If you ask me, Burnout Paradise was the first game that realized the dream of the Xbox 360 age. We were sold consoles over a decade ago on the promise of larger worlds, greater connectivity with our friends, and game experiences we’d never seen before.
At the time, Burnout Paradise was a gamble by Criterion. Four games into a renowned series, Paradise was a reinvention of what a racing game was supposed to look like. A full open world, instead of a menu of races to select from. A radical redesign of their vaunted Crash Mode. A holistic approach to inclusivity, and comparing yourself and your abilities against those of your friends. On first blush, Burnout Paradise was closer to Grand Theft Auto 4 than Burnout Revenge.
Thankfully, the one thing that wasn’t changed was that amazing sense of speed and control Criterion had perfected. The cars felt weighty, but could fly and spin and twirl easily. Using boost was a hair-raising experience, which turned the most pedestrian of corners into a white-knuckled drift, sending crates and lamp posts flying. Best of all, the crashes were shockingly violent and satisfying, as the driverless cars twist and contort into fractured remnants of themselves.
No matter how you felt about Paradise’s radical approach to open world design, there could be no arguments that the driving wasn’t second-to-none. Sadly, it was the last time we saw it. Soon after, Criterion took over the ailing Need for Speed series, and despite two entries that felt thematically similar to Burnout Paradise, nothing has ever got close to the highs of the original.
The core of Burnout Paradise’s success is the world it’s set in: Paradise City, a racers dream. From sprawling city streets to beachfront highways and winding mountain paths, each part of Paradise City felt distinct and memorable, but cohesive to the whole. The city wasn’t designed off of any particular real world location; rather, the city was shaped to create the best racing experience possible. By going wild and creating a drivers paradise, the roads feel sensible for a racing game, rather than for a city planner. Very smart.
Every crossroad with a set of traffic lights boasts its own event for players to complete, with five different types scattered across the lands. Traditional point-to-point races; evasive Marked Man events where heavy vehicles try to crush you off the road; Road Rage events where you have to crash others; Stunt Runs to show off your flips and tricks; and Burning Routes to unlock upgraded versions of your cars.
In an intelligent twist, each of the races can only end at one of eight finishing lines, located in the eight cardinal directions on a compass. Furthermore, the player isn’t given a route to follow – rather, you’re tasked to traverse the wild city based on your knowledge, the mini-map and a rudimentary directional system. This encourages the other huge aspect of Burnout Paradise: exploration.
When a race is complete, you continue playing from the finish line of the race as though nothing had happened – you’re back in the same world, with the same traffic, making your way to whichever race you want to approach next. This gives you plenty of time to scout out the 400 gated short-cuts all across Paradise City. With flashing yellow lights and signs, the shortcut gates are easy to see, and provide the player with extra paths to explore in their next race. There are also 50 Stunt Jumps, huge leaps across all manner of buildings, crevasses and traffic for the player to discover, as well as over 150 smashable billboards littering the skyline. There is almost always a collectible in your eyeline, making it well worth your while to explore and discover new pathways.
Even the act of traversing the city is a collectible challenge. On every road in the game, players are tasked with beating the Speed and Showdown challenge targets. Defeating one makes the roadsign in the HUD turn silver; both turns it nice and gold. Speed challenges are a regular point-to-point time challenge, forcing the player to drive as fast and smooth as possible to beat the record. Showtime mode is a bit more esoteric. Squeezing both bumpers/ L1+R1 turns your car into a wrecking pinball, bouncing down the street and destroying everything in sight. Hitting cars, smashing billboards and knocking down roadsigns increases your damage total, whilst smashing into buses increases your multiplier. Once you run out of your boost gauge, your car stops flying through the air and the damage is totaled up.
All of this is optional. If you want to just race and unlock the best cars, Paradise doesn’t stand in your road and force you to engage in any of this. It would be nearly impossible to avoid, however, as beyond anything else it’s simply incredible fun. The world of Paradise is so crammed with secrets and challenges and rivalries that it’s impossible to get bored. I would often wander from races into Speed Challenges into collectible hunting without even realizing I was doing it – it’s easiest to simply go with your gut and explore to your hearts content.
