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Paradise Lost

I’m Elite apparently.  Not in any Heathers sort of sense, but because Criterion say so and after screeching around the streets of Paradise City in Burnout Paradise for months, I finally feel that I’ve earned it.

elite

Ever since having my interest piqued at the Ready Up World record attempt back in April, I’ve sunk my time into the game, allowing it to snatch my evenings and consume my weekends while my gamerscore slowly gained a rosy glow under the drip feed of achievements.  To be honest, at first, the game was merely a taste to show support for those playing through 24 hours – after all, driving games had never interested me and cars ‘aren’t my thing’.  All talk of torque leaves me scratching my arse and wishing the Top Gear crew would skip to whatever caravan demolition derby or race that they have planned for this week.  But something strange actually happened here…Burnout Paradise sucked me in within moments and I soon realised that this ‘mere driving game’ was so much more than I had dismissively branded it.  It became indelibly stamped upon my gaming consciousness.

The free-roaming style of the gorgeous open city and surrounds absorbed me with its  events at every junction, enticing smashables, and different gameplay which, instead of having the driver loop tedious tracks, encouraged free choice, exploration, and served the city up as a playground to game or cruise in.  It rewarded the player for not only venturing off the beaten track and testing the hidden nooks and delights, but for being as anti-social as they felt like.

...and a predatory metallic black by night

...and a predatory metallic black by night

Online play has typically been something that I have also avoided, muttering endlessly about ‘online achievements’ and ‘unnecessary multiplayer modes’, but again, this game forced me out of my shell of hermitude and into endless online freeburns where challenges were knocked down and the general chaos of the squealing metal free-for-all smashes were the order of the day…and night, and weekend, and holiday until it was all I played, talked about, and saw every time I closed my eyes.

Paradise City began to enslave my soul, haunting my dreams with angry boost bars, tumbling smash gates, and endless, winding tarmac.  Every night, I prowled the foggy streets like a killer with a steel chassis as my frock coat and four Criterion tyres as my tools of evisceration.  Innocent gates cowered beneath my beams and fell even swifter beneath my wheels, while I surveyed the rising body count with twisted euphoria.  Blue jump lights drew my obsessive attention, luring me into alleys and onto dimly lit boardwalks with the promise of orgasmic heights and I was never disappointed…they too succumbed to my urge to claim and collect, the lights laying haphazardly at the scene of the crime while the city swallowed my fleeing predator.

'scuse me love, have you seen a billboard around here?

'scuse me love, have you seen a billboard around here?

One of those rare moments was forming where that elusive alchemy between game and achievements was discovered, as progress was rewarded without the game becoming a chore.  It was as well balanced as the tyres on my rebellious Dodge Charger…sorry…’Bootlegger’.  And that’s something else that began to warp and change…words began tumbling from my mouth like a sorcerer’s ribbons…I began bitching about ‘oversteer’, ‘cornering’, and ‘how tight’ something handles.  As the Burning Routes began too, to fall like dominos beneath my relentless determination, I sampled more and more vehicles and the complaints began to come thick and fast… one particularly shitty vehicle ‘handling like a morgue on wheels’ and another committing the crime of being ‘as responsive as a decomposed corpse.’  All this from a darkly dreaming gamer who for months couldn’t even work out how to get onto the damned I88.

Jack and Rosco, the last of the trio who helped me become 'Elite'

Jack and Rosco, the last of the trio who helped me become 'Elite'

Fellow carnage creators and hunters often kept pace with me during those evenings, weekends, and marathon sessions, ripping up the streets, working on achievements and challenges, all the while taunting, laughing, crashing.  Every player seemed to have their favoured tool of choice…The Rook with his Carbon GT Concept leading the way to every challenge like Gandalf for the rest of our questing pack or Libitina’s lethal Peggles…a sadistic pink wrecking ball from hell that shunted many a fearful vehicle into the jaws of oblivion.  That was until Arkham Asylum’s eerie corridors lured them away and the streets of Paradise were lost…and with the lone game as complete as it could be with the reward of my Criterion Elite license, I felt the same way.

A recent visit re-confirmed the odd feeling.  With the smashes gone, the billboards wrecked, and the roads ruled, coupled with the natural migration of fellow gamers and the last proud achievement tucked away, Paradise City is slightly emptier now. Slightly sadder.  For a game that truly captured my time and enthusiasm enough for me to sink endless hours, week after week into it, in a genre that I had never looked twice at, it is quite an achievement that I feel mournful as much as elated…and for all 60 of those achievements, that bauble-less one is perhaps the most impressive.

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