Now a decade in the past, I still clearly remember sitting on the old couch in our old house’s basement, with my Xbox 360 steering wheel in my lap, slamming my foot onto the pedal, crashing and drifting all across Paradise City. Now, we have been given the chance to come back to “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty,” to find it almost exactly how we left it back in 2008, largely for the better.
Criterion Games were wise to not mess with a good thing, as the open-world racing game has been virtually untouched. The cars still drive as smoothly as ever, the same crazy stunts still work, and cars still skid across the screen. There might not be too many improvements, graphically or otherwise, but when you have something as spotless and realized as Burnout Paradise, what is there to improve? Burnout Paradise Remastered is available for purchase physically or digitally on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a PC port planned for later this year.
Burnout Paradise does not get dragged down by any half-baked attempt at contextualizing the game’s driving shenanigans. Aside from a short opening cutscene describing the locales of Paradise City, you never have your controls taken away from you. The goal of your invisible, voiceless, nameless character is to upgrade your license by completing various challenges, because don’t worry about it.
“Don’t worry about it” is how most of your and others’ actions are explained away. It’s easy to think that you’re a terrible person for crashing other cars and destroying so much property, but Paradise City is suggested to be a place where such actions seem commonplace, almost as an ironic “safe haven” for reckless driving. There are no human NPCs or voices, aside from the charismatic and somewhat cheeky DJ Atomika. Our disembodied radio show host functions as the guide, giving genuinely helpful tips and tricks as to how to get the most out of Paradise City. His smooth voice mischievously encourages you to break both rules and bones, but suggests that the entire city is in on it, aside from a few “snooty” individuals.
The real character of Burnout Paradise is Paradise City itself, and the cars that drive through it. From the railroad tracks circling the city, to the abandoned quarry, to the bustling downtown area, Paradise City invites you to explore different shortcuts and tricks to fully know the area like the back of your hand. The cars take on different personas, from the scary black vehicles trying to take you down, to the flashy, gaudy cars speeding ahead to the front of a race, to the daredevil vans swerving into other cars in a road rage. These elements coalesce to create a devil-may-care society in which asinine problems such as responsibilities, well-being, and the law are cast aside in the pursuit of driving cars really fast.
There are lots of racing games out there. Very few of them, if any, are like Burnout Paradise. For starters, not nearly as much time as you’d think is spent actually racing, although that largely depends on the player. There are other modes where the objective isn’t to beat other racers to the finish line, but a large chunk of the game can be spent without trying to clear those objectives, either.
Paradise City is completely open-world, with no load times aside from first booting up the game. You’re not confined to the road, either. If you know where to go, you can break through to the railroad tracks, drive below or above a bridge, or all the way up a parking lot to then rocket yourself off of a ramp, blasting yourself through fences and billboards as you go. There are hundreds of these to find, and the game keeps track of which ones you have broken. This encourages using different cars to poke and prod around, seeing what cool stunts you can pull off to get to some deviously placed billboards, or just for the fun of it.
This knowledge of Paradise City comes in handy with all of the challenges, but the stunt runs in particular require you to know each ramp, tunnel, and fence like the back of your hand. The objective is to score a certain amount of points under a time limit of two minutes. Points can be scored in a variety of ways, such as by boosting, drifting, or driving backwards, but you get significant multipliers to that score by doing things such as driving through billboards or over a large gap. At first, I would try to drive in some random direction, usually resulting in me crashing or driving awkwardly along a straight road doing nothing until it timed out. I later learned to scope out various stunt locations surrounding where the challenge started, improving my chances for success significantly.
There are also plenty of somewhat traditional races, of course, the twist being that they take place in the same open world as every other race, and not on their own dedicated track. This means that there are many potential routes to get to your destination, the fastest of which might not be the route everyone else is taking, and the right shortcuts can make it somewhat unfair to your computer opponents. You can also crash into other cars to take them down, thinning out the competition. In a one-on-one race, taking your only opponent down can almost guarantee you a win, granted that you don’t crash yourself or take a wrong turn. There are also timed runs made specifically for each car, forcing you to use each specific car to its strengths in order to make it to the finish line before time runs out.
In perhaps the most harrowing mode, marked man, you are targeted by an onslaught of tough, aggressive jet black vehicles that will attempt to slam into you as hard as they can to prevent you from getting to the finish line. Taking these guys down is virtually impossible, not to mention futile, as two seem to replace every one lost, so playing it safe by staying behind them or speeding far past is key.
Perhaps my favorite mode, possibly because it’s the one I’m best at, is road rage. In two minutes, you are encouraged to ram into as many of your fellow drivers as possible, and this isn’t too difficult of a task. Especially with aggressive cars, simply tapping a car is enough to convince its front to leave its back. Because you get a slight time increase with good takedowns, I’ve been able to crash over 30 cars when I only needed to take down 13. The pure adrenaline rush that comes with the flying steel and rubber makes road rage a very cathartic experience.
Your success in any competition in this game hinges significantly on your choice of car. Aggression cars are tanky, not getting anywhere fast, but taking down other cars fast, and able to take a few hits as well. They get their boost by taking down other cars, encouraging you to take down as many as you can in order to speed past them. Stunt cars generally are a bit more fragile, but get their boost from doing different stunts, encouraging risky maneuvers. Speed cars are the most conventional, (generally middle of the road in stats, if you will) but with an unconventional boost system. Instead of being able to boost whenever you want, you must wait until the (much shorter) bar is completely full. If you’re able to completely use up the boost bar in one go without crashing into anything, (a very big “if”) the boost bar will refill to about halfway, then three quarters, etc. If you can keep it up, you can become a force to be reckoned with, but it’s hard to start up, and easy to mess up. This creates a tense risk/ reward factor that you’ll have to consider on the fly.
