For years, I've heard many a late-'80s/early-'90s kids speak about the golden days of racing and the titles that helped shape their youth. When talking about graphics, design, attitude and glorious soundtracks, they usually steer towards Need for Speed Underground 1 or 2 and I stop listening. I've heard it so many times and I can't say I agree with these nostalgic fanatics. For me, the Burnout series, and especially Burnout 3: Takedown, had all of the above boxes checked and more.
Instead of a gangster attitude, scantily clad babes and "pimped rides", Burnout focused on spectacular car crashes to the tunes of lanky, tattooed 20-somethings screaming into studio microphones. To the horror of fans, however, publisher EA pushed developer Criterion into a different direction following the release of Burnout Paradise, namely in the direction of Need for Speed. How that process was like or what motivated that decision, I don't know (I'd assume it to be about money), but with a decade having passed, the gaping hole that is the lack of a new Burnout game is as clear as day in the rear-view mirror.
Burnout Paradise (the fifth game in the original series) was released back in 2008 and would become the swansong for the series. For the first time in the history of the franchise, players got to drive around in an open-world environment, called Paradise City, instead of having to select a set race track via stiff menus. While back then it was rather groundbreaking to offer an open world in a racing game (the Forza Horizon games would take over this space a few years later), it's not exactly something that's set to impress gamers today. Something that's aged a lot better, however, is the fact that it's an arcade racing title. The previous console generation offered a vast variety of so-called arcade racers such as Project Gotham Racing, Dirt, Pure, Blur, Split Second, Flatout and so on, while the racing fans of today more or less have to settle for the many simulation titles currently dominating the market.
Ahead of starting the game up for review, I was a little bit sceptical to play it on the Switch due to the clicking of the shoulder buttons. No racing title should have one button for max acceleration and one for max brakes, I thought, but in all honesty, it doesn't matter in Burnout Paradise Remastered. The focus here isn't precision, it's on fast reflexes, and for that, the Switch controls work great.
After having been dropped down into Paradise City to the Guns & Roses song by the same name, I found myself less than enthused on occasion. I didn't want hard rock blasting in my ears (I instantly missed the third game's intro, Lazy Generation by F-Ups), the graphics were pretty primitive and I didn't really understand how everything worked going in. What's explained to the player is explained at lightning speed and all of a sudden, you're free-roaming in a world adorned with extra motion blur. Quickly, however, I realised that not knowing what the hell I was supposed to do actually served a purpose. With no direction, I started driving around the town, exploring.
Another song comes on the radio. The singer tells us how he'll spread the ashes of his friend and I'm speeding through closed-down construction sites and parking garages. Eventually, I crash into a car and get to experience the decade-old but still fantastic eggshell physics. This is where the game truly delivers. Sure, open-world environments are old news, but the rather small world is so well-designed and filled to the brim with ramps, barriers, backstreets and alleys; it offers so much in terms of exploration and the design of the city truly is timeless. It's clear that if there's one thing that arcade games can take pride in it is ageing with dignity. I don't care about where I'm supposed to go anymore, I just want to explore all that surrounds me.
Graphically, the game isn't exactly wondrous, but it suits its purpose, and if I happen to crash my car, I at least get to see it crinkle up like gift wrap paper and listen to the destruction. That said, we did also find an issue as we tore around this otherwise glorious world and that's the framerate. Occasionally, especially during high-speed crashes, the framerate dips and throws you off. The Switch should be able to keep up with the 60 frames per second that were promised, so it's a bit disappointing.
To advance in the game, I learned that you have to stop at a crossing and "burn" your tires to participate in challenges, of which there are four types: Races, Stunts, Takedowns, and Marked Man. If you've tried one of each, you know exactly what awaits from there on out. The challenges stay the same, they just get more difficult and the progression system, apart from offering faster and cooler cars, is minimal. You won't unlock new areas or alternative routes - there's nothing like that.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is a classic arcade title. There's a clear and solid core formula that repeats with very few exceptions, and that's not for everyone, especially not for those who are expecting something new. The game is the same as it was in 2008 with the DLCs added, i.e. new cars and a new island. Granted, the latter is well-designed and offers some much-needed variety. There is some charm here for those who want to revisit an old gem, but if it doesn't lure you in after two hours, twenty won't alter that perception.
Burnout Paradise isn't the masterpiece that you might remember it being. Today, it's more so something to pick up every now and then to do some stunts when the simulators become a bit too much. I'd love to see EA look into a potential continuation of the series for PS5 and Xbox Series X, because Criterion would thrive in this space. It's a developer that definitely has the competence to deliver a violent vehicular masterpiece.
Loading next content