It’s telling that in the nearly decade and a half since the release of Burnout Paradise back in 2008 that both video game developers and perhaps their audiences have seemingly forgotten what a truly great arcade racer should look or feel like. With its deft blending of iconic, smashmouth Burnout thrills and deceptively intelligent open world design, Burnout Paradise is something of a once in a generation genre offering the likes of which we sadly just don’t see anymore.
Thankfully, the more recent remastered releases of Burnout Paradise on contemporary PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch platforms mean that an all new generation of gamers can sink their teeth into what is arguably (at least from this perspective of this humble scribe), the best racing game ever. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s exactly ten reasons why Burnout Paradise is the best racing game ever.
A Soundtrack For The Ages
From the moment Burnout Paradise boots into its title screen and Guns ‘N Roses iconic track Paradise City kicks up, an odd sense of familiarity washes over you, even if you’ve never played the game before. In truth, the use of ‘Paradise City’ is a calculated opening gambit to entice the player into the world of Burnout Paradise, with that song’s gentle opening putting the player at rest before the madness begins. More broadly, the leveraging of a fully licensed soundtrack that straddles a swathe of artists from the alternative rock scene, absolutely compliments the on-screen white-knuckle racing action with aplomb too. It’s certainly fair to say that you haven’t lived until you’ve hit a 170MPH boost powered drift around a corner on the highest peak of White Mountain all the while ‘My Curse’ by Killswitch Engage is thrumming away in the background. In Burnout Paradise, the music is every bit a part of its design identity as anything else.
Precise, Responsive Handling That Challenges
From subtle turns to full on drifts to massive spinning leaps and crushing takedowns of your enemies that can all be pulled off with ease, there is no racing game that handles quite like Burnout Paradise. Surprisingly delicate and yet immediately responsive, Burnout Paradise prides itself on boasting a level of intensity that in turn demands extremely fast reaction times from anybody that picks up the controller. There’s a veritable well of mastery to be plumbed here too, as the numerous hulking great big vans, sleek Japanese sports cars, high-end Italian style supercars and robust American muscle cars all possess their own weight, grip and handling characteristics that make each one a unique challenge to drive.
An Unmatched Sensation Of Speed
It’s not really until you’re screaming through the busy central square of Downtown Paradise City in the Krieger Überschall 8 supercar and the vanishing point begins to distort that you come to an obvious realisation – Burnout Paradise might just be one of the fastest racing games ever made. Certainly there’s just no other genre effort that quite matches Burnout Paradise in this regard. Certainly, that feeling when you kick in the boost on a high performance car and the music punches itself up an additional notch all add to the impression that this is a game built to thrill. There’s also an anxiety attached to this hellacious sense of velocity too, as the ultra precise handling model of Burnout Paradise means that slight movements at high speed can mean the difference between a near miss and that shiny sports car being turned into twisted wreck of steel and regret in a split-second.
Visceral Vehicular Violence That Remains Unparalleled
Somewhat perversely, a great chunk of the fun that Burnout Paradise offers up comes in the form of its spectacular smashes and crashes that it permits. Working off the back of a wildly detailed car crash physics system that allows for some teeth-gritting vehicle-on-vehicle violence, no game before or since Burnout Paradise has managed to depict car crashes quite like this. Keenly showcased during the various takedown activities within Burnout Paradise, cars can generously flip into the air before crashing down onto other cars, tip onto their roofs, spin over chasms as windscreens blow out and barrel roll down a street, all the while sparks and chunks of twisted chassis fly out. It’s almost impossible not to wince and provides Burnout Paradise with a visceral nature no other racing game can draw parallel with.
Open World Design That Rewards Experimentation
Thanks to open world fatigue, it might be easy to roll an eyeball or two at the very notion of an arcade racing game which embraces open world design, but Burnout Paradise incorporates the concept superbly and deceptively. Though the open world in Burnout Paradise does have its fair share of secret areas, big jumps, billboards to smash and so on for players to discover on their own terms, the breadth of its open world actually figures directly into every single one of its different mission types too. When racing to Wild Stallion Ranch for example, you can take any route or number of shortcuts to get there and very often, you’ll discover these new routes and cheeky diversions mid-race as well. This very much reinforces the notion that the open world of Burnout Paradise is threaded through every aspect of its design, rather than just being relegated to a pretty map stuffed with icons, collectibles and busywork.
Burnout Paradise Is The Racing Equivalent Of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
A big part of Burnout Paradise being a card carrying member of the arcade racing club is that it allows players to perform all manner of different stunts and manoeuvres at pretty much any point during play. Capitalising upon such automobile acrobatics, developer Criterion Games implemented a number of stunt activities which requires players to reach a certain score by chaining together drifts, spins, jumps, flips and more in a combo like fashion not at all unlike Activision’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. Indeed Big Surf Island, the premium expansion pack which introduced an all-new landmass for players to smash around on subscribes to this school of thought entirely, as it’s essentially one massive vehicular stunt playground boasting under construction skyscrapers, lighthouse towers, ramped beaches and more for wannabe stunt drivers to mess about with.
Enticing Progression Tied Both Into Its Races And Open World
Beyond its compelling handling, crashes and activities, Burnout Paradise actually does a grand old job of keeping players engaged. Completing a set number of activities for example results in a licence upgrade, which in turn provides a new car for you to bomb about in. Additionally, taking down the numerous rival cars that roam Paradise City allow you to take their wheels, while hitting key milestones such as nailing a number of big jumps, smashing a sufficient number of billboards or fulfilling completeness quotas in the various districts can also provide some shiny new, four-wheeled monsters for you to take home too. There’s almost always something to strive for and it never fails to keep you hooked.
Visually Burnout Paradise Still Absolutely Holds Up Today
Despite being released two generations of console hardware ago back in 2008, Burnout Paradise still holds up visually incredibly well, even today. With the action tearing along at a rock solid 60 frames per second on all platforms while encompassing highly detailed car models with an extremely high degree of deformity, not to mention a massive city filled with a horde of other vehicles all blasting along at high speed, Burnout Paradise still remains one of the very best looking arcade racers money can buy.
It Represents Total Escapism For The Racing Genre
One aspect of Burnout Paradise that is often overlooked is just how freewheeling and unserious it is. A far cry from the usual po-faced and straight laced racers that have sprung up in innumerable quantity since its release, Burnout Paradise with its face-tearing speed, crazy crashes, thunderous alternative rock soundtrack and overzealous DJ Atomica commentary all adds up to something approaching real escapism, rather than yet another snooze-worthy attempt at replicating the reality that already exists outside of our screens.
Burnout Paradise Feels Like The Last Gasp Of EA BIG
Before EA got all super serious and decided that it didn’t want to do stunt snowboarding, arcade racing or rap wrestling games anymore, a label called EA BIG existed as a sort of bastion of counterculture to the generally risk averse output of the publisher at a time. Harkening back to an era when EA was creatively braver than it is now, EA BIG was all about putting loud and brash spins on established genres which resulted in the release of notable (and hugely missed) series such as SSX, Def Jam Vendetta and more besides. As such, Burnout Paradise feels like the last gasp of the EA BIG label in many ways, thanks in no small part to how Criterion Games arguably finest hour exudes distilled fun from every digital pore. A fitting coda to a beloved and oft forgotten time in the industry, methinks.