The lights are on
There are many ways to contribute to this hobby of ours, and Criterion Games has done it all – and done it well.
I first came into contact with Criterion when they visited the office to show us the first Burnout back in 2001. I had not heard of the game before. Frankly, I wasn't sure how it would fare, but Criterion's focus on distilling and conveying the title's core experience of crashing cars has helped the studio thrive through the years.
I think Criterion titles are successful at identifying what kind of experience they want to present and then they get after it relentlessly. Picking out what's fun in a game sounds easy, but I've seen many titles through the years easily lose their way. Whether it's single-mindedness of a series like Burnout or being able to dial-in what's fun about physically racing a car, Criterion knows how to understand and execute its goals for the benefit of the player. You can see it in the way games like Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed: Most Wanted are structured to give you races at anytime, anywhere.
Apart from its excellent racing credentials, I also appreciate Criterion for its vision above the racing genre and software in general. The company started out with the RenderWare middleware tech that was the core behind titles like Grand Theft Auto III and which helped define the PlayStation 2 era much like Epic's Unreal Engine 3 did this current generation. Also don't forget that Criterion had the ambition to break down the wall between the single- and multiplayer components of Burnout Paradise in 2008 – a feature that is common today.
Even games that lacked commercial success like the PS2 shooter Black show the company trying out new frontiers. Criterion is currently exploring non-racing projects while simultaneously acting as the guiding force behind the Need for Speed series for parent company Electronic Arts. The fact that they are owned by EA hasn't seemed to hinder Criterion's independence, vision, or progress. If anything, it's helped it by disseminating its ideas and tech across the company.
I'm excited to see where Criterion goes next. It could be anywhere, but it's sure to be exciting.
Email the author Matthew Kato, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.