Anyone who’s sunk considerable hours into 2008’s “Burnout Paradise,” like I have, should be looking forward to this game. First of all it’s made by the same people – Criterion Games. But why the “Need For Speed” title? Criterion so impressed with their Burnout series that EA, owner of the “Need For Speed brand,” bought them. Thus, it’s largely accepted that this is a spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise, but brought out under the NFS banner. Second, the game is a brand new city with brand new cars, but the same great mechanics, though with a few tweaks.
Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of this new iteration.
1. CRASH THAT AD
Billboards are back! And the charming ramps and hills that take you up, into and through them are as satisfying as ever. The one thing that really annoys me, however, is that every single billboard has another one of EA’s subsidiary companies’ logos on it. So it’s a litany of DICE, BioWare, etc. It really takes me out of the game. It might not be as bad as having actual real-world brands on them, but it’s certainly distracting. And I wouldn’t put it past them to sell actual advertising on them in the future, implemented with a patch.
2. JACK OFF
A welcome change is the so-called “jackspot.” Gone is the necessity to find a garage and surf through a clunky menu before you can switch cars – now, you are constantly seeing random cars idling around corners with their brand tag floating over them. You scoot on over, and when you are close enough, you press a button to “jack” it. It gives the game a nice feel, a little like switching dance partners, similar to the bodyswapping mechanic in the criminally overlooked “Driver: San Francisco” from last fall.
One casualty of their efforts to streamline the game is the loss of the hood cam. I recognize that this is a personal gripe, but the POVs offer only two options: third-person view or a bumper view with nothing in between.
4. I HATE YOUR MUSIC
Frankly, my feeling is that the music on the playlist is terrible, and the selection is too small. Also, there seems to be no way to import your own mp3s, which should be an option especially if you are on a PC. The third time you hear that remix of the CSI intro-music you will be sick of it.
5. JUST A BLUR
There are speed cameras all over the city, and when you blow past one, a subtle flash blinks the screen to tell you. This gives you points. It’s very charming. And the thing is: everything gives you points – bashing in gates, going through billboards, evading the cops. They’re basically experience points which you have to amass to “earn” the right to race one of the city’s “Most Wanted”, this cabal of a dozen notorious drivers you want to reach the top of. Obviously the story is as ridiculous as the gameplay is solid.
The sense of hurtling down a road is incredible. You start off with a rather wimpy car, but you quickly move up when you find your first jackspot. And with the right vehicle, you’ve got very fine control over it, even when you are nitrous-boosting down a country road, or swerving past slow movers on the freeway. Like its predecessor, the game is instant fun, and I anticipate many evenings when I’ve come home from the bar and just want to play a little mindless something before bed and this will be it.
7. WHAT’S THIS SHIT ALL OVER MY WINDOW?
On the edges of your screen, the heads-up display is always giving you updates on the things you just did, your nitro allotment, your speed, that sort of thing. It’s quite cluttered, and it’s too much, and there’s no customization in the settings menu to turn it off. It’s almost like bug splatter.
8. WRECKED BUT NEVER OUT
One of the best things about Burnout: Paradise was how forgiving it was. You could be totally wrecked, but still moving and functional. You were the car equivalent of Bruce Willis in Die hard. Wisely, this has not changed. And when you’re bruised and battered, the damage modelling is awesome.
9. WE’RE NOT IN THE MATRIX ANYMORE
One thing that has changed, however, are the prolonged, slo-mo crashes that was the signature of the Burnout series. It’s much quicker now, and slightly letterboxed, which kind of takes you out of the moment. Admittedly this gets you back on the road faster, but at the expense of the hilarious spectacle crashes used to be.
The game is pretty great, but some of the attempts to streamline are misguided. At the end of the day though, these are just bad cosmetic touches on a great chassis, with an incredible engine.
This is a great game whether you want to go in guns firing or stealthing like a ninja. Like the Batman games, I was initially skeptical, but have come 180 degrees. Dishonored has its clockwork claws deep in me and I am pushing them in deeper.
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.
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