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March 19, 2018 5 min read
There has been a Burnout-shaped hole in video gaming for the last 10 years. Other games have attempted to fill bits and pieces of that hole with varying degrees of success. You can see a smidge of Burnout in Split/Second's huge destruction-focused racing. Forza Horizon's open-world collectibles are a strong reminder, too. You can also, of course, see little pieces of it in a few of the Need for Speed games that have been released in Burnout's wake, especially the ones that come from at least some of the people behind Burnout. But nothing has put all the pieces together in a way that surpasses Burnout Paradise. So EA's re-release, Burnout Paradise Remastered, still somehow feels fresh and exciting a full decade later. Playing it pulls me in a lot of different directions. On one hand, it's great to just play Burnout Paradise all over again and the higher resolution and texture touch-ups make this a somewhat better version of the original game. On the other, being reminded of just how terrific Burnout Paradise is really underscores just how gutless and underwhelming driving games--especially EA's Need for Speed series--have been since.
I reviewed the game in 2008, and the vast majority of what I said then still holds true. The remaster doesn't make any meaningful changes to the gameplay, world, or structure. The main thing that happened since that review was written was that a boatload of add-on content was released for the game. A handful of free patches added new modes to the online and additional cars and a new landmass, Big Surf Island, were sold post-release. BPR includes all of that DLC. I mean, of course it does, it would be silly to release a collection and try to sell DLC all over again... but having all those special cars right out of the gate actually nullifies some of the game's core progression. You're supposed to work up to the fast cars, getting better at driving and learning the city as you go. Being able to leap into some of the game's fastest rides without earning it spoils the progression a little bit. Of course, if you jump into the faster cars without having learned the curves of Paradise City beforehand, you're probably going to have a little trouble.
There are aspects of Burnout Paradise that felt deliberate and understandable at the time, but these days they're the things that remind you that this game is 10 years old. There's no fast travel in the game. Since each race starts from a different intersection across the map, that means you'll have to cruise around before you can get into a specific event. This ends up feeling OK for awhile since the collectibles and other emergent parts of Paradise are probably more interesting than the events are, anyway. But once you smash all 400 of the shortcut gates and crash through most of the billboards, you eventually just want to get on with it and start finishing races. The game doesn't even meet you halfway by letting you set a waypoint to the next race and guiding you there, even though there's a rudimentary guidance system in place during races.
Events that have a finish line all end at one of eight locations, all spread around to the different edges of the map. This is pretty neat, but the upshot here is that there are only a couple of ways to get to some of these locations. So any race that has you heading west in the direction of the ranch is almost always going to take you over the same bridge every single time. There are only a couple of ways to get to the wind farm, so you'll know the curves leading up to it better than most other roads in the game. In retrospect, a few more finish lines would've gone a long way.
The "new" island add-on tries to get away from the set finish line concept in favor of checkpoint races, which I never really enjoyed very much. The island is neat, but it feels like too many things packed together in a small space, so I never much cared for it when compared to the base game. Still, there are some fun new cars to unlock there and the huge jumps are pretty cool. The motorcycles that were also added post-release feel a little hollow. They're fast and come with their own new challenges, but don't smash up the way the cars do.
Expectations from an online game have changed. That doesn't make the game's "freeburn challenges" any less cool, but it does make the way they're structured feel a bit more like a hassle. These challenges are cooperative in nature. Some of them will have a full team of eight racers doing donuts around the same fountain, some are as simple as getting a little air or boosting into oncoming traffic for a few seconds. But there's a set of challenges for each player count, so the two-player challenges are different from the three-player challenges and so on. This makes playing with strangers kind of a hassle at times, since one player leaving can cancel a challenge, forcing the host to start a new one for the new player count or, if you're trying to get some specific ones finished, you'll need to wait for someone else. I managed to complete all of the non-timed freeburn challenges in the first game, but it took a whole lot of patience and a fair amount of coaxing strangers over voice chat to help get things done. I'm curious to see how it goes these days, but a firmer way to cluster these challenges together and sort of message to players that they're joining a co-op session might've made this process a bit smoother.
The game looks good on a 4K TV on either a PlayStation 4 Pro or an Xbox One X. The resolution helps you see cars clearly when they're far away, perhaps giving you a split second longer to identify and dodge oncoming traffic. Or maybe I've just gotten better at the game since then. Learning the city helps with that, and that's one thing that hasn't changed. Paradise City is expertly designed, with curves that lead to long, terrific drifts. The shortcuts are fun to find and use in events. The whole city just fits together in a way that helps enable all that amazing high-speed action.
That's maybe the most striking thing about Burnout Paradise. Every aspect of the base game feels designed to work well with every other aspect. The cars are fast and most of them drift at the tap of your brake, and there are sweeping curves ready to accept those drifts. The shortcuts lead you some wild places, jumping and smashing your way ahead of the pack. By comparison, most driving games feel like a compromise between trying to design a real city for you to race real cars in while also trying to make an exciting video game. Burnout Paradise evokes reality but never at the expense of gameplay. That's something that other racing games could still stand to steal from this one.
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