Two dimensions are never enough. Plenty of 2-D video games, like Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, have exploration components. Link and Samus bomb walls to discover treasures and ascend to great heights to discover new locations. But the sense of exploration in those games is limited.
The addition of the third dimension increases the complexity of moving around a space. Your non-game-playing grandparents may look like passable Space Invaders players but may struggle to get out of a room in Grand Theft Auto V. Breaking away from a single plane of motion increases the complexity by an order of magnitude, but that difficulty increases the reward of being able to explore that space.
This was the revolutionary component of Super Mario 64; exploring a three-dimensional space can be rewarding on its own. In SM64, it was exciting to climb to the top of Bob-omb Battlefield, race to the bottom of Cool, Cool Mountain, or even just jump around the overworld castle.
A game does not have to contain a large world in order to have a fun exploration component. Go back and play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At the time of the game’s release, Hyrule Field felt massive. Traveling from Gerudo Valley to Kokiri Forest felt like an arduous journey. In reality, it takes about a minute on horseback. However, Ocarina is arguably the greatest action-adventure game ever because it makes you believe that Hyrule is a real world, and exploring it is a grand old time.
Size does not matter, but modern video games seem to have forgotten this. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an impressive technical accomplishment. The world is over 14 square miles, but it feels hollow. Exploring the depths of a dungeon or making your way to the top of High Hrothgar are memorable, but those moments are too rare. Most of the time, exploring Skyrim is running past barren terrain. The world is not dense enough to justify its size.
And this is where Burnout Paradise excels. Exploring Paradise City and learning its streets are the best part of this game. I have spent hours breaking through fences, smashing billboards, and hitting crazy jumps without even being in an event.
Need for Speed Underground 2 was one of my favorite racing games as a teenager, but I never cared about exploring the map. Driving around the city was merely something I put up with as I travelled from race to race. In Burnout Paradise, climbing to the top of any parking garage and launching myself off the top of it was better than any free roaming experience I ever had in NFSU2. And Paradise City is chockfull of tiny moments of adrenaline-inducing fun on every street block.
Despite the staggering number of hours I have put into Burnout Paradise Remastered over the last few days, Burnout 3: Takedown is still my favorite racing game ever. Since every car is limited to a single route and no one can get lost unlike in Paradise, the races in Takedown can be far more competitive. All your time was spent looking at the road in Takedown, but Paradise forces you to look away constantly at your minimap or other HUD features.
Furthermore in Burnout 3, players could steer their car after wrecking or being taken down. That aftertouch system gave the player a sense of control and something to do as their crashing failure took place on the screen. In Paradise, all you get to do is sit in frustration as you stare at your junked car for a few seconds.
But the reality is Burnout Paradise is not really a racing game; it is more of a platformer. The game is about learning to navigate the space around you to pull of stunts or cause damage.
In that sense, Burnout Paradise is reminiscent of the Tony Hawk series. Chris Franklin of Errant Signal explains the core mechanic of the Tony Hawk games:
Each new attempt is basically a new type of platformer. They redefine what it means to move through a space in the same way that Portal or Mirror’s Edge do.
In both Burnout Paradise and Tony Hawk, the player’s ability to move is limited by the mechanics of the game: racing or skateboarding. But overcoming those limitations makes discovering hard-to-reach areas that much more exciting. This is why it is fun to glitch your way out of levels in Halo 2, but that action is completely meaningless when the developers at Bungie would alter a few variables in the development version and clip through the walls. Reaching a tall building in Tony Hawk or getting onto the train tracks in Burnout Paradise are rewarding precisely because the controls, physics, and level design do not make it readily accessible.
Obviously, every shortcut and jump in Paradise was explicitly put into the game by its designers. But because it is not necessarily easy to find or reach, exploration feels like a little secret between you and the developers which is why I can spend hours driving around Paradise City. Even if you do it to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” on repeat.
With the release of Remastered, numerous gamers, including Jeff Gerstmann on Giant Bombcast #523, have called for the need of a fast travel system in this game. And I do agree some quality of life improvements could possibly improve this game like the ability to restart a race or switch out cars without visiting a junkyard. But a full-blown fast travel system would ruin the charm. Players should explore the city, not jump around from one arbitrary event to another. This is the same reason many players want to pick up World of Warcraft Classic; fast travel and LFG destroys the magic and cohesiveness of the world.
The sad fact is Burnout Paradise is 10 years old. The franchise is the greatest racing series ever and certainly deserves another entry. I do not care if it is a true racing game like Takedown or more of an exploration platformer like Paradise. I just need more Burnout in my life.