A lot can change in ten years, and after a decade of working on Need for Speed titles - and playing second fiddle supporting the likes of Battlefield 1 and Star Wars Battlefront II - Criterion finally return to the franchise which put their name on the map to re-release its crown jewel: Burnout Paradise.
There’s some variety to be found in the challenges you can take on, presuming you enjoy driving cars fast, of course. Simple races start and finish between eight predefined locations on the map - mirroring compass points - and let you take any route, with an indicator at the top of the screen letting you know if you’re on the right track, and even flashing road signs indicating whether to turn left or right to course correct you if necessary.
Road Rage and Marked Man behave in much the same way, asking you to take out or avoid being taken out by AI drivers across a set route respectively. Here, arguably, is where the most fun is had thanks to the game’s cinematic approach to both takedowns and even your own crashes, should you find yourself dramatically spiralling off the road and into oblivion.
Stunt Races do pretty much what they say on the tin, placing you at a specific starting location to rack up as many points as you can. There are multipliers for moves like barrel rolls and spins, or taking out a billboard or two, but it can be hard to make the most of them early on, before you know where the best ramps and shortcuts are.
Burn Races are speed challenges for specific cars, which can be hit and miss depending on how much you enjoy the car in question. The time limits involved can be quite challenging, even from the beginning, so this is another set of events to come back to when you really know what you’re doing.
Progress through the game is gated by your driver’s licence, which starts as a learner permit and graduates through graded letters from D. Each time you achieve a new rank, your wins on completed events are reset, meaning you can revisit races and challenges you’re familiar with in order to push towards the next licence upgrade.
As you gather wins, new cars are unleashed upon the city, making it a simple case of taking them out to add them to your junkyard - the haven where your suite of vehicles live. You’ll find a selection of special cars here too, thanks to all the DLC being included, giving you the chance to take to the streets in lookalikes of some of pop culture’s most iconic vehicles, including the Delorean from Back to the Future, complete with hover mode.
Of course, as these cars are legendary (just like police cruisers and toy cars), they have pretty impressive stats, making them an easy shortcut for race wins in particular. There is a trade off though, in that many can be quite flimsy, and the ability to take a bit of damage without being obliterated is crucial in some modes.
Despite the AI’s aggression building as you climb the ranks, you’re often the biggest danger to yourself. With so many obstacles to navigate, including meandering traffic (though, thankfully, not pedestrians) you’ll find yourself slamming into walls and wrecking constantly, at least for a while as you get the hang of boosting around in your car of choice.
Each vehicle falls into one of a handful of classes, which have different ways of racking up nitrous, suited to the type of car it is. For example, a standard stunt class car gives you a big chunk of boost or fills your bar completely for going over ramps or pulling off tricks, whereas the aggression class is more risk/reward based, in that taking down other cars is a big win, but crashing out or being taken down takes away some of that hard-earned boost.
It’s elements like this which allow you to play the game in a way that’s more tailored to you, and the various systems all stem from previous games in the series, so if you had a particular penchant for Burnout 3: Takedown, you can feel right at home.
Venturing online - with a simple press of right on the D-pad - is a mixed bag. The forward-thinking drop-in/drop-out approach to multiplayer is a marvel which defines a “seamless online experience” even today, but the support systems in place around it are less effective.
You’ll launch you into Freeburn Online almost seamlessly, and other players will be loaded into their respective areas of the map. There’s a garage-full of challenges the tackle between two to eight players, as well as races which can be kicked off by the host.
The fact that challenges often require a specific location is the first major stumbling block, as without players making the most of voice chat (generally the norm in our limited experience pre-release) it can be tricky to get everyone together. There aren’t modern conveniences like group waypoints or text commands to try to coordinate everyone, and with an emphasis on making rivals online by taking down opponents, you can find yourself being smashed to pieces whilst parked at the side of the road navigating a menu.
While these are limitations also present in the original game, it could have made a big impact on longevity to have implemented a few community-friendly features, though, admittedly, as we were dealing with a pre-release audience, there’s still opportunity to be pleasantly surprised moving forward.
From LCD Soundsystem to Beethoven, the variety gives you the opportunity to cruise around with a soundtrack that works for you, with every song feeling like it belongs.
Of course, with friends it’s a whole different kettle of fish and the unhelpful map aside, players who’ve got to grips with where things are shouldn’t have too much trouble taking on a fairly wide variety of challenges, from performing near misses on traffic as a group to one player jumping clean over seven others lined up below.
Burnout has always been up there with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and SSX series in terms of iconic and engaging soundtracks, and Paradise Remastered brings that magic back with all but two of the 92 original tracks making the cut. The variety on offer, from LCD Soundsystem to Beethoven, gives you the opportunity to cruise around with a soundtrack that works for you, with every carefully curated song feeling like it belongs.
That’s especially complementary to the vast, over-the-top playground of Big Surf Island, which feels a little hidden away, located to the east of the city. Another expansion, here there are unique cars and mega jumps, which crank up the more common super jumps across the rest of the city to 11, often seeing you hurtle halfway across the entire island.
In fact, so extensive is the amount of unlocks and areas to explore, Paradise Remastered could prove a near-endless rabbit hole for completionists. Not only do you have 475 no entry gates to smash, but also 165 billboards. Once you’ve done all that, there’s over 140 cars to unlock (though some are available from the get go) and you can set speed times for every single road on the map, both online and offline.
It’s perhaps forgivable then that one of the staples of the franchise, Crash Mode, where you attempt to cause as much damage as possible at a single intersection, is absent from this game entirely, thanks to Criterion’s past decision to spin it off into its own little game called Burnout Crash!. With such a vast amount of content to explore though, across a stunningly beautiful world, it’s easy to forgive this omission.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is a slice of pure joy in a gaming landscape which has arguably become unnecessarily complex. Re-releases aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and making a habit of such things is an issue in itself, but this case feels well-deserved and expertly executed. The original Paradise raised the bar for what racing games could be, and it arguably hit a high Criterion themselves have failed to recapture since. Remastered has us feeling things we thought were long gone and is an outstanding and hugely rewarding addition to any arcade racing fan’s library.