How Burnout Paradise bucked the trend and made open-world racing irresistible

Few games are as controversial as Burnout Paradise.

It eschewed the street’s traditional burnout “tape” and brought its barnstorming gameplay to an open-world city. Some never forgave its developer, Criterion, for going into the open world, especially since we’ve never seen an official old-style Burnout game since then.

Bitterness can still be felt in many corners of the Internet. But here’s the thing: It’s been around for 15 years and – whether it should have gone open-world or not – there’s still a strong case for it being the best open-world racing game remains, especially in its “Remastered” incarnation.

The feature list sounds like it gives the obvious bleeding in terms of what an open-world racer should contain. A sunny atmosphere with blue skies, sparkling waters and a totally cool licensed soundtrack. Lightning-fast, exhilarating 60fps gameplay that even Criterion’s next foray into the genre couldn’t live up to, Need For Speed: Most Wanted.

Exemplary seamless online integration is everything The Crew wanted to be. A full fledged stunt and combo system that makes Dirt 5’s special stunt events look pathetic by comparison. Crash damage rivaled only by Wreckfest and with even greater destructive range. Varied gameplay with smashable objects to find, wild takedown events, survival sprints, and even an achievement for sliding perfectly into a parking space.

Burnout Paradise Crash

But above all that? The reason it’s so good is that it doesn’t play like other online racing games. It feels sharper in its delivery. And that’s all about one word: curation.

By “curation” I mean careful directorial control over what the player sees, hears, and feels while driving. Paradise City is probably the smallest open-world sandbox in modern gaming, but that’s one of the reasons it’s so good.

It’s a common and relatively recent misconception that bigger is better. A smaller game world offers more time per square mile to curate the experience. If you could drive around a map the size of the United States in an open-world game, it would be humanly impossible to make every road an immersive and unforgettable experience.

Burnout Paradise Curated Route

For example, compare the three tracks in Daytona USA to one of the tracks in its arcade contemporary Cruis’n USA. The latter has more tracks, but the experience feels watered down. Every single corner in Daytona USA has something to offer, whether it’s an unforgettable view, an enjoyable powerslide opportunity, or – more commonly – both at the same time.

While Burnout Paradise has hundreds more corners than this game and therefore can’t quite come close to this level of directorial brilliance, the same sense of direction is present. Everything is placed with meaning, with a specific purpose.

Daytona USADaytona USA

It’s important to note that with racers, it’s much easier to essentially script a player’s experience than it is with an open-world game. But that’s where Burnout Paradise differs from most other open-world titles. While you can steer off the track, pull into a parking lot, and enjoy the view from the rooftop, the roads still play out like the “ribbon” races of the previous games in the series.

You can feel the beats in a storyboard of moments carefully planned for you, such as Like driving back around Wildcats Stadium to the do-or-die billboard break, or riding the boardwalk ramps in a stunt run. The streets have been designed to be fun and interactive elements have been cleverly placed to allow you to rely on reactions and instinct, with the inevitable, beautiful disaster at the end almost a reward for reckless dedication. It is impeccably designed, clearly extensively tested and refined to a fine sheen.

Burnout Paradise awnings

But it’s also very clever at making everything look fast. As it is, you’re strolling the city streets fairly decently, and the 60fps update certainly helps, but Burnout Paradise knows how to maximize that feeling. There are often low-hanging trees, streetlights, and power cables hanging overhead, and even the architecture often has protruding awnings to bring the geometry closer to the player and enhance the sense of speed.

Other games are fast, but very few are burnout fast.

At this point it should be noted that the competition has never managed to do all these things in one package. Most open-world racers aim for 30fps (at least on console), have generally inferior crash damage, and limit their gameplay to races, stunt courses, and extended collectathons.

Even fewer focus on what it feels like to just control the game – another dying art form in general. In the 1980s and 1990s, the best games just felt different. A lot of the fun of visiting an arcade and seeing cutting-edge computer programs came from simply seeing them in motion, let alone having the privilege of actually taking control. Burnout Paradise is still stunning to look at, and even family members who don’t play games get into the game when it’s on.

Burnout Paradise gameplay

So that’s the case for the game, but we should also check the case against.

There’s another elusive element in open-world racing games, and that’s the feeling of actually driving a real car. For all its flaws, the original made The Crew feel like it was sitting in a car with the radio on (even if it only seemed like the Arctic Monkeys looped), something Need For Speed ​​Underground 2 arguably did first has.

There’s something magical about driving through a neon-lit city at night with rain-soaked streets and the radio on. Burnout Paradise doesn’t make you feel like you’re sitting in the car, even on bumper cam, but it does have an atmosphere similar to that of a breezy summer’s day with—yes, you guessed it—the radio.

The crewThe crew

Also, in the version that started first, you had to drive to the start of each event, which became tedious when you kept failing, especially when you only had a few long events left to complete.

That was patched, which is fine. The variety of scenery is also a bit less than in other burnout titles, which is inevitable when the city is set in only one country. The lack of real crash crossings is definitely to be deplored, and the ‘Showtime’ crash mode can’t make up for that.

Finally, DJ Atomica talks a heck of a lot, although I’d argue that he has a good voice, is friendly, and that driving games don’t have enough spoken dialogue anymore. Probably because it’s such a polarizing feature, but there it is.

End of the burnout paradise

But is this small list really a reason to hate such an incredibly well made game? Can someone really load Burnout Paradise and really not have fun?

Any modern open-world racer can still learn something from this. However, the question arises: why hasn’t it been improved?

We’ve had 15 years of technological progress in that time, so why aren’t modern games at least twice as good? It feels like we’re on the verge of the perfect open-world racer in 2008, but each subsequent release has brought a degree of disappointment. Like DiRT 2, it felt like Burnout Paradise was “almost there” at the time, but we had no idea we were at a peak and should have enjoyed the prospect while it lasted.

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