This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee takes Burnout: Paradise for a spin.
People often ask me, "Yahtzee, you Herculean exemplar, you have so much to say about what makes a bad game, but what is your measure of a good game?" Well, actually, no one's ever asked me that; mostly they ask retarded questions like when am I going to review 20-year-old Nintendo games like everyone and their dog. But it's the kind of question I'd like to be asked, so I'm going to answer it. One of my measures of a good game is one that teaches me something. Burnout: Paradise, for example, teaches me that if Princess Diana honestly couldn't survive a trivial little crash like that, then the girl must have been made out of wafers.
If there's one thing that makes me squirt liquid hate from every bodily orifice, it's street racers. Bunch of smirking, sideways-baseball-cap-wearing fuckscoffs, bobbing their heads in time with their hydraulics and extending random fingers like they're about to intrude upon somebody's pubic region. As a street racing game, Burnout: Paradise earns points right from the start for not featuring any of those gropecunts or, indeed, any human beings at all. The game takes place in a strange post-apocalyptic future where advanced sat-nav systems have resulted in a race of murderous sentient cars, and the only surviving human being is an insane DJ calling himself Atomica, who spends his nights running around setting up ramps everywhere and his days holed up in a radio station trying to talk the cars into destroying themselves so that he might one day reclaim society. That's the only explanation I can think of for the total absence of pedestrians, and why you never see any poorly-strapped-in children go hurtling through windscreens during one of the many, many, many high-speed crashes.
Burnout is a game that hates players with a passion. If it were a fascist dictator, it would build concentration camps for players, and what's more, he'd lay every brick personally with cement mixed from his own blood. That's how much he hates you. Every aspect of the gameplay is geared to ensure that you crash as often and as viscerally as possible. The streets twist and turn unexpectedly, the main camera angle has the back end of your car taking up most of your view like a mongoloid hippo, and the streets are densely populated with pupils of the local driving school for elderly sufferers of Alzheimer's disease. And when you do inevitably crash, Burnout's gloating satisfaction hangs thick in the air; slow-motion sets in, the colour washes out, and the action switches to the optimal camera angle to watch yourself pirouette through the air, as if to say, "Hey, everyone, come and see Captain Crashes-a-lot!" I do admit, however, that flying 500 yards upside down, while raining metallic-painted scrap metal is, to coin a phrase, totally fucking sweet, at least when you're not in a hurry to get somewhere. Unfortunately, this being a racing game, you generally are in a hurry to get somewhere, and there's nothing that causes more auto-cannibalistic frustration than colliding with a bollard at full speed ten yards from the finish line and having to watch yourself spinning on your roof for a few seconds while your opponents snatch first, second, and third place from under your mangled nose.
Burnout: Paradise's unique selling point is that it's an open world game, one of those games usually pitched with a sentence beginning, "Like Grand Theft Auto, but. . ." In this case, "Like Grand Theft Auto, but a hell of a lot more broken." The idea is that you can drive freely about the city as much as you like, and when you start a race, all you're given is a finishing point, allowing you to choose your own route. Fine in theory, but theories are treacherous things that can at any moment disintegrate like a biscuit raft. And the major flaw with this one is that you have to keep looking at your mini-map to make sure you're on the right course. My driving instructor used to give me enough stick for taking my eyes off the road at 30 miles an hour, and here's you hurtling through the streets at Mach 10, with any number of crash hazards closing in on your distracted arse.
My point is that the reason why racing games traditionally feature closed-circuit tracks is that the fun in a street racing game comes from driving really fast and breaking things. That's a winning formula, then you throw map-reading skills into it, and it's the metaphorical shot of Bailey's, overpowering all the other flavours. I keep having to pause the game in the middle of high-speed chases to bring up the map, which, like a menstruating woman falling off a tall building, breaks flow. An open world racing game could work; Carmageddon did something like that, and it was pretty fun, in a late '90s kind of way. Maybe that's because there were lots of old ladies around to help relieve the frustrations, or perhaps because it didn't take control from you every shit-gargling time you ran into a wall to let the physics programmer dance on your grave for 20 interruptive seconds.
There are more things I can get pissy about, like the lack of local multiplayer, or how the single-player gameplay basically involves grinding the same races about 100 shitting times, but you have to judge Paradise by different standards. This isn't a game intended to be played all weekend; this is a game that you play for maybe an hour or so, to psych yourself up for playing a killer rock guitar solo or punching out an angry bear. Yes, this is a game for cool people who like fast cars, and don't have time to play games because of all the sex they have. And if all you can do is sit there gabbing off about the design and gameflow, then you've probably missed the smirking, sideways-baseball-cap-wearing point.
- Still hasn't passed his driving test: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Yes I know there's a first person camera as well but that doesn't solve the issue of getting blinded by high definition lighting effects
- Homework for next week: list all the songs that have appeared in both a Burnout and a Guitar Hero game