is an America we dream of that does not dream of us.
January 04 2022
The sunset in front of me was so artificial, yet the feelings it evoked in me made that fact matter little. We had parked the car to watch the minute-long hours get eaten one by one by the darkness of night. Turning the engine off allowed the final pianissimo notes of "Claire de Lune" ring out. Sunsets are prettier when they're shorter, but perhaps I should set the day cycle to 48, instead of 24 minutes, to try that out for size. When the song ended, we said "aight", turned the car back on, and crashed straight through the flickering billboard we'd been parked in front of. Perhaps it is strange to enjoy getting images created specifically for your pleasure, but to us, we didn't care if our elders would have been disappointed in our idiocy; that was a damn good image.
Following "Burnout 2: Point of Impact", "Burnout 3: Takedown", and "Burnout Revenge", "Burnout Paradise" is the first title in the series to use a non-aggressive word as its subtitle. And what a word, at that: "paradise" is well-traveled. The word is believed to have its origins in Proto-Iranian, from whence it journeyed westward, first to Ancient Greek, then to Latin, then to Old French, and then into our old buddy Old English, replacing "neorxnawang", having a similar meaning. Wow! Now, that's a bizzare word! * The Greeks called the Persians' walled gardens "πᾰρᾰ́δεισος" pronounced something like "paradeisos". In light of that, paradise must be something both enclosed and made with intent. I'm not going to venture a wager over the exact number of etymologists Criterion Games hired when deciding their title, but you must admit it's a fitting one. Burnout Paradise provides with honesty the player a walled garden, not of Persian flowers, but of gasoline-fueled all-American action.
In Paradise City, not a soul walks the streets. It would be odd if that wasn't the case, as the city was designed and built for the only species that populates its byways and highways: motor vehicles. Paradise City is to these driverless cars as hamster cages aim to be for hamsters, or what nursing homes aim to be for the elderly. Hm. The city is threaded together with all sorts of roads: wide ones, narrow ones, winding ones, straight ones. Growing symbiotically off to the sides of them are shortcuts, some possibly ending in a big billboard to smash, or a huge ramp to jump off of. And like the San Juniperian retirement home it is, the city is painted with a coat of West Coast Pastiche. A Californian downtown, a new money country club, a dude ranch, a diner surrounded by Douglas firs, snow capped mountain peaks. It's clearly artificial, obviously manufactured; but Burnout Paradise has no use for realism. It doesn't use its open world to tell a story. Stories don't occur in open worlds. Stories happen in the real world. In an open world, every inch is tailor-made for our enjoyment, and Burnout Paradise does not wish to lie to you.
It is through this honesty Burnout Paradise achieves greatness. It has created a playground, one whose primary verb is "go" and primary adverb is "fast". A player can spend their time seeking out stunts to pull, taking solo drives from one map corner to the other, laughing their asses off at ridiculous crashes, or diligently racing to get their hands on new cars. Each of the limited ways Burnout Paradise allows you to interact with its world are both sufficient and necessary. If an open world tries too hard to be realistic, it risks bringing attention the spots it allows to be artificial. If I can eat at some restaurants, I should be able to eat at ALL the restaurants. If I can go through some doors, I should be able to go through ALL the doors. Burnout Paradise sidesteps the issue easily; their world is a car's world. Their complexity, albeit beyond my comprehension, does not measure close to that of humans. Cars can't eat, cars can't fit through doors. Cars drive.
And sometimes crash. I need to highlight this because it's essential to Burnout Paradise's wonder. An adult with an adult brain may say, "Oh no! Car crashes are terrible! They kill people!". Burnout Paradise says, "No, silly, PEOPLE kill people," and just like that, solves the problem. Self-driving cars might be worth it only for the self-driving demolition derby. The spectacular AI camera system tries its best and often succeeds at giving you the coolest shot of your most ridiculous crash; going slow-mo overhead as your hood crumples against the wall that your eyes were too slow to perceive, going to the front when your barrel roll was aborted by the ground at the halfway point and leaving your car to skid forward on its top. It's just ridiculous. And even better, no humans were harmed in the making of this crash.
If you live in America, you know this world was made for cars, not us. Burnout Paradise may resemble our cities (especially the West Coast ones) more than you think. I can attribute being a disaffected teen to growing up in a community where a car was necessary for me to go almost anywhere. Riding a bike in a US city always carries the risk of you getting hit by an unaware SUV driver and becoming paralyzed for the rest of your life. The fact cars dominate transportation in America is no small factor in our climate crisis. These thoughts make the exhilarating fun of Burnout Paradise a bit eerie; like, look how fun it will be once we're all gone. The streets are beautiful but empty. There are stuctures, tall and proud, meant to house human activites: a baseball field, an office building, a country club, that now stand vacant. So maybe it's the dedication of Paradise City to be the eternal paradise of Car Heaven that makes the game turning on my webcam and asking me to take a selfie at the end of like, every race extremely weird. Or maybe it's just weird. In any case, in the real world, in America, we've given up our country to the promise of "freedom" that a sports utility vehicle offers us, and in return we've received community isolation, inhuman city planning, and a dying planet. Sure, someone's having fun (read: the auto industry), but its not ever going to be us. Burnout Paradise uses it's open world to provide a perfectly thought-out playground for machines, fulfilling a very strange power fantasy, when you think about it: what if the great cities of America were paradise, what if they were really meant for you.
Burnout Paradise was developed by Criterion Games, and was released in 2008 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Microsoft Windows by EA, and rereleased in 2018 as Burnout Paradise Remastered, for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Microsoft Windows. As of writing I think the list price is $20.00, but I got it for $5 because of the Steam Sale. There are lots of negative reviews of the PC version on Steam, due to technical bugs. The game crashed twice 2 and a half hours I played of it on PC (most of the writing is based on playing my sister's PS4 copy), and apparently the game won't start if you don't have a webcam? I don't know, I'd look into it before you by. EA sucks.
* For the interested, look up people fighting on Wikipedia over what exactly "neorxnawang" was supposed to mean. It was used in an Old English translation of the Bible to mean "paradise", but that seems to be the only instance historians can find. People generally agree that "wang" means "field", but the rest is up to the crackpot theories of Anglo-Saxon specialized historians...