race, but with the touches that made Burnout famous, plus an extra thing which I don’t think I’ve seen in any other street racing game before. As you might think, the race is from wherever you start to one of 8 locations, one for each direction of the compass. All you have to do is get there before anyone else.
You could be a boring old soul and just use the boosting system. Yeah, you’ll get there, but you’ll be dead inside. Nobody cares about how fast you are, because the game does cheat a bit. I’ve never been in a situation where it was unwinnable and the other racers were miles ahead of me, and the reverse is also true. You want to use the boost system, filling your boost bar using various tricks (More on that later), but you want the boost to score the takedowns.
A takedown is the entirely realistic approach by Criterion which states that driving into a civilian car at speed wrecks the car, but smashing into a rival could send them flying into a brick wall, causing them to wreck in slow motion. Spending your race just moving at speed is a surefire way to get demolished by the other drivers. You need some sort of offensive tactic to get anyway near the finish line in a top position, just as long as you don’t screw yourself over by missing the shunt and careering into that brick wall.
The part that really screws you over though is the fact that the city remains in its open state throughout the race. You might be used to games putting helpful yellow walls in the street that you can’t crash into, but can’t drive through either. Not here. If you want to get there, you can work it out yourself. The game will give you warnings over which turn to make, but screw it up, and you can find your own way.
You can choose your own path though, and don’t need to do those races if you don’t want to. If you happen to be a show-off, then the stunt events are for you. Out of the 200 odd events, 6/7 are stunts, in positions apparently primed for you to drive and score points, scored for being a boy racer in disguise: Drifting, hitting jumps and boosting are all viable routes to notch up your points tally.
But all the boosting in the world isn’t going to help you hit the target within the time limit. To do that, you need to pull out the combos. As long as you still score points within 5/6 seconds of each other and don’t crash, the game will keep you in a combo mode, and that’s where the real showing off begins. Stupidly high jumps, hitting billboards and performing barrel rolls will increase your multiplier and get you to hit the big time.
One of the best is at the top of a hill, with a long stretching route that you can use to drive up, or a straight line of alleys followed by drops that send you down the hill within 20 seconds. And with those jumps, you’re gaining a +1 to your multiplier, plus there are some billboards. By the time you get to the bottom you’re hitting a 7x multiplier at least. Nice and easy.
The next type of event is the one that’s very useful after a trying day, or for when you have an innate need to watch cars smash into inanimate objects. Road Rage is like Criterion taking the Race event, removing the destination and saying “DRIVE, MY IRON HORSE OF DESTRUCTION!”. To win this event, all you need to do is perform the target number takedowns on other drivers before time runs out.
Sounds easy yes? Well it is at first. But everytime you play an event type and win, the targets increase and the drivers get slightly smarter. So, now I’m on the path to completing every event to gain an Elite license, my takedown targets are currently at 23. At the start it was 3. You also have to remember that you can fail the event by smashing your car up. Depending on the car type (I am going to get on to that, honest), you can survive a set number of crashes before your car is completely wrecked and you can’t carry on. Of course, you are forewarned that your next crash is going to be your last, but that’s just a chance for you to get to one of the drive through repair shops. Driving through this will fix your car up and you can continue on like the deranged maniac you are.
If you’re tired of being a deranged maniac but don’t want to race someone, then you might be interested in the Marked Man event. The best way to think about it is Road Rage, crossed with a Race. As opposed to performing takedowns on people, you just need to survive long enough to get to the destination. Of course, you can perform your takedowns, but that’s not your focus here. Any other car crashes are a bonus, but you just want to get to the endpoint as quickly as possible.
If you want that sense of urgency but don’t want someone trying to kill you or beat you there, you want to have a look at the Burning Route. Every basic car has a Burning Route, that doesn’t get reset at a license upgrade. Completing the route gives you another step to the next level of license and also an upgraded version of the car used in the route.
These cars are apparently based on real life models (I use the word apparently because cars never interested me), and are the point behind the whole game. In an RPG, you spend time getting the best loot possible, with the greatest add-ons and elements attached. The same principle applies here. Each car is rated for speed, boost and strength. Each of them are as cryptic as they sound. Although you can do any event with any of these cars, you’ll be better off in Road Rage with a high strength car than you will be with a speedy one, better at Stunts with a faster or boostier car and so forth.
These ratings are also used to determine a car’s boost type. Aggressive boosts bars are filled quickly when takedowns are performed or you slam into other cars, but if you get slammed into you end up losing a chunk. Stunt bars are filled by getting air time, or other stunts like that (Again, Criterion excelled themselves when creating cryptic names). Speed bars are filled by being a racer with little regard for safety, driving into oncoming traffic and drifting across the road. The advantage of speed is that once the bar is filled, you can keep earning boost and chain your boost bar until you crash or you didn’t fill it to the top in time. The problem? Well, the other types can boost as long as there’s already some in the bar, but Speed types need a full bar to boost.
What else is there in this brilliant creation? So much and more. Although you can get cars by doing the Burning Routes, your main method of car collection is to perform takedowns out of the event environment. At specific points, a new car is released on the streets: If you take it down, you get to keep it. It’s an interesting concept, and one that could be fun in real life. Imagine it: “WHAT THE HELL!? YOU CRASHED INTO MY CAR!” “Yeah, well you hit the brick wall. It’s mine now. Burnout told me so”.
The final little thing I want to add is that you have a brilliant system for when you get your license to Elite. Once you have, you can continue on the streets but you can work on beating the records on them, either the fastest time from one end of the street to the other or the most damage in a crash. Criterion obviously spent a lot of time on this crash technology, and really love showing it off.
I actually don’t know anyone who won’t like this game. I don’t like Racing games, but this is like going to the arcade and paying only once. My girlfriend and I spent a whole day just messing around on the streets (I beat her at everything. Totally), and the crash technology on show is so amazing and fun that you almost want to scupper your race to see it work again. You can get the demo for it here. Careful, it’s a big one. It’s the whole game, but with a timer attached. You can play it for 30 minutes for free, but your data is saved and you can pick off where you left. Go cause some chaos.