Burnout Paradise

I bought Burnout Paradise the other day; for the Xbox and the 3, 6 and 0. I’d played it once or twice before – I’d been expecting the usual refinement and change of the Burnout series, but Paradise threw me for a loop. No Crash mode, no routes to learn, just a big city and a car? This isn’t Test Drive Unlimited! I WANT RACES.

Anyway, I thought I’d give it a proper go and so I bought it. The first ten minutes found me cursing the annoying smart ass DJ who kept interrupting me. I’ve still not stopped cursing him. Eventually, I realised the race markers on the map were appearing when I drove over an intersection. Then I realised the annoying DJ was actually telling me about what I could do, so I started to pay attention to him more and pray for his death less. So I paid attention.

It’s rare in these space-marine, testosterone-fuelled gaming days to realise you don’t have any clue as to what you’re doing in a game (I’ll pretend indie games don’t exist for the sake of my argument). One trigger does the accelerator, the other the brake. There’s a boost button and a handbrake button. Usually, that’s all you need to know. In Burnout Paradise, you need to know how to start an event (drive to a suitable intersection and pull both triggers). You need to know how to get to the online stuff (press right on the d-pad, navigate the menus and pick a suitable online option). You need how to get to the fucking Crash mode (erm, pass? I can switch on the Showtime mode, but it’s shite).

The game tries various methods to communicate these things to you. The previously mentioned DJ Atomica will pipe up with tips and things when relevant, while you drive. Sometimes it displays things specifically to show you exactly what to look for, or what you should be doing; this pauses the game temporarily. When you start an event, the game displays a map of the city and shows you the start and end points of the event. When this disappears, the game has moved you to the start line facing the way it wants you to face. All admirable attempts to educate the user.

Atomica is a whiny pain in the ass. Yes, his advice helps, but eventually his advice gets interspersed with adverts for the DLC, or pointless bullshit about how he saw a race once. Soon as I hear him now, I try to work out as quickly as possible whether what he is telling me is important or not. Which usually coincides with a corner (it’s a racing game, there’s lots of them). I’m all for the idea of presenting info to the player without intruding on their actions, but I’m against mixing the info with adverts you can’t skip or switch off altogether.

The displays of info are handled as they were in previous games – very quickly and concisely. When the game takes control of the car off you to display this, it gives you a slight grace period to get used to where it’s put you in the gameworld, and you can get by without detriment. This method is good when used infrequently, and Burnout uses it sparingly.

The display of the map at the start of a race or marked man event (or the text displays at the start of the other events) are quick too. They’re started by the player, so you’re not dragged out of what you’re doing – you need to be fairly stationary to start them anyway. The problem I have with them is that when the map goes away, the game has moved your car. You can be facing completely the opposite direction to where you were facing previously. The map doesn’t tell you which road you’re looking at until the event begins, so you’ll sometimes gun the engine down a road you weren’t wanting to go down, which loses you valuable race time at the very start of the race. Annoying as fuck when it happens.

To be honest, I’m impressed at the level of communication to the player. Their methods have their flaws, but Criterion does a good job of it here. And since it’s the first game I’ve played in a long time which confused the fuck out of me, I’m glad they bothered. Mixing adverts with player education is a bad thing though, cos you either waste time trying to work out whether something is one or the other, or you just switch the annoying DJ off altogether and wonder if you’re missing out on any more sage advice.

I still don’t know where the Crash mode is. Or where the Traffic Attacks are. Ah well, I’ve still got Burnout Revenge somewhere…

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