Like a mum on her kid's first day at school before that dishy gardener shows up, lots of people are worried about Burnout Paradise. And with good reason, too. Paradise's crazed next-gen design document involves no menus, right down to players not having an option to instantly restart challenges, and a focus on online multiplayer that's entirely new to the series. Then there's the removal of Crash mode and the replacing of levels with a single, huge open city.
If it all sounds dangerous... well, it is, according to Nick Channon, Paradise's senior producer.
"Yes, it's bold! Throwing everything away has been a huge risk, and if you came upstairs into the studios I don't think anyone would tell you it's been easy. The easiest thing is to just go into a menu and select 'I want to do this event'. Alex Ward, our creative director, believes really passionately that we should try to be bold and create something that we feel is truly next-gen. It has to be Burnout, and I'm sure the player will realise it quintessentially still is, but we wanted to deliver that in what we felt was a next-gen way. No front-end, no loading... we've created this world and we want to keep you in it. It's been tough, but we've got there in the end."
Phew. But while we were down at EA talking to Mr Channon we also got the chance to try out Paradise's new gameplay modes, and hopefully it'll relieve a few of you to hear that they all seem to hit the balance between being fresh and being Burnout.
Let's start with Marked Man, which Nick describes as "Road Rage in reverse" and we'd describe as a horrible Burnout-induced fever dream. You start the event somewhere in the city and are tasked with getting somewhere else without being taken down a certain number of times. Out to get you are a pack of tough black cars that are as insane as they are vicious, and they'll dog you right up to the finish line. Whether to try the event in a fast car and just run away from them, or to pick a tough car and try and stand up for yourself is up to you.
Then there's Stunt Run, which gives you a timer and a score target and sets you on your way. When you perform a stunt the timer stops for a few seconds and you start building a combo, so it's all about figuring out paths through the city that'll let you cram in the most jumps, slides, and spins - a new addition to Burnout that can only be done on lopsided ramps. You'll want as many billboards and fences as possible to smash through, too.
And according to Nick, these modes are really going to shine because of the new free-roaming world.
"We spent one hell of a long time making the world, which was good because it gave us the chance to design it around our two new game modes. For instance, in Marked Man the black cars won't follow you down any shortcuts you know about. And in Stunt Run how well you know the city is obviously important because it'll let you string together the most stunts."
Which brings us onto Showtime, Criterion's completely insane replacement for Crash mode. The way it works is at any point while you're driving around and the mood takes you, with the press of a button you enter Showtime mode and your car explodes. And, uh, it keeps exploding. More specifically it keeps exploding in slow motion for as long as you can keep other people exploding. And who says games are childish?
The rules here are that you're given a massively generous amount of aftertouch control and the ability to explode several times, with each car you wreck giving you another 2 or so 'splodes. If you start in a decent spot the result is several minutes of sequential explosions, millions of dollars worth of damage and probably a big smile on the player's face, but this doesn't capture just how ludicrous Showtime mode is. When we heard it was playable online with up to eight players bouncing around like psychotic Katamaris, we had to ask Nick just how many drugs the staff of Criterion had to take to come up with this.
"Haha. Ah... I wouldn't like to say. But I think it was just an evolution and being bold again. We could have put junctions in but it wouldn't have fit the seamless gameplay, because ultimately you would have had to have selected an event and the world would have had to set everything up. So this is what we came up with to replace it, and we're really pleased with how you can just do it anywhere."
Finally (and not technically a new mode, per se) are the new online co-op challenges. Once you and a friend or seven are in the same world together Paradise will happily cough up one of several hundred 2, 4, 6 or 8 player challenges for the lot of you to work on together, ranging from wrecking a grand total of cars in a time limit to one player jumping over several other players. It sounds like genius to us - you might find out one of your friends is online, drop into his single-player world for five minutes, work together to complete some little task and then quit and go make your tea. Gorgeous. Again, Nick had something to say on the subject.
"In next-gen games it is important you have an online component. However, once again we wanted to make a difference and change the way this worked because we'd been so frustrated with getting online and the experiences we were having. What we realised was that the most fun you're going to have is when you're playing with your friends, and that's what's going to get more people playing online. Right now a lot of people are joining a server, getting shot and being permanently put off. But if they go and play co-operatively with their friends then it's can be a really fulfilling experience where they feel like they've achieved something and they can have a laugh doing it.
"Alex Ward wants us to make the best game we physically can. Every Burnout has to be the best Burnout we can make with the technology available to us, which is why Paradise as the first true next-gen Burnout has to be such a huge step forward. Three years ago he laid down the three rules of the game we were going to make, which are 'Seamless world', 'Online gaming' and 'Still Burnout'. And there were times when we thought, 'Oh, I don't know if we can do that', but Alex pushed us and told us we can do it and we will do it, and we have."