Remakes, remasters, and franchise reboots. They’re everywhere. Drunk on nostalgia, we line up for shoddy reconstructions of the hits of yesterday, and often the result is utter disappointment. Returning to the high point of the Burnout franchise for a remaster should’ve been a safe bet, on paper at least, because the key to Burnout Paradise isn’t stunningly recreated worlds and Project Cars-esque handling models. It’s always been about breakneck speed, ruthless aggression, smashing things, and the endless desire to push onward. You hardly have time to appreciate blossoms falling delicately from cherry trees lining the sidewalk. It’s been a while, but Criterion has dusted off a classic, and once again wants to take you down to Paradise City, where the cars are fast and textures aren’t pretty.
I don’t know if it’s offensive to insinuate that Burnout is a single-minded proposition of a racing game, but I stand by it. It’s an arcade punch in the face, with ridiculous speeds and impossible jumps coupled with what stands as the greatest crash camera seen in a racing game. It’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 with a combustion engine, and sizzling supercars transitioning from massive ramps to banked curves which appear out of nowhere. Burnout Paradise, in its remastered form or in its original guise, is the embodiment of what arcade racing is meant to be.
It’s also old, and it shows. Ten years is a long time in any industry. In gaming, ten years is a chasm of growth and development. Things are very different now, we expect a lot more, today’s technology allows for a lot more, and no amount of 4K shininess can make up for those missed years in that respect. Am I being shallow? Perhaps. But it’s hard to play this remastered edition and not dream of a game where the Burnout Paradise framework has been draped with a tarpaulin of today’s technology and game design ideologies.
At the same time, Burnout built its name on brute force action, not nuance, cleverness, or swooning beauty. This remaster clings tightly to what the franchise is known for. Scorching across the city in a heaving lump of steel and fury, in a state of perpetual tension, knowing that even a split second’s lapse of concentration could see your glossy speedster compressed against a wall like a cheap tin can, it’s gripping like few other racing games could ever hope to manage.
This is a remaster in the classic sense of the word – the core game remains the same, but it’s so sleek and sharp you could use it to shave a pitbull’s balls. That said, I found myself daydreaming of Forza’s majestic backgrounds and trackside detail while roaring down yet another city street almost indistinguishable from the last, big concrete slabs and cloned skyscrapers lining the way. Resolution is fine and all, and framerate is obviously hugely important when you’re moving at the speeds you’re subjected to in Burnout, but all of this excitement takes place in a terribly dull world. The island area offers a change of scenery, but it’s too small and the feeling there is of too much Burnout crammed into a tiny box.
As for the vehicles, they’re an acquired taste. We’ve been spoiled with sprawling garages full of licensed, almost photorealistic cars in the big franchise games, so it takes some getting used to the selection of backstreet knockoffs on display here. But then, that’s part of the charm. I had more fun than I want to admit while behind the wheel of what looked something like the offspring of a Dodge Viper, a circuit board, and a particularly easily startled chameleon. I have no idea what it was called, but it handled like a streak of lightning, and it looked quite spectacular smashed against the supporting pillar of an overpass. In glorious slow motion.
Not all of the available vehicles are created equal, though, and you’ll have to slog your way though quite a bevy of faceless also-rans before you find the gem which makes it feel like you’re connected to the game through a neural network plugged into your Xbox controller and routed directly to your brain. Since the remastered edition includes all the expansion content, it can be quite overwhelming to dig through these cars to find one that really resonates with you. Meet your steel soulmate, though, and you’ll soon find yourself in a zen state on the interstate, accompanied by a delicious soundtrack loaded with sleeper hits from yesteryear and some top notch cheese mixed in.
Even with the right car, however, the races become repetitive, and the cackling glee of ramming opponents’ cars into walls until they’re ripped apart and strewn across the tarmac starts to lose its shine eventually. What Burnout captures – and this is something rarely captured outside of the Forza Horizon franchise – is the sense of joy in the act of just driving around. Fast. I had more fun pushing my new Dingo Vortex 3000 (I made that up, but wow, these cars have some absurd names) from one side of the city to the other purely because I could. For the longest time, I eschewed races altogether and just explored. Considering what I’ve said about the often unremarkable cityscapes and countryside here, it’s testament to the driving experience that I was happy to tear around this concrete jungle, aimlessly, all the same.
Shortcuts to be found, billboards to be smashed, jumps and drifts to time to perfection, Burnout Paradise Remastered is riddled with ecstatic moments. It’s also very much the same as it was before, for better or worse. Having the full package in one place, all at once, means that fans of the original will be swimming in high speed carnage for a while to come. But, as with most remasters, you have to wonder if enough has changed to make it worth paying for what is really a ten year old game in a fancy new suit.
In my opinion – and that’s really what this is, when it comes to it – Burnout still deserves its place on the arcade racing wall of fame, and few games can match it for sheer speed and intensity on the edge of chaos. But it’s largely a tool of nostalgia, a simple game with one thing on its mind, and we’ve come to expect more. For my money, I would forgo the reckless speed and incredible handling that comes baked into the Burnout experience, and spend my time with a fuller package like something from the Forza Horizon family. As for returning customers, if you really love Burnout Paradise, you’ll already own it elsewhere, and I can’t promise that there’s enough here to warrant a second purchase.