It feels like there should be a half-dozen games that have supplanted Burnout Paradise by now. When it came out, it practically redefined what an arcade racing game could and should be. It moved the taut action of the Burnout series into the open worlds that were rapidly coming to define the PS3 / 360 generation, then turned the cars loose in its depopulated playground with the violent enthusiasm of a child arranging Matchbox car smash-ups.
Electronic Arts would eventually make Paradise the template for the next series of Need for Speed games, and by attaching Burnout developer Criterion to the games, it almost seemed like the Burnout series had practically taken-over the elder racing franchise.But despite games like Most Wanted explicitly borrowing a lot of the trappings of Paradise, and the later Rivals and 2015 Need for Speed games attempting to make even wilder and more audacious open-worlds, Paradise remains lost. Burnout Paradise Remastered at least promises us a chance to return to it.
In retrospect, Burnout Paradise had a purity of purpose that its successors and imitators never achieved. The mission-creep that so often attends open-world series means that eventually we’d have car tuning, upgrade trees, and weird duels between sci-fi fascist police and their natural enemies, joyriders and street racers.
Need for Speed: Rivals remains one of the few racing games I’ve ever quit because of ganking, and Ubisoft’s Small-World re-creation of the United States in The Crew was like a distillation of every grating tic of a Ubisoft open-world design sensibilities in the form of a deeply average racing game. Even my favorite post- Paradise open-world racer, Driver: San Francisco, adopts the plate-spinning conceit of being a Tommy Westphallian daydream in the form of a 70s buddy-cop show in which your character can body-hop between different drivers.
By contrast, Burnout Paradise is just this: cars, on the loose in a city and countryside devoid of human life, smashing each other in a variety-pack of racing events. And, of course, a gasoline-huffing DJ on the radio.
In other words, it’s a game devoid of almost everything publishers and developers have thought players wanted or needed in a racing game. Licensed cars? Burnout Paradise doesn’t have them, and even most of its fictional racers don’t owe very much to real-world inspirations. Instead, its cars are gleefully unrealistic style statements mean to communicate an idea of the car, and then to explode into a million pieces as they’re impaled on a lane-divider.
A story with characters? There’s none of that here, nor even any justification or explanation for what you’re doing. Burnout Paradise just throws you onto the streets with some cars and then, every time you’re on the verge of asking a question, it just turns up the volume on Guns N’ Roses. If you want to unlock a new car, you have to chase it down and smash it on the street, but there’s no upgrading or tuning.
Burnout Paradise is a world of toys, and within it you are allowed to be a child. There are no trappings of career progression or wealth accumulation. Just bragging rights and mayhem.
But in the 10 years between Burnout Paradise and now, publishers and especially Electronic Arts, have shifted from building playgrounds, to amusement parks, to themed casino complexes. It’s both ironic and fitting that Burnout Paradise Remastered follows on the heels of Need for Speed: Payback, a racing game whose fantasies seemed more about monetization than motor racing. Few things could more perfectly prime players to hear, once again, “Take me home / Oh won't you please take me home?”
Burnout Paradise Remastered comes out on March 16 on Xbox One and PS4, for $40. A PC version is coming later.