Screaming Into The Abyss

Burnout: Need for Speed
By Ben Zvan
On December 15, 2007 at 08:45

I picked up the demo for Burnout Paradise yesterday. I'm not really sure what to think and how to compare it to the rest of the Burnout series, because there's no real comparison. My first impression is that they stripped out what made it Burnout in an attempt to appeal to a consumer that they never knew. Of course, I suppose I could have seen that coming.

Burnout 2: This was one of the first PS2 games I ever had. It was part of a gift package I received on my birthday several years ago when I never thought I'd be part of the console generation. When I was a kid, we never had a Nintendo or an Atari. My exposure to video games was first through text adventure games on the IBM PC (xyzzyx 4 ever!) then through the Apple ][ and on into the Macintosh. Anyway, Burnout 2 with it's impressive particle generators and ever-present bouncing tire was an addictive guilty-pleasure of a game. For me, racing mode was a method of unlocking more of the crash mode and, through that, became a compelling challenge of its own.

Crash mode found the player a short distance from a busy intersection sitting in a junker car. When the pleasant Japanese announcer said "Go!" you put the petal to the metal and slammed into the intersection, hoping to cause the most mayhem you could. Points were calculated by multiplying the cost of each insurance claim by the number of insurance claims. You could knock a bus off a cliff and cause it total and complete damage while earning fewer points than nudging the same bus into the middle of oncoming traffic. A simple but strangely complex formula drove your success or failure.

Racing mode had a few different challenges. Standard racing was what you'd expect. Beat the other cars across the finish line to earn a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal. 1 on 1 gave you the option of racing for pink slips and was one of two ways to unlock new cars. Pursuit mode turned you in to the cop who impounded your next ride if you were quick enough.

Burnout sucked and is barely worth mentioning. After the great enjoyment that Burnout 2 brought, I had to see the beginning of the franchise. I couldn't have been less impressed had this beginning also included Jar-jar Binks.

Burnout 3: Takedown: This one was an interesting change from Burnout 2. With the addition of not only adding the ability to sideswipe and "shunt" your opponents in the race they really improved the mechanics of that side of the game creating a host of new race types to choose from. Now you have additional options aside from being the fastest car on the track. You can crash the other guys to keep them from passing you or shove them into traffic to take their place in the pack. Crash mode suffered a little under this release however. The addition of "pick-ups" was a huge change from the complexity of simpleness that drove Burnout 2. The crashbreaker pickup that caused your car to explode was a nice touch and fun to hit when you're next to a pile of cars and a tanker truck The gameplay was still interesting but the subtlety was overrun by the need to find the 4x multiplier in order to get the top score. I find it ironic that this addition of a complex mechanic actually made the gameplay simpler and more predictable.

Burnout Revenge: Really an enhancement of the changes made in Burnout 3, I found this game to be compelling but it still lacked the charm of Burnout 2. The crashbreaker moved into race mode so you could, if you were taken out by your opponents, explode next to them for the titular revenge takedown. Race mode definitely benefited with the improvements over Burnout 3 and so did crash mode. In removing the pick-ups from crash mode but keeping the crashbreaker available after causing n number of crashes, they moved back toward the simplicity of the Burnout 2 crash mode. But they added a golf-game-style hit-the-button-at-the-top-and-bottom-of-the-thing-on-the-left mechanic that was only really fun when your friends didn't know about it and blew up their car at the starting line. Actually, that part was hysterical. They also added needless button mashing to invoke the crashbreaker that I'm certain caused many controllers to be replaced.

Burnout Paradise: Welcome to the world of open, non-linear gameplay where the player has free reign over a citywide environment and the ability to skip playing the game entirely and just drive around hitting jumps and wrecking their car.

Wait... Didn't I play this already? Wasn't it called Grand Theft Auto? Well, there aren't any pedestrians to run over here and you don't get to fly any helicopters or shoot anyone in the face with an RPG, but I really felt the need to look around for hidden packages. Okay, so no hidden packages, but like the Rockstar billboards in GTA, the Burnout billboards in paradise city are a target for bonuses. Removing the game menu is a common tool for creating a "more immersive game experience" these days and Burnout Paradise has certainly done that. If you want to go to a new race or other type of challenge, take a look at the street map and then drive there. Again, memories of GTA now with a twist of the more recent Tony Hawk games come to the surface.

For game types we now have trick mode which seems to be Tokyo Drift inspired. I haven't seen a race yet, but I'm sure they're in there. There's no evidence of the crashbreaker or even crash mode, but this is a demo after all. The one thing that Burnout 4 added that really appealed to me, the ability to rear-end traffic to cause a pile of mayhem behind you, has been made more realistic by causing you to wreck your car instead of creating a ballistic nightmare. Even handbreak drifting has been made more realistic. The lack of realism in the previous games had been fine-tuned seemingly for me and has completely disapeared in this release.

I remember playing a demo of Need for Speed, I think it was the "Underground" entry into the franchise, where the playing field was open and races happened whenever you challenged another driver on the street. I never got into Need for Speed, and I'm not sure I'll get into Paradise either. If it doesn't come to me as a gift, it's coming to me used.

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