Burnout Paradise Remastered isn’t exactly subtle. Upon loading it up you’re met with the opening riff of – you guessed it – Guns ‘N Roses seminal classic of the same name. You’re then left to your own devices to drive as fast as humanly possible while trying to eliminate the opposite and, on occasion, yourself. This is Burnout exactly as you remember it – for better or worse.
The on-the-nose lack of hand-holding may grate with some but, in the years since Burnout Paradise’s original 2008 release, many driving games have erred on the side of caution (and cautious driving); Burnout Paradise Remastered, then, is a breath of fresh air.
There are going to be two core audiences coming into Burnout Paradise Remastered. The first, Burnout vets, will pick up exactly where they’ve left off. They may be let down by the lack of a proper Crash Mode (which, though nostalgia blindness might tell you otherwise, didn’t properly make it into this iteration) but it’s very much business as usual, and you’ll love it for it. It’s a looker too, recreated exactly as your mind’s eye remembers it, with the added bonus of being able to play in 4K.
For those new to the Burnout series, there’s every chance you’ll be put off by the seamless jump-in, jump-out style of gameplay plucked straight from 2008. Fast travel isn’t a thing, swapping cars can be a painful slog to the nearest junkyard; there’s no real direction and development, other than a license that upgrades after an arbitrary amount of wins and, even then, you just unlock more cars to go hurtling down highways at breakneck speed with. It’s hard to recommend to newcomers. More recent games may leave you acclimatized to a fully-functioning career mode, with all the bells and whistles, and a drily-composed multiplayer where you can put the pedal to the metal in a bunch of iconic locations and tracks. Not so here.
You shouldn’t think about steering clear, however, newbie or no. That’s for one reason and one reason only: the multiplayer. A playground in the truest sense of the word, one where laughter and light-hearted rivalry are the currency trading hands, and this is where Burnout Paradise Remastered really shines.
The emphasis is on fun and only fun. Time trials start on a whim and are just asked to be bettered and bettered again. Stats are continuously ticking along the screen, begging to be beaten, as your friends and foes close in on even more of your session’s best achievements. It’s not an understatement to say you can easily see yourself spending half-a-dozen hours in the online realm of Paradise City doing ‘nothing’ and still having the most fun you’ll have in a video game all year.
It’s frustrating, then, that the game is held back in a couple of minor but aggravating ways. Single-player races can’t be restarted, for one thing. If, as I did on more than one occasion, you’re bottled down a path that ends up nowhere near a checkpoint or an end goal early on in a race, you’ll have to quit and make sure you find that precise traffic light/starting point again. For a game that’s all about how fast you can go, it’s really adept at bringing things to a screeching halt.
Of course, giving gamers a new gloss of paint and packing in extras (more of which in a jiffy) comes with the remaster territory, but it’s irritating to see lessons not being learned from the past decade of driving titles.
Even Burnout Paradise’s trimmings can begin to grate in unexpected ways. This isn’t the vanilla version you might be accustomed to if you left Burnout Paradise behind after a year way back when. You’re given Big Surf Island, a new area to the east of Paradise City, plus a cacophony of new cars and even motorbikes. It may sound promising, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
The game’s inclination to give you every DLC car right out of the bat leaves the game terribly unbalanced if you don’t choose to stick to the road you’re supposed to travel down. Vehicles with incredible speed, capacity for stunts and being bigger and better than anything you might be used to so early on are at your immediate disposal. That means you’ll be leaving most AI opponents in your dust through most of the game unless you avoid the devil on your shoulder and stick to the cacophony of crappy cars you’re served up for the game’s first few hours.
As for Big Surf Island: it’s just… fine. You’ll be glad you don’t have to pay extra, as there isn’t much to see or do. The biggest issue you might encounter with it is the baffling fact that winning events there doesn’t contribute to your license win total. It’s a completely separate metagame that has no influence on leveling up. Again, it’s indicative of a title that is intent on spinning its wheels where so many of its peers have come on leaps and bounds.
It’s possible to overlook all of that, though, when the racing is so impressive. Sure, the map is a little small and there’s only so many race variations and ‘track’ layouts the game can come up with, but there’s nary a game that can match Burnout when it really puts the pedal to the metal.
Weaving in and out of oncoming traffic, trying to fight off a troublesome rival who just won’t stay down before, finally, mercifully, piling their car into a wall while you veer off a bridge and escape via an impromptu shortcut is bliss when it comes off. And it happens more often than you think. Despite the pulse-pounding intensity, there’s always a modicum of control, and the right mix of power and precision when it comes to maneuvering your vehicle. It’s a testament to the exceptional fine-tuning the team at Criterion put in that this is the element that holds up the most, even after so many years.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is ultimately a paradox. Equipped with a purring, powerful new under-the-hood upgrade, the game delivers a pure driving experience that is on-par with many of its contemporaries in the looks and feel department. Unfortunately, it’s also running on well-worn tires. Some of the quirks, acceptable in 2008, haven’t been ironed out, and the game can feel sparse and comparatively tiny when scaled against later titles. Mileage may vary: Burnout nuts will be desperate for a return to Paradise City and will enjoy every minute of it. Those new to the series (and lapsed vets) may want to turn their attention elsewhere.