All of the DLC from the game is also included, most notably Big Surf Island, which is connected to Paradise City via a bridge. The entire place is filled with areas to do tricks in, and challenges unique to the area. All of the DLC cars, toy cars, and bikes are also available from the start, meaning that you can borderline break the game if you use them early instead of the lower-performing cars the game wants you to use.
The online component that was present in the original also makes a return here. With access to PS+ or Xbox Live, you can connect with other players online to do challenges or just goof around. In the matches I participated in, the connection could be a bit spotty, with cars popping in and out of existence every now and then. Nonetheless, I had fun participating in a few races with some strangers online, with the added challenge of the others having the same knowledge of shortcuts as you. During “freeburn,” you’re free to goof off with others, and I enjoyed taking down (and then being taken down by) other players. At the end, three of us decided to set aside our differences and spin in circles randomly. It was glorious.
In any given event, there are a million tiny things that you have to consider. Before it begins, there’s planning a route and choosing a car. Then once it begins, you have to adapt to any changes on the fly, whether that be a crash ahead of you, an upcoming turn, or a good opportunity to take someone else down. The way that every event takes place in the same open world breeds a familiarity that you don’t get with a traditional racing game. One shortcut has multiple potential uses, from racking up points in a stunt run, to getting somewhere faster in a race going either way, to evading cars in marked man. The more you know your surroundings, the more you will succeed.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
You might notice that most of this review has referred to the game as simply Burnout Paradise, and not Burnout Paradise Remastered. This is because most of the features found in this remaster were present in the original. Criterion Games haven’t messed with a good thing here, neither adding nor subtracting any content found within the original game.
There has been a slight graphical upgrade for modern consoles, but it’s honestly hard to notice. If looked at side-by-side, the new version’s cars reflect a bit more light, textures are a bit more detailed, and depending on the console you own, you can play the game in a 4K resolution. However, this is still a remaster, and not a remake. When you look at a huge hill or dig into the tiny minutiae, it becomes clear that you are still playing a game that was made a decade ago. Lamp posts still look like sticks with a marshmallow stuck on them, grass is still flat turf, and jagged edges can be spotted on anything that’s supposed to represent a curve.
Most of the time, however, you’ll be speeding so fast that all of these details will blur past you. Paradise City is still aesthetically pleasing, with the comparatively quiet mountainside contrasting with the bustling downtown area, and the lack of any human faces saves this game from the uncanny valley. The graphics might not stand up to the sheer visual spectacles of modern Forza or Gran Turismo, but they get the job done. The original 2008 version stands up surprisingly well today graphically, so while the 2018 version does little to improve upon it, no dramatic improvements were strictly necessary.
Even more timeless than the graphics, however, is the soundtrack. Available to change on your car’s radio at any time, you can play any of over 80 songs, including licensed rock music, selections from previous games in the Burnout series, and even some classical pieces. They all complement the main action very well, with not one bad egg in the batch. Jamming out to songs from Twisted Sister or Guns N’ Roses fuels the pure energy you feel while zooming through Paradise City, and they all help convert you into the true speed demon you are. Likewise, listening to classical music from Mozart or Beethoven is also thematically appropriate, serving as a suitable soundtrack to the mass destruction you’re creating.
The quieter moments in the soundtrack can sometimes be lost to the roar of the engine, however, which serves as a bit of a soundtrack itself. Aggression cars cough and splutter at low speeds to create a low, demonic growl when boosting at top speed. Speedier cars make a high-pitched hum at high speeds, making it all too clear that you’re rocketing past at the speed of sound in nothing more than a hunk of metal. In crashes, the music will also become significantly muffled, and when flying above some risky gap, the soundtrack both rises in pitch and lowers in volume, creating the sensation of your stomach dropping until you return on terra firma. Whether it’s you or another crashing, the result is always somewhere between satisfying and painful. While no actual humans are seen in the cars, the feeling that you’re witnessing something violent lingers nonetheless. Seeing glass and other debris from the car fly off in one direction while the majority stays to crumple into a paper ball against a concrete building, or otherwise fly, roll, or skid upside-down across the road until it inevitably stops, all in slow-motion, evokes a bit of pain, especially when the camera zooms in at the last second on your now-useless disaster, to seemingly taunt you.
Burnout Paradise Remastered can be viewed through two lenses. Through one, it’s a cheap paint-job over the same game, sent off to make a quick profit. Through the other, it provides a way for an entirely new generation to experience one of the greatest driving games of all time, as well as a way for those who loved it the first time to experience it again on modern hardware.
A decade later, few, if any, games have been able to live up to the free-spirited action of Burnout Paradise, and it remains a golden standard for open world racing games to this day. If you’ve never been taken down to Paradise City before, this remaster provides the perfect opportunity to do so. If you’ve already been where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, this remaster can take you home.
|+ Fully realized open-world||– No additional content|
|+ Variety of exhilarating events to partake in||– Only a slight graphical upgrade|
|+ Fantastic selection of licensed rock music|