If you've got a Burnout itch that's badly in need of scratching, we've got some good news. Though the North American and European release dates for Burnout Paradise are still over a month away, on December 13 those of you with a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 will be afforded some temporary relief in the form of a demo that supports both solo and online play. We recently had an opportunity to spend several hours with the PS3 version of said demo, and we're pleased to report that it bodes well for the finished game.
The demo gets off the start line with a brief intro movie detailing some of the different areas and neighborhoods that make up Paradise City. Only three areas are available in the demo version: Motor City, Ocean View, and Big Surf Beach. Essentially you only get to drive on and around the city's eastern coastline, and while there's plenty of gameplay to be found there, we'd estimate that the demo area accounts for less than 10 percent of the map that you'll be able to explore early next year.
As you take the controls of your first car in Burnout Paradise--an old, beat-up "Hunter Cavalry" muscle car--you'll learn that in Paradise City you get your cars from the junkyard rather than from a showroom. That's because you'll have to "takedown" (or wreck) cars that you see on the street before you can drive them yourself. Damage doesn't appear to have any impact on a vehicle's performance in Burnout Paradise, but nobody likes to be seen driving around in a wreck, so your first job is to drive to the local auto-repair shop for a makeover. You won't need to stop or even slow down when you reach the shop; the business establishments that you interact with in Burnout Paradise take the words "drive thru" to a whole new level, making visits viable even in the middle of a race.
After getting your car fixed up you'll be encouraged to look around for other drive-through points of interest so that they can be automatically added to your map for future reference. The most useful of these are gas stations, which completely replenish your boost meter. There's also at least one paint shop in the demo area, which will randomly assign a new paint job to your ride every time you visit. Other points of interest that'll show up on your map after you've found them include the start points for races and other events. Most of those in the demo area are locked, unfortunately, but if you check out enough intersections and slow down at enough traffic lights you'll find that a race, a stunt run, and a "burning route" are available for solo play.
Races in Burnout Paradise play out in much the same way that they always have, save for the fact that you have a lot more freedom to choose your own route to the finish. You'll be encouraged to "takedown" opponents or drive through oncoming traffic at every opportunity to refill your boost meter, and shortcuts hidden behind destructible fences with conspicuous yellow signs are all over the place. Given the speeds you're driving at in Burnout Paradise (even in the demo's relatively slow car), it's not always easy to check the map for the shortest route to the finish, so EA Criterion has been kind enough to include a number of other visual and audible cues. There's a compass at the top of the screen that shows you, as the crow flies, which direction your objective is in, and it's augmented by a small audio alert that sounds if you start heading completely the wrong way. Street signs also pop up on the screen to let you know where you are and, when appropriate, smaller flashing street signs will appear to the left and/or right of it (think of them as turning signals) to let you know what options you have coming up.
Burning routes are a lot like races, except that you're against the clock rather than any number of fiercely competitive opponents. Interestingly, Burnout Paradise will feature a different burning route for each of the 75 vehicles that you can unlock, and although there's no reward for beating the burning route in the demo, we're told that in the finished game it'll be the only way to unlock souped-up versions of cars that you already own.
Stunt runs are quite unlike anything that has appeared in a Burnout game previously, and would perhaps best be compared to the trick score challenges found in skateboarding and snowboarding games. In the demo you'll be tasked with scoring 50,000 points in just two minutes, which was a daunting prospect for us initially. Jumps, spins, and barrel rolls are the stunts that will net you big points on your run, while bonus multipliers can be earned for getting big air and crashing through billboards. Unsurprisingly, lengthy stunt combos are the key to success, and individual tricks are quite easily strung together using low-scoring boosts and drifts.
Although there are only three solo events unlocked in the demo version of Burnout Paradise, there are plenty of other things for you to do without taking the game online. There are 15 billboards to crash through, some of which aren't easy to reach. There are six "super jumps'" to complete using ramps that are marked with flashing lights. And there are no fewer than 34 shortcut fences to crash through. All of these numbers are tracked in Burnout Paradise, along with the stuff detailing your longest drift, your biggest jump, and your best stunt combo that you'd expect.
When you're ready to take the Burnout Paradise demo online you'll find that doing so is as easy as pulling your car over, tapping right on the D pad to pull up an online menu, and then deciding whether you want a public or a friends-only environment. The only online mode available in the demo is "Freeburn Online," which affords you and up to three other drivers the freedom to do whatever you please, while constantly tracking and comparing achievements such as those mentioned above. If you're hosting the session you'll also have the option to initiate challenges for your group, which are cooperative rather than competitive. It's conceivable that the challenges differ depending on how many players there are in the session. Only two of us were playing on this occasion, and we had three quite different challenges to choose from.
The "Wave Jumping" challenge simply tasks you with jumping over each other using ramps located on the beach. The "Smash and Grab" challenge requires you to smash through six billboards. And to beat the "Drift and Near Miss" challenge, the pair of you will need to accrue a total of 40 near misses and 4000 drifting yards. Although the challenges are cooperative, it's worth noting that the latter two track individual scores as well as your total, so there will still be plenty of opportunities for you to prove that you're better than whomever you're playing with.
Last but not least, we should mention that both versions of the Burnout Paradise demo support the game's "mugshots" feature, so if you and your friends have cameras attached to your consoles, you'll get to see photos of anyone you take down that are snapped immediately after they crash. "Smugshots" (victory shots of yourself that will automatically be sent to opponents you've bested) aren't supported in the demo, but in the finished game you'll get to send them out and receive them regardless of whether or not you and your friends are online at the same time. For example, you might log on and receive a smugshot from a friend of yours who beat one of your high scores the previous night while you were sleeping. We should also mention that while the demo version of Burnout Paradise supports only four players online, that number will be doubled in the finished game.
Burnout Paradise is currently scheduled for release in North America on January 22 and in Europe on January 25. Expect more information on this one next week.