Burning for You
There are racing games that are more realistic, some that are more futuristic, and some that are more hilarious -- but since it debuted in 2001, there's been no racing game that's more fun than the Burnout series. Combining tight controls, a serious sense of speed and spectacular crashes that would make Michael Bay jealous, this arcade driving series has been a favorite of action fans, driving enthusiasts and explosion fetishists alike. Of course, it's helped that over the course of six games the series hasn't strayed too far from what made it great to begin with and that it has only gone through evolutions, not revolutions. All that changes with the seventh installment, Burnout Paradise, which EA will release for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on Jan. 22. For the first time, the series will employ an open-world approach, eschewing menus, progression ladders and many of the things that are standard equipment on most racing games. While this left some longtime fans (present company included) feeling cautious instead of enthusiastic, according to Criterion Games' Nick Cannon, the game's senior producer, just playing the new game will calm any fan's fears.
Crispy Gamer: I think we can safely assume that everyone knows the Burnout games are racing games, but how is Paradise different from the others in the series?
Nick Cannon: With Burnout Paradise we wanted to create a truly next-gen experience. This means changing gaming conventions, and to do that, we have thrown everything away and started from scratch. Obviously, it's still Burnout, with its amazing sense of speed, aggressive racing, big drifts, etc., but now we've moved the game into an open world. There are no menus or loading screens in the game, as you do everything while you are playing your game. We never take you out of the game world, even for online. We hate sitting and wasting time in lobbies, so we've gotten rid of that step, and now you connect online while playing the game. It's that simple. There are still the classic Race and Road Rage modes, but we've added the all-new Marked Man and Stunt Run modes. Additionally, we've completely changed the crash mode -- it's now called Showtime, and you can crash anytime, anywhere in the game world. The whole point of Burnout Paradise is that you are free to do anything, anytime.
Crispy Gamer: Why did you guys feel like you needed to set it in an open world?
Cannon: Basically, it's something we've always wanted to do with Burnout; we just never had the power in the machines to be able to do it until now. Burnout has to run at 60 FPS, and to have all the great effects and visuals on PlayStation 2 and Xbox, we had to confine ourselves to the tube that is a track. Moving to an open world has allowed us to give the user complete and utter freedom, and that's what we feel next-gen gaming is all about.
Crispy Gamer: So how exactly do you play a racing game in an open-world setting?
Cannon: Well, the whole point is that it's completely up to you. Everything is open from the start and there are 120 events in the game. You can choose where you start and the mode in which you start.
Crispy Gamer: What kinds of races are included this time around?
Cannon: As I've already said, we have Race and Road Rage, along with two great new modes. There's Marked Man, which is all about surviving from Point A to Point B while menacing black cars try to take you down. The beauty of this mode is that by knowing where the shortcuts are you can avoid your enemies, as they tend to stick to the open roads. In Stunt Run, it's all about scoring the most points through jumps, spins and barrel rolls. The great thing about both of these modes is that your knowledge of the city will give you an advantage because knowing the nearest shortcuts or the routes with the biggest jumps is pivotal to your success.
Crispy Gamer: In the footage of the game I've seen, and all the demos I've played, I've only seen sports cars. Are there other kinds of vehicles in the game?
Cannon: There's a great variety of cars in the game. As you've seen, we have plenty of sports cars, as in all previous Burnout games. However, we've also included some of our favorites from the past such as the Gangster car and the Classic from Burnout 2. There are also pickups, SUVs and even a big van. This is definitely the most varied collection of cars we have ever had. In addition to this, there are three different classes of cars from which to choose: Aggression, Stunt and Speed cars. Choosing the right car for a particular event will give you the upper hand; it also really adds to the overall experience.
Crispy Gamer: Now how do the online and multiplayer modes work?
Cannon: Online is an incredibly important part of the game, and the first thing that we wanted to do with it was to make it easy to get online, as many people find it a daunting experience and just don't do it. As I said, we hate sitting in lobbies, so we've gotten rid of them. You can now connect online while playing your game. It's probably the first game where you might go online by mistake. The focus of the online experience is playing socially with your friends, as there are 350 co-operative challenges in the game. Obviously, you can still play with people all over the world, as you can connect with up to eight players online in Race and Showtime modes, but the default is your friends list.
Crispy Gamer: One thing you are doing online is something you're calling 'Mugshots,' which has the PS3 Eye camera or Xbox Live Vision take a picture of you when someone wipes you out. What inspired this?
Cannon: We think the cameras are really cool and no one is really taking advantage of the technology. As our online focus is playing with your friends, we felt that using the cameras really added to the social aspect of the game. If I take someone down, and they have a camera, we take their Mugshot, showing their face at the point of impact. We also have Smugshots for when you beat a Road Rule, and a Photo Finish, which is a picture taken of the winner of an online race. Finally, part of the single-player progression is to upgrade your Driver's License, and you can personalize this with a picture of yourself using the cameras.
Crispy Gamer: Now the last Burnout game you did, Dominator, actually went back to basics and didn't let you check other cars. Will Paradise?
Cannon: You can check cars in Burnout Paradise, but it depends on the car you are driving. Basically, traffic checking is dependent on the strength of the car you choose; the stronger cars allow you to check traffic.
Crispy Gamer: Did working on Dominator lead you to change anything about Paradise?
Cannon: As I've said, with Burnout Paradise we pretty much started from scratch. Our goal was to create a truly next-gen Burnout game, and we really feel like we've done that.
Crispy Gamer: By the way, since this open world is actually a town called Paradise City, should we expect to hear a certain rock tune in the game?
Cannon: Yes, we're really pleased to say that [Guns N' Roses'] 'Paradise City' will be part of the game.
Crispy Gamer: So bottom-line it for us: What kind of gamers are going to love Burnout Paradise?
Cannon: Any gamer that has played a previous Burnout game will love Burnout Paradise, but so will more casual gamers who want to get into racing games, as the open world allows you to play the game at your own pace. That's genuinely what we set out to achieve with the game.