I don't like racing games. They bore me, whether they're on the table or on the television. There are exceptions-- Daytona 500's system is very clever, and Project Gotham Racing's kudos system, focusing on jumps, drifts, and tricks, gave me a really fun way to avoid the whole "racing" angle. "Serious" or "pure" racing games, like the Forza series or even Formula De, leave me cold. So I wasn't expecting to have any interest in Burnout Paradise, a driving game on the 360. Even after friends bought the game and told me how awesome it was, I remained unmoved. I tried the demo, but wasn't sold.
Then we started using Burnout Paradise as a demo for Project Natal, and I played quite a bit of it as we tuned the experience. I was surprised by how much fun I was having, even when we switched Natal off and I used a controller. Eventually I took home the team's copy, and I've been hooked ever since.
It's a brilliant piece of game design. Instead of a series of racing circuits, Burnout Paradise drops you into Paradise City and its environs, a sprawling network of highways, dirt roads, railroad tracks, city streets, and back alleys that you're free to drive through however you like. Sprinkled-- no, poured-- throughout the map are various flavors of collectibles: billboards to break, fences to drive through, and jumps to land. You could spend dozens of hours just finding all of them, and in many cases figuring out how to actually collect them. And collecting them feels good. Flying off a ramp and through a billboard is yee-ha thrilling thanks to the game's breezy controls and forgiving driving model.
If you want some more structure, just pull up to a traffic light. Every single one in the game hosts an event you can opt into. They come in a few different flavors-- straightforward races, Marked Man races where you need to reach a destination before enemy cars run you off the road, Stunt Runs, and timed runs. My favorite is Road Rage, where there is no destination, merely a goal-- run the required number of cars off the road before they do the same to you. There are records for the fastest time on each stretch of road, and Showtime mode lets you set up absurd chains of point-gathering crashes anywhere, anytime.
Crashes in Burnout, whether your own or your victims', are spectacular affairs rendered in slow motion so you can appreciate every shard of twisted, broken metal. Cars fly through the air, tumble end over end, and shatter in viscerally satisfying ferrotechnic displays.
As you complete events, new car models get released into the city. If you take them down (run them off the road), you gain possession of them and can drive them yourself. As you play deeper into the game, the cars become faster, stronger, and more performant. The game keeps rewarding you and dangling more carrots in front of you.
Burnout Paradise is bursting with cool places to drive, whether it's over the top of a railroad trestle, around the bowl of a rock quarry, careening through hidden tunnels or jumping over the dam. You can complete events to collect cars, or you can drive at your own pace to find all the fences and billboards. You can beat the fastest times on every road in Paradise. You can perform other fun tricks for achievements.
And then... you can go online.
Last night I played multiplayer for the first time with 3 friends, and we spent hours playing through a bunch of 4-player challenges. The game offers 500 challenges for 2-8 players, ranging from "everyone meet up at the wind farm" to "collectively drive against the flow of traffic for 10000 yards at the same time" to "collide in mid-air at the drawbridge". Tackling those challenges cooperatively was a blast. If one of you is forced off the road by another player, the camera takes your picture and sends it to the driver that beat you-- a great opportunity for funny moments. There was a lot of laughter. If the other players in the group hadn't had more willpower than I and signed off in favor of sleeping, I'd have played through the night.
Burnout makes getting into a multiplayer game super-easy. You don't need to use the klunky default 360 invitation system-- instead, they built a custom interface directly into the game that lets you invite friends without plucking you out of the driving experience. Every element of the game has been polished to a glistening shine.
A sequel is inevitable, and I'll be lining up to play it.