In Pursuit of Paradise, aka B:P vs. NFS:HP /wrist -fest
Oh God, the acronyms. Annnnyway:
Burnout: Paradise. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. These two games are placed in a rather interesting situation. They have both been developed by Criterion (which is a somewhat known name as far as racing game developers go), both published by EA – so there’s no real factor of publisher interference differences -, and both are swinging more towards the arcadey fun side of racing games, and not true hardcore ultra-realistic super-simulations. They have been released not long from each other – it would seem that Hot Pursuit was, in fact, developed right after Burnout: Paradise, so in terms of technical competence, graphics, audio quality and control mechanics, they are pretty close. What we have here is, in short, a perfect situation for two different-franchise (Need for Speed / Burnout) games to be nigh-identical. Well, I’ve just played them both quite a bit, so let’s see if they really are the same or not, eh?
Core ideas and concepts
Burnout: Paradise is, in essence, all about aggressive fast-paced nitrous-fuelled destruction derby racing. All events take place in a fictional, locked-off urban area (called Paradise City) that emits a very strong vintage 80’s vibe. The players are able to choose from multiple available events which are various riffs on cars going fast, and earn upgrades, new cars, more difficult ranks by winning said events. The racing is pretty destructive, a crashed car does not mean a game-over, and the AI seems to be somewhat rubber-banded but entirely possible to gain a huge advantage over as well as lose to.
In contrast, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is all about aggressive fast-paced nitrous-fuelled stick-to-the-lines routine repetition racing. All events take place in a fictional, locked-off country-side area (called Seacrest County) that shows off a perfectly generic and mediocre nonspecific “could be anywhere in the US” feeling, mostly thanks to the mild climate and very wide, very straight highway-type roads. All events and progression routes are split in two parts – cops and racers – and players can pick and play whatever events they have lined up next in those two factions as they choose (mix and match, or pure going for one side). By winning events, players earn points that unlock cars, ranks and more (harder) events. The racing can be somewhat destructive, but is discouraged unless a game mode requires it, the AI is extremely rubber-banding in the ‘stick just slightly ahead of you no matter what’ position, but it is possible to gain advantage over it if you are able to do pixel-perfect sticking-to-the-optimum-lines driving.
Criterion has stated that the world size for Hot Pursuit would be four times as large as Paradise’s.. After playing the two games, I can honestly say “lolwut?”. Let’s compare the two maps right here –
As you can see, Burnout: Paradise’s map contains both long stretches of road as well as short tight-knitted city streets, with plenty of intersections, potential alternate routes and overall variety. Moreover, what’s not really visible there are the hundreds of shortcuts that cut corners, provide alternate paths above/below/to the side of actual roads, leading to things like specific collectibles, or jump & flip ramps. There are a bunch of completely separate areas (for example, a docked aircraft carrier, or an open quarry, or an abandoned 0-track old-style race circuit with banked sides) that aren’t part of races, but are just available at any time for just messing about – just fragments of the world. Race events that utilize the map well are fairly frequent, and some will task you to drive from basically one side to the other as well. And at all races, you can go any route you want; there’s no “path lock” or gatewalling – everything’s truly open to the player. At frequent places there are event drive-through fuel stations (that fill up the boost meter), repair shops (that fix any damage to the car) or spray-shops (obvious). All of them can be used during a race event.
Seacrest Country, on the other hand, is the perfect poster child for long curvy highways and nothing else. All those pictogram icons in the map? They are fluff, clutter, with no purpose or gameplay effect. Taking every set-dressing out, there are only highways with overall intersections that can be counted up by a three-year-old, there’s no potential for alternate paths (in fact, all events are actually locked to a singular path that you simply must take, the concept of alternate routes is completely alien to this game). There are still shortcuts, but they manifest themselves as merely dirt paths that shorten some corners and nothing else – no ramps, no jumps, no particularly impressive elevation changes, no hidden stuff. It may well be that in terms of ingame miles/kilometers, Seacrest County is the larger of the two. But so what? It has way less variety, the roads all feel undistinguishable from one another, and are dominated by long wide straight-ish stretches of bland. Even if they are longer, they don’t feel longer, as there is nothing on them or over them or next to them that would give the sense of speed back. As far as race lengths go – well, perhaps the end-game races are across the entire map. I have yet to see such events being offered, for what it is worth.
