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Why Burnout Paradise is one of the greatest games ever made

For the past 30 years most racing games told us exactly where to go. They’d draw a line down a street and connect it to make a circle, putting some ribbons at the end to let us know we won. They would block off side roads with invisible walls and force us along predetermined paths, warning us when we drove the wrong way and punishing us for going off-road. While some would occasionally throw us a bone with an alternate path or a secret, these, too, were pre-planned, making the racing genre home to the fastest, most exciting on-rails games around. And then Burnout Paradise came along, and, for lack of a better turn of phrase, went off the rails. 

It didn’t need to, either. Burnout 3: Takedown set a new standard for the arcade-racing genre, and Burnout Revenge upped the ante yet again with new features and improved visuals. That method of racing had all but been perfected, and Criterion was well within its rights to do what most other developers would have done, and run the series into the ground with yearly iterative sequels, each adding better versions of the crash-fueled mayhem. But, instead, it opted to innovate, making a game that, while divisive among fans of the series, is one of the greatest games of all time

See the game in action to find out why we love it so much

Though it wasn’t the first game to attempt open-world racing, it was far and away the best. Many things made this possible, but the largest contributor was likely Paradise City itself, the titular location of the racer (and title to the song that played during the game’s menus). Paradise City was, as the name suggests, a racing utopia, built from the ground up to be torn through at high speeds.

The roads are carved perfectly for a near-infinite number of tracks and the streets are filled with cars to smash into at high speeds. Any given race would allow you a starting spot and ending point, and allow you to choose your own path--and though there are obviously better ways to drive than others, the liberty to go anywhere is freeing. The roads and paths were subtly constructed in a way that any failure simply opened up a new opportunity, with all roads, in one way or another, leading to the ending as long as you were looking for it. We didn’t realize it at first, but the world was built in such a way where we’d slowly map the city inside of our heads as we went from event to event, noting the locations of lighthouses, buildings, and neighborhoods, just as we do in the real world.

But, as is the case with other games in the Burnout series, racing is only one cog in the machine. All of the other elements that the series is known for, from the big crashes to the incredible stunts, were spread and strewn around Paradise City, mixed into the environment in a naturally, enjoyable way.

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17 comments

  • awesomesauce - October 30, 2012 4:36 p.m.

    Is there still online for this game, and do people still play it cause i'll consider buying since it is the newest edition of the series.
  • JarkayColt - October 12, 2012 10:18 a.m.

    I thought this game was (and still is) incredible. I never did like older racing games that funneled you down certain streets despite there seemingly being other available, yet blockaded, roads. Paradise just felt so refreshing because everybody would take their own path to the line, be it the safe main roads or some covoluted off-the-beaten-track super ramp that catapulted you into first yet could go catastrophically wrong. And that was the thing, it was exciting, just taking different paths and seeing what happened. And if you screwed up, it wasn't infuriating at all, because you got to see some stupid-crazy carnage for your trouble. I also thought the billboards were quite inventive too; they weren't just simple collectibles, they were telling you "hey, come jump of this unfinished roadway, trust me it's fine". Finding all the boards/gates/ramps really opened your eyes to some amazing stunt locations or shortcuts, and the hidden locations like the airfield and the quarry were like every aspiring barrel-roller's utopia!
  • zombi3grim - October 11, 2012 9:07 p.m.

    This game didnt really do it for me. I never asked for an open world in my racing games. I play racing games to race and crash. Not to explore. Racing is a very restrictive act, you have a set line and a set track and you stick to it and see who is faster. Its very simple. Dont get me wrong, this game was fun. It just didnt feel like Burnout to me.
  • LEGOMatrix - October 11, 2012 6:05 p.m.

    Yeah, this may be my favourite racing game ever. The only thing I would add would be the OPTION to add the tradition neon chevron road blockers from previous Burnouts to routes you created in the online multiplayer, just so you could simulate that guided-by-the-walls experience. Cannot wait for Most Wanted!
  • Corsair89 - October 11, 2012 11:14 a.m.

    Paradise was fun, but Burnout 3 was amazing.
  • gazzc - October 11, 2012 10:30 a.m.

    I have memories of Burnout 3 being the most enjoyable of the series and the one that got played the most in my house by a long way. For reasons I can't quite remember, I never really liked paradise all that much.
  • morgartjr - October 11, 2012 8:40 a.m.

    Burnout peaked with Burnout 3. They havent made a game as good as that for awhile. Crash Mode, Team crash (without all of that Hit "red" to charge up BS), the races and tracks wre all awesome. I hoped Paradise would be as good, and in SOME ways it is...but still missing lots.
  • rickybadu - October 11, 2012 7:53 a.m.

    Funny story to tell; I bought this game on sale back in 2008. I was sort of looking forward to a similar experience such as 'revenge' which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found the whole open world system initially off putting as you don't get into the action immediately. I found the whole exploration element just taking too much time. With hindsight now, it was just a case of me being so damn impatient. So I stopped playing and left it to one side o gather dust for 6 months. Six months later, feeling bored I decided to give the game another try. Taking my time, I delved into the game. Slowly minutes turned to hours, race after race opened up more of the games hidden gems; the game engines versatility, the well paced progression system, the freedom with which you could chose many paths and the pure adrenaline rush u get as you race. All these and much more truly makes this game one of the all time greats. Still, it hasn't aged one bit! In fact the engine used is far superior to EA's much touted horse shite frost bite 2 (ffs, the game moves at a blistering 60fps with all the mayhem happening on screen)! The game is so damn good, I've played it from start to end about fucking 6 times and I still come back to it for a quickie! No other racing game has sucked up so much of my time than this. It makes it all the more regrettable that criterion is focusing it effort on working on the NFs series rather than start work on a new Burnout! Shame on them an EA!
  • code_r - October 11, 2012 5:26 a.m.

    The endless DJ talk killed it. Revenge was a vastly better game.
  • christian-shaffer - October 10, 2012 11:19 p.m.

    I personally liked Midnight Club 3 DUB Edition more. In my opinion, that was one of the greatest racing games ever.
  • Viron - October 10, 2012 10:36 p.m.

    Game was awesome
  • SanosukeEiji - October 10, 2012 9:10 p.m.

    liked Burnout 3 better
  • Z-man427 - October 10, 2012 6:03 p.m.

    This and Assassin's Creed were my first Xbox 360 games. They both hold special places in my gaming heart.
  • FunkyPickle - October 10, 2012 5:01 p.m.

    I still prefer the gameplay of Burnout 3, my favorite entry in the series.
  • Wizrai - October 10, 2012 4:40 p.m.

    Always loved this game, beated it over four times... Playing it once again with Sterling during the marathon just reminded me how much I adore this game!
  • jameseverett - October 10, 2012 4:26 p.m.

    I couldn't agree with this more! It was awesome, especially the amount of feature-adding updates and free DLC (as was some of the paid DLC, like the Back to the Future car)! In fact I think I shall start playing it again soon, because I haven't done so in ages...

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