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Burnout Paradise Remastered has earned the franchise its first chart top spot in over a decade.
The much-missed smash 'em-up racing series last hit number one with Burnout Revenge, back in 2005. However, Burnout's best ever week of launch sales still belongs to Burnout 3: Takedown back in 2004.
Kirby Star Allies for Nintendo Switch, last week's other launch of note, earned Nintendo's pink puffball his (her?) biggest UK debut ever.
The first video game my son ever played - I mean really played, rather than toyed with - was Burnout Paradise. We played together, but he took control; he decided what he wanted to do and he did it. The 2008 open-world driving title from Criterion, which is being released in a remastered edition on PS4, was a formative entry in the emerging universe of free-roaming multiplayer racers, leading us to the likes of Forza Horizon and The Crew. It gave you a city and a car, and it just said 'drive'. That's exactly what my son did.
He was only four at the time, so of course, the structural formalities of most games - the rules, the obstacles, the control systems - were a frustrating mystery to him. He loved the look of LittleBigPlanet, he adored the way Sackboy moved his head around in response to the Sixaxis controller (the first time he saw that he literally laughed until he was sick - on the controller), but that game's labyrinthine menu systems and unforgiving physics meant he was all but excluded from the meat of it. Obviously most console games aren't aimed at four-year-olds, but this suddenly made me realise how game developers and experienced game players often completely overlook the essential gate-keeping weirdness of the controller, and of most design conventions. When you play games with your kids for the first time, it hits you like a thunderbolt - so much is taken for granted. So many experiences are buried beneath layers of esoteric user lore. Being a 'gamer' is like being a freemason or a scientologist except there are fewer meetings in luxury hotels and no hidden societal power.