Car handling, Penalty mechanics, Consumables
As for the mechanical aspects of these games.. well, I’d like to say they are similar, but they really aren’t once we get down to the important detail level. Let’s talk car handling – keeping in mind that both of these games are decidedly arcade-like and have the exact same driving controls.
Paradise’s cars are light and fast movers. Yeah, they have inertia and mass, they can go out of control and drift, but overall they will obey your control commands and feel nimble enough. Hot Pursuit.. well, it doesn’t really have cars, it has canal boats. They feel like utter boulders, and steering is something that’s only hinted at – any sort of turn literally requires the car to be thrown in a “drift”, and even then it’s such a wide curve that you don’t feel like driving anything, you feel like piloting a ship. Even Shift 2 Unleashed – a more recent, more ‘sim-like’ EA NFS game – does not have such uncooperative handling.
Boost – nitrous – in Hot Pursuit is rather underwhelming. It is generated by driving on the wrong side of the road (pretty irrelevant, as non-racing traffic is really scarce), taking shortcuts and going fast. When spent, it increases the car’s active speed and acceleration for a bit. It does not feel like a big gain, and the competition is using it fairly frequently, making the whole thing just a non-special additional thing you need to use to even hope to win. The real problem is that this boost seems to be nullified by the horrible rubber banding in effect. Competing cars with less acceleration, lower top speed and not boosting can frequently overtake you – just zip past like on steroids, on straights, out of a curve – anywhere, really – even if you know you have a superior vehicle and a not-bad trajectory.
In Paradise, boost works in three ways, as all cars are split into three categories – Aggression, Stunt and Race (despite the names, you can take any car into any event, by the way, with rather good results). Aggression cars generate their boost by crashing into stuff – other cars, level geometry, even taking damage gains some boost. As long as the car isn’t “wasted” (crashed so much it cannot drive – if this happens in either game, the car is reset on the road just like that, no penalties short of the time wasted while crashing, by the way), the maximum amount of boost stacks up and up, gaining up to three extra ‘lengths’ of reserve. Stunt type cars generate their boost by, well, doing stunts. Air time, air flips, special and regular jumps, those are the keys to regenerating boost. The overall capacity is fairly large – about two lengths of aggression cars’ capacity. Race cars have the smallest amount of boost (but they also benefit from using it the most), and it is generated by driving on the wrong side (which really can be dangerous, as – especially on city sections – there can be a lot of traffic) and driving fast and narrowly avoiding crashes. The kicker being, these cars can chain non-stop boosts (also called “burnouts”) – with some skill, a race car can drive in boost mode for the entire race.
Car collisions are also two different beasts. They are hardly there in Hot Pursuit – due to the high mass/inertia of vehicles, there is no purpose whatsoever in sidelining a competitor’s vehicle, or bumping in its back, or trying to wreck it. The only time you even can do any kind of damage to an npc racer is during specific events that explicitly require you to “wreck a target car” or “outrun cops” (in which case the cop cars are also designated as targets for wrecking) – then they have multiple times reduced health/durability and are wrecked.. somehow – possibly based on the number of times the target is bumped into. The point being, there is no genuine-feeling feedback to enemy-bumping. Yeah, you can crash your car. Yeah, you can slowly push an npc car into an immobile part of level geometry to make it crash (even if such parts are extremely scarce to begin with). But at all times, the effort and time to do that is literally wasted, as simply trying to race better-faster-more cleanly, you’d gain a larger advantage. Moreover, a true crash generally means that you’ll be so far left behind (especially thanks to the rubberbanding focal point being in front of you as opposed to you, seemingly) that it’ll be faster to restart the race. The game actively discourages the player from taking any risks. In opposition, Burnout: Paradise embraces and revels in mutual car destruction. Takedowns, bumps, crashes, they are all staple core parts of this game’s driving. About 1/3rd of all cars actually generate their boost (aka nitrous, I guess) by crashing & damaging opponents, random cars, themselves, and collapsible level clutter. Whole event modes are created about the concept of taking down as many other cars before they take you down too much, or by avoiding being taken down until you reach the finish, and so on. And there is no magical difference in crashing mechanics – whether an event involves them or not, whether you are driving an “aggression” or a “race” car, the damage mechanics are identical and solid.