Music plays a surprisingly intrinsic part of Burnout Paradise. From the familiar introductory melody of Paradise City every time you start the game, to the slow classical melodies that play when you park your car, the eclectic soundtrack is a huge part of Paradise’s success. The soundtrack is aggressively 2008, with a bizarre mix of Adam and the Ants, Saosin and Avril Lavigne. Your individual mileage will vary – I only listen to about eight songs – but there’s no denying that Girlfriend is the all-time greatest racing track. Try not to tap your foot and sing along next time you’re boosting down a hill as it bellows in the background.
What’s most incredible to me about Burnout Paradise is its disturbingly strong online multiplayer. With my hand on my heart, until Overwatch, Paradise was my favorite online game ever made, and with good reason. The online functionality is broken down into three main parts: integration into the main game; basic racing and freeburning online.
Even if you don’t engage in any of the online activities, you’ll see the influence of your friends all over the city. Those Speed and Showdown records you were completing in the world? Not only are you beating a par time and score provided by the game, but you’ll also see the best score and time from your friends list. My friend Alex and I would trade fastest times on the tiny Watt Rd for months, shaving off milliseconds to take the lead. If you lose out on the best time or score, the game makes sure to let you know with a big notification right in the middle of the screen. It’s petty, but it feels fantastic to win.
The online races are pretty standard, but the game makes it easy to combine multiple races into a series, and determine an overall winner at the end. Before each race, it points out a couple of rivals you’re up against and their key stats to be aware of, like their win count or how many other racers they’ve crashed out. The online racing is serviceable, but it’s not what you’re here for.
The crown jewel of Burnout Paradise is its online freeburn events. Freeburn turns the city into a big playground for players to explore and compete across the simplest of differences. Immediately, a ticker in the top corner compares all your key stats against the others in your freeburn event – how many barrel rolls you’ve landed in that session, and how long you’ve driven into oncoming traffic for. How many players have you crashed out, or what’s your longest jump so far.
Once the host grows tired of throwing their car around the map, they can choose from one of fifty freeburn challenges to complete. The challenges are an amazing way to teach players what makes Burnout Paradise so special. The challenges start simple enough – drifting and jumping challenges – before growing into something else. They’ll task players with all driving to the same area, then jumping over one another, or racing to another part of the map without crashing. The final challenges unveil the true secrets buried in Paradise City, and are difficult to pull off both because of their hidden locales and strenuous tasks they ask you to complete. The first time you discover to the hidden quarry or airfield that aren’t listed on the map, it feels like you’ve cheated the game somehow. Best of all, when you’ve completed all 50 challenges you’ll realize that there’s another 50 challenges for every combination of players, from two through to eight. It’s an incredible package.
Burnout Paradise Remastered takes all that made original Burnout Paradise so special, and gives it a gentle nudge into the future. The framerate has been fiddled with and the resolution expanded, but it still looks like a game that came out 10 years ago. It also still looks incredible – with such a strong sense of speed and a great framerate, it’s more than enough to fully satisfy. Remastered also includes the full suite of DLC available for Burnout Paradise, including the extra landmap, Big Surf Island, and dozens of new cars and motorbikes. It’s probably the weakest part of the Remastered package, as every piece of DLC is available right from the beginning of the game, which throws off the progression a little. It’s also intimidating to go to pick up a car, and have to pick from seven different hoppers beforehand. Still, it’s a minor quibble: some questionable DLC integration is far from a gamechanger.
In the end, it’s pretty simple: If you’re looking for an arcade-style racer, Burnout Paradise Remastered is the absolute best in the game today. Burnout Paradise was in 2008 the all-time greatest racing game in my eyes, a crown nobody has taken since (Forza Horizon 2 was close). Burnout Paradise Remastered might be a little longer in the tooth, but it’s a better looking, better playing game than its predecessor. What does that make it? I’ll leave it up to you to decide…