As a veteran of the Burnout series, it was inevitable that I should be drawn to this game. Next-gen car crashery? Yes please. So, after having forked my hard-earned cash over to the gurning, undercut-sporting cashier at my local Gamestation, I eagerly placed the game into my 360, and readied myself for fun times ahead.
Unfortunately, right off the bat, I was hit with a sucker punch of disappointment. A sandbox, free-roaming world is all very well if you’re an action game or an RPG, but an arcade racer? Having the whole of the titular city known as Paradise open from the start seemed like a very bad move. The world was huge, too huge, and mixed with the lack of direction, a very daunting prospect indeed. Despite these forebodings, I soldiered on, and dove into my first race. This did nothing to help my negativity about the game, as it dawned on me that every single race was point-to-point. Not a single defined track in the game, forcing you to keep one eye on your compass, one on the road, one on the minimap, and one on the “handy” street indicator. The sheer effort of taking all this in was giving me a headache (and separating my eyeballs), and my funometer was dropping like a stone. Ho hum, I thought, all shine and no gameplay, the curse of the next-gen leap.
Shine, now that it certainly did have in spades. The cars are gloriously detailed, with each scrape and bump scratching paintwork, denting panels, and sending little chunks of bodywork flying onto the asphalt. In this area, the first impression was nothing short of astounding. And in that, I came to realise that maybe it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I had to give the game credit when I had my first major crash, with the world slowing down, the camera zoomed in on the area of impact, watching the chassis crumple and various pieces of my car gain independence. After the initial impact, the game relinquished its grip on time, and my car sailed away, smashing and rolling with satisfying and visceral crunching noises.
Spurned on by this, I tried a few Road Rage events, a particular mode where the object of the event is simply to cause as many of your opponents to crash as you feasibly can during the time limit, or before your own car is reduced to an inert pile of scrap metal. Through this, I started to get the hang of controlling the cars, and before long, traversing the game world stopped being a chore and became a joy. The world is chocked full of jumps to make and objects to smash, and I found more and more that there was a simple pleasure to be found just driving around looking for these. The insanity of the Race mode suddenly made sense to me. The point wasn’t to be easy and clearly mapped out, like all the other racing games. The game wanted you to hold onto a race by the skin of your teeth, flicking to the map to check your route before returning to the action to drive an opponent into a central reservation or oncoming bus. The tedium was gone, replaced with a monster adrenalin rush and the massive satisfaction of winning a particularly difficult race.
And then, of course, there is the Showtime mode. In previous Burnout games, the Crash mode has offered various junctions at which you were called to cause as much destruction as possible. Here, every single street in Paradise City is a potential crash junction. By pressing both the bumpers, your car is suddenly spun out of control, and you are offered a score to beat for the street you are travelling down. The way to do so is to smash your beaten husk of a vehicle into any traffic that gets in your way, netting you points equivalent to the value of the vehicle. Each one you destroy also fills your boost bar, which enables you to bounce along the road like a skipping stone with a tap of the A button every time you hit the ground. The whole thing is completely mindless, and in its own way, utterly brilliant.
So what’s the deal, you might ask. Do I hate this game or love it? Well, I won’t deny that it was very difficult to get into, especially after the rigourously structured affairs of the previous games. However, once you play the game for a little while, you begin to realise that those things you hated at first are what makes the game so fantastic. The game world is a joy to traverse, even when called to travel to a race on the other side of the city. I particularly like cruising around the mountainous area, rife with wide sweeping bends just asking for a good drifting. The point-to-point nature of the races, while seemingly unimaginative at first, allows for some real edge-of-your-seat moments, and some utterly glorious triumphs. Nobody can deny the thrill of lagging at the back of the pack at one minute, only to swerve off the beaten track, careen over the side of a cliff, and soar majestically over your opponents traversing the s-bend below, grinning like a lunatic and snatching first place only seconds before hurtling over the finish line, exhausts blazing with nitrous fire, and chips of paint streaming from the bodywork. The stunning visuals and the attention to detail, especially in the way that each car handles distinctly differently to every other, just make the experience all the better. It’s a bastard to get used to, but the rewards for persevering are well worth it.