Event types and availability
Both games have a bunch of different event types that, of course, are all tied to driving fast, more or less. Both games have your standard time-trial runs; in Paradise, they are specific for each individual car you unlock, and in Hot Pursuit… they are just ‘clean’ time trials, where crashing/bumping adds time penalties. There is the standard race event, where the player competes with opposing cars to comes 1st across the finish line. Credit to Hot Pursuit, it actually does give rewards for merely finishing, and for coming 2nd or 3rd as well – Paradise seems only to care for the absolute 1st -place winner only. There is a crash-oriented event, in which the player has to destroy a specific number of other racing cars while going fast across a lane. In Hot Pursuit, this is limited to a “track” and 3-5 cars-to-be-totalled. In Paradise, this event is time-limited (and each crashed car adds extra time), happens across the entire world, AI-driven racer cars are always around you so there’s never a lack of stuff happening (and they are taking out each other as well, not just all piling on you or just running away from you), and involves the total needed cars-crashed count to be well above 10 and even 20 for end-game runs. In general terms, that’s about it for Hot Pursuit – some variations of the same events include consumable items (single car disabler, a deployable road block or spike strip). Paradise offers two more event types – a trick-making event where you are evaluated on how many jumps/flips/boosts are performed before a timer runs out (ofc including trick-chaining combos and multipliers), and an event where you need to reach the destination whilst being harassed by competitors – if they manage to wreck your car enough before you get to the finish line, they win. On the whole, I’d say that Hot Pursuit does not offer enough variety in terms of its events, and they are mechanically too different from one another to form a cohesive experience altogether. What makes sense in one event is actively avoided in another, and the consistency of the same action having the same effect is just not there either.
There is also a crucial difference in how the events are offered. In Burnout: Paradise, it is an open world in which you just drive along. You pick events by simply stopping at intersections (each intersection – literally, every single intersection!) has an event associated with it, so if you want to do a pure race, you just find the nearest intersection with a race icon on minimap, drive there, and start the event. If the event if failed or won, there is no reset-to-startline or anything like that, you just keep on driving and choosing what to do next. Hot Pursuit, however, does not allow players to just drive. All event selection takes place from an overworld map, and during the events the player is locked to a small subset “track” part of it. There’s no permanence and no sense of continuity – and for all its worth, the game could literally have had a bunch of completely unrelated separate tracks; the concept of placing it all in one connected area is utterly wasted.
Upgrading and ranks
Once again, both games offer a mechanic for player progression. All the best cars, all the hardest challenges are locked away from the start, and gradually opened up as the games progress and the player improves their skills (presumably, at least). Things are fairly standard as far as Burnout: Paradise goes, at least – there is a single progression line in terms of “rank” – masqueraded as different level driving licenses (from D to A and then two special-er levels). Each rank requires more and more event victories to unlock, and after unlocking each rank, the events across the world are re-seeded (obviously being more challenging) and the amount of general street traffic increases.
The cars themselves are mostly detached from the ranks themselves, and are unlocked purely on the amount of total event victories. Once a certain number of those is met, a car is spawned somewhere in the game world (and, I suspect, tasked to eventually drive past the player to get their attention), and if the player manages to crash that car, it is added to the junkyards (which really are player vehicle garages). Fairly simple and linear, then, and all based entirely on the amount of wins.
