Scientists have proven that some parts of the human brain develop more quickly than others. The parts that desire action and emotional exhilaration start revving their engines first. On the other hand, the reasoning center of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) is actually the last bit to fully mature and usually doesn’t get really purring until you hit the ripe old age of 25.
That’s why you’ll find so many YouTube videos of teens leaping off roof tops and skateboarding down mountainsides without a care for what’s going to happen when they actually prove Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation. That could also be one reason why so many teens, and adults longing for those judgment-lite days, have made the Burnout series of video games so popular.
Burnout Paradise is the latest rendition of Electronic Arts’ race-smash-and-crash title. Like its predecessors, it leads the arcade racing pack with its realistic sense of visceral, white-knuckle speed and unrealistic, over-the-top multi-car demolitions. And that’s really the heart and soul of this speedster franchise—blazing down city streets, smashing through billboards and fences, careening over massive jumps and making your way across the finish line, while leaving your competition in crumpled sheet metal heaps behind you.
The biggest difference in this version is that the Paradise City of the title is an open world setting that lets players go where they will. It offers 250 miles of highway to burn rubber on—including four-lane expressways, beach-side tourist routes, concrete underground tunnels and gridlocked downtown avenues. It’ll take a while to upgrade your license, open special events and unlock your garage of cars, but right from the start races can be had at just about every corner.
Normal races are the most straightforward and entail simply starting at a given stoplight and making your way to another marked street corner. Knowing the city map, having a quick car and finding the best shortcuts are the keys here. (These marathons can also be the most frustrating part of the game when still learning your way around.)
From there things get pretty smashmouth in a real hurry. The Road Rage event is all about running your competition into the nearest guardrail or light pole and racking up a required Takedown tally before they return the favor or you run out of time. And then there’s Marked Man—where you’ve got a bull’s-eye on your bumper and must battle your way to the finish line before being totaled. Stunt Run is self-explanatory and has you jumping, barrel rolling, and spinning all over the place. Then, lastly, there are Burning Route events that are time trials designed for specific types of vehicles, and which reward successful drivers with new tricked-out rides.
Speaking of rides, the over 70 different cars fall into specific categories—either Stunt (good for jumps), Aggression (good for smashing) or Speed (good for, well, you know). These great-looking vehicles amount to renamed versions of everything from a classic Camaro to high-tech Ferraris to a trashed-out ’50 Ford pickup. Testing and mastering the strengths and weaknesses of each makes a world of difference when the rubber hits the road.
Flip, Bash, Burn
Another significant change from past Burnout incarnations is the elimination of what was called Crash mode—a challenge to speed-ramp-leap your car into a traffic-packed intersection or highway and create a massive roadway accident scene. It was the equivalent of shooting a 3,000 lb arrow into the air and seeing who gets hurt when it finds its mark.
It’s been replaced with something called Showtime, which has the same desire for mayhem with a touch more control. In this new mode players can start the demolition at any point in the city and earn speed boosts for each vehicle they flip and bash during their rolling “traffic accident.” Essentially, if played with the right mix of boosting, smashing and flipping, a gamer can cause a citywide disaster—and earn big bonus points.
And that’s where, in my humble opinion, Burnout Paradise tends to take a wrong turn. It’s not that the overwhelming speed and outrageous airborne dynamics don’t entertain, but the game’s crash-first-no-consequences-later mindset sends the fun down a dead end alley. Instead of encouraging skilled driving, it encourages skilled automotive destruction.
Now sure, that doesn’t mean that teens will be out Evel Knieveling their cars over a row of school buses after playing this title. But I have to admit that when I slipped behind the wheel of my little Toyota after rocking through Paradise City for a few hours, I was struggling with the desire to sneer at the guy at the first stoplight I came to.
And my prefrontal cortex has been firing on all cylinders for some time now.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.