It has now been over a decade since the last broadcast of Crash FM. Criterion’s Burnout franchise is the pinnacle of arcade racing, a fast and furious blitzkrieg of explosive action and precise maneuverability. This is its legacy, but the series ended on a curious note. Burnout Paradise was an experiment that stripped a lot of the franchise’s core features away. Paradise City is an open world full of tempting billboard jumps and Freeburn Challenges, but the lack of a real Crash Mode and well-defined tracks left some fans cold. A decade later, the rock-solid gameplay still holds this experience together, and that’s worth the trip for anyone with fresh eyes. As a series veteran, revisiting the game as Burnout Paradise Remastered just proves what an evolutionary dead end this entry turned out to be.
Loading in for the first time, Paradise City gets a grand introduction. Intersections dot the map, each one assigned a specific event. Races all lead to one of eight preset finish lines. This means that you’ll be seeing a few stretches of road a lot more often than others. Road Rage has you aggressively slamming into opposing drivers. Marked Man turns the tables by tasking you to escape the rage instead. Stunt Run events dare you to hit jumps and drifts in quick succession to rack up a high score. Outside of these defined missions, there are time trials to take on, shortcut gates to destroy, and the freeform Showtime mode that lets you crash wherever you like.
That is really the ethos of Burnout Paradise. No matter what you want to do, the game will bend to your will. The license ranking system defines progression offline. After clearing a certain amount of events, you get a shiny new card and move to the next tier. However, it also clears those events off the map, letting you complete them over and over. If you don’t like a specific type of event, you can just skip it on your way to victory. You can grind out the same event six times if you so choose, with only the Burnout Elite License requiring that you do everything. At first glance, this style of player choice is welcome, but repetition sets in quickly. Much like an RPG that lets you power up a single weapon in an arsenal of hundreds, Burnout Paradise doesn’t push its players to experience its full depth.
This problem is exacerbated by the way that Burnout Paradise Remastered is presented. As you’d expect, this offering includes all the previous DLC. These added extras are welcome, but break what little momentum the offline experience once had. You get a fleet of souped-up cars right from the start, and this makes the unlockable wrecks you get for playing feel like afterthoughts. Most events do scale to the car you’re driving, which is nice. It’s a lot of fun to drive a DeLorean stand-in into a wall at 88 miles per hour. Still, I can feel my drive to go through the campaign completely stalling out. With all this content available, I have more fun tooling around the open world than actually competing in events. Even then, that fun doesn’t last too long.
The DLC on offer includes a few extras that are worth mentioning. The biggest is Big Surf Island, an extra land mass with its own collectibles and jump friendly design. There is a suite of motorcycles to try out, with gameplay shifting to a hard focus on races and time trials. These cycles are fine, but they don’t feel nearly as good as the cars. There are also some goofy extras, like the miniaturized toy cars that turn 360 degrees on a dime. For anyone racing with friends offline, there’s a party mode full of pass and play missions throughout the city.
All these extras make the package a great value, but they also speak to how experimental Burnout Paradise was. None of these additions focus in on what makes Burnout special. It makes the whole game feel like a varied sandbox rather than a complete package. Thankfully, that gameplay core is so solid is that it can still thrive without additional support. Players will grasp onto one or two things in Paradise City and get a full fun time out of it, but completionists may find the hodgepodge of modes and playstyles demanding.
Thankfully, Burnout Paradise Remastered also preserves the game’s robust online multiplayer. It’s here that many fans of the game hang their hat, and it’s not hard to see why. Even a decade after release, the freeform online challenges are still innovative and a lot of fun. Unlike a lot of online experiences, even playing with complete strangers in a random lobby can be enjoyable. The constant crashes and revenge rivalries introduce a healthy competition that doesn’t overshadow the cooperation. These tasks truly let you explore Paradise City in ways the structured events don’t. After you’re done, you can take that knowledge back to the campaign and improve your fastest times.
Whether you’re online or offline, this version of Burnout Paradise is definitive. The graphics upscale to look exactly as you remember them. The licensed soundtrack has been preserved just as it was, letting players experience the magic of Avril Lavigne all over again. Hell, even the game’s Xbox Live Vision support is reproduced using the Xbox One’s Kinect. The only thing that’s really missing is the real world advertisements, which used to hawk for everything from other EA titles to President Obama’s presidential campaign. Whether that’s an improvement or a loss is really up to how much you think advertising adds to your sense of realism.
Of course, the gameplay is crystallized as much as the presentation, which probably isn’t a great thing. There has been a decade of open world improvements since Burnout Paradise. The lack of fast travel and the hidden option to restart events make single player progress slow. The open world never turns off, even during races, meaning that you can lose in an instant with one wrong turn. Some locations, especially those in the northern hills, are only accessible via long winding roads. You’ll have to drive these stretches over and over if you want to complete specific events located there.
This leaves Burnout Paradise Remastered as a perfectly restored edition of an imperfect game. This is still Burnout, and the driving is top of the heap. Just by virtue of this release, EA has put out the best arcade racing game of this generation. It’s really no contest. However, just because the formula is impeccable doesn’t mean that the format is above reproach. Developers have been chasing the dream of open-world racing games ever since 2006 to varying levels of success. Looking at the current landscape, it seems that the well has gone dry. So many storied franchises are hanging on by a thread, and the entire genre could use a boost. It may be just the right time to revive the Lazy Generation.
Our Burnout Paradise Remastered review was conducted on Xbox One via EA Access and with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4. Burnout 3: Takedown is available on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Xbox 360 via Backward Compatibility.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is well worth the return trip, if only as a reminder of what a real arcade racing game feels like. Still, its open world design and the slew of experimental DLC additions overload the experience and prove that cruising the city is no substitute for a good Takedown.
- Arcade Racing Done Right, Especially Online
- Beautiful Graphical Overhaul
- Preserved Licensed Soundtrack
- Kinect Support
- Lackluster Single Player Progression
- Outdated Open World Mechanics
- Crash Mode and Aftertouch Are Missed