Hot Pursuit, however, has a more involved experience-point system (called “bounty” in the game itself); these points are awarded by several things – podium finishes in events, using shortcuts, driving at maximum speed, overtaking the competition, smashing a lot – in general, points are awarded for not only winning, but for driving as well. This idea was presented in a far more polished and better-integrated form in Shift 2: Unleashed, in my experience, where the rewards felt better balanced and seemed more justified, in par with the more involved and challenging pseudo-sim-like control mechanics and adaptive AI opposition that didn’t rubberband so obviously. As these points stack up, ranks are unlocked and new cars are available for selection for events. A somewhat strange thing is that the cars are not actually linear improvements in performance – even in aspects – as they are unlocked. It is common enough to see a near-beginner unlock car being far better than a supposedly more expensive unlock further down the line. I am not sure if it was intended, or if it is a consequence of the game using licensed car models with seemingly licensed real-world price tags that are just equated to bounty points… Or maybe just because the cars are not different enough themselves (a lot of them feel very very similar, and frankly with the amount of rubberbanding the AI does it is exactly 0 difference, in practice, whether a car’s top speed is alleged to be 256km/h or 249km/h), who knows.
The largest factor in Hot Pursuit is, of course, the concept of splitting everything into the two sides – cops and racers. This is reflected in the entire progression system – each side has its own line of ranks, events and unlocks which do not seem to coincide or cross together at all. From some angles, this could be said to be a good thing, as it allows those players more accustomed to pure skill racing to take one path and those wanting more destruction to take another. The thing is, though, while the racer event line is more or less about racing in various forms, the cop line – which really should be about stopping the racers via a gratuitous overuse of carnage and destruction – also is infested with pure, ‘clean’ time-trial races masked as “response time challenges” or somesuch. I feel that it would have been almost better to just include some pseudo-nonsense plot, as in any Need for Speed game post it’s heyday (essentially right before the deplorable Fast and Furious movies got their teeth into the franchise), to allow a single progression line access to both side’s events, to allow players to pick and choose which they really like instead of having to do them all.
A final aspect of the unlock system that I want to mention are the cinematics that play at the actual unlocks. This really seems like the developer’s preference, as these are present in both their works. They are, essentially, played every time something is unlocked, or a new rank is obtained, and they really do take way too long for what they offer. In Paradise, the most annoying has got to be the animation played in junkyards (player garages) – when selecting cars on offer, every time scrolling past a car an animation of it being dropped to the ground is played. Scrolling from one end of a longer list to another is really slow because of this, as you cannot actually select a car until it is dropped – until all the animations have cycled to their end. In Hot Pursuit, the most annoying aspects are the presentations of the unlock notification messages – especially for the police side. They are rather ugly (fat and large and sloooow) and convey very little useful information, most of the time spent on these is literal filler. And since they repeat as often as two-three times per a good race, they really can get on one’s nerves very quick. There’s no pointing out either of these games as the worst offender, as – like I mentioned – they both have these issues at pretty equal amounts.
Music and Style and Focus
The ambience and tone of Burnout: Paradise is, I trust, fairly obvious from the pictures alone. A sunny, bloomy, slightly gritty and blurred world of fast cars, big jumps and kickin’ rad roll-ish rock-infused vibe, with “Paradise City” by Guns N’Roses serving both as the game’s theme song as well as the first tone-setting track that plays every time you start the game. The rest of the soundtrack is filled with previous Burnout game songs, about 20 tracks of classical music because why not, and sparkly rich guitar-loving detail-infused rock (and admittedly a scant scattering of pop) songs ranging from both obscure artists up to classics like “Would?” (Alice in Chains) and “I Wanna Rock” (Twisted Sister). Even the menu is done in a faded, rounded postcard-lookalike style that just can’t help but evoke a ‘vintage’ feel to it. This is reflected in the cars themselves as well – using funky names like Annihilator and such, being decorated with outlandish paintjobs of flames and graffitti in some cases, and ranging from contemporary cars up to 70s-style muscle cars and more, with thick tires and true hard-structured metalwork body shading. One can’t help but feel like the game is all about enjoying the fun of the moment, the thrill of CrazeeSpeed™ and the spectacle of metal-twisting collisions and crashes. It knows what is awesome about it all and does not allow the player to get bogged down and drawn into the tediously finicky details of precision cornering and perfectly non-contact runs. It is much like a happy sow, content in wallowing in its arcadey-ness, even smug about the fact that what it offers is a fast, accessible, spectacularly fun ride of the drop-in, drop-out variety.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, on the other hand, is all about the edge and hardcore and modern and shock your socks off with gritty authentic realism. This is evident from the opening title screen’s soundbyte and seizure-inducing police light flashes across the game’s logo to the austere floating-icon digital-feeling menus. Fair enough, it is a videogame after all, so digital does make sense, but it also sets the expectations on what the game will try to deliver. As far as music and sounds go, there is again a lot of focus on deep-hitting ‘hip songs them youngsters play, right?‘ – lots of hip hop, club and dance remix type stuff, or anything with a fast and strong beat and no meaning or detail. The cars on display are, of course, authentic representations (modelwise) of real-world car models, along with the appropriate badges, model names, descriptions that sound like genuine sales pitches, a quoted real-world price in $, and basic stats like max speed & acceleration that seem to be pulled right from the manufacturer’s handbook. All the cars are super-modern (for 2010, at least) latest releases with shiney plastic bodies (the game even manages to get the plasticky gloss to come across during the races), big rims and thin tires. This game is almost out there to intimidate the player, it seems, not to entertain them, and any mechanic that could lead to fun/spectacular moments – crashes, airtime, flips and so on – is made impossible or carry such a large penalty that it’s better to put on your nerdglasses, grip a Logitech Uberpr0 1337 Edition racing wheel and redo the same thing hundreds of times in a battle for milliseconds. Well, no, the keyboard controls are perfectly fine, but it just feels like the game is trying to cater, in it’s style, to ‘hardcore racers’ far too much.
Looking back at both of these games.. Well, they are similar and yet they so very much aren’t. Sure, they share the same game genre and type, they appeal to a similar audience, and contain much the same structural elements, but what really sets the two apart is the direction of deviation from the centre. Burnout: Paradise is very much like taking a rose-tinted look at past decades, including only the cool and fun bits, wrapping them into a nostalgic presentation that’s bound to cause a few smiles. NFS: Hot Pursuit is practically the opposite – so far on the cutting edge of the hardest, fastest, hippest, hardcorerest, that it almost seems like it fell off the cliff. One of these games is not afraid to let the players have fun, to let them screw up and yet make a comeback and yet win, because it’s awesome. The other is almost dictatorial in it’s dispensation of spectacular events, always holding the players back via a string made of fear and punishment – fear of a crash, of having to repeat the same race again, and punishment of dropping players into an unwinnable situation if they so much as make one major screwup. It’s not even about the difficulty of the games, it’s about the way they both approach success, failure, and what they seek to achieve. Boiled down to it’s most basic terms, here’s what the gameplay of Burnout: Paradise is like: AWW YEAH BOOM AHAHAHA WOWCRAP OOOH HELLYEAH. And here’s NFS: Hot Pursuit: ANNNNND GO!… going…going.. slight curve…. wrong trajectory, falling back… going… boost, overtake… turn.. drift parabola too wide, overtaken by all… RESTART and try for a better beginning.. repeat.. screw this I’m not having fun.
And that’s it, right there on the plain. I was not having fun with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. With Burnout: Paradise, I was.
~X2-Eliah wonders just how much of this ruin was caused simply by the Need for Speed badge.
EDIT: Originally, seems I used a Burnout: Paradise map of a pre-alpha mockup. Apologies, image now corrected to show actual in-game accurate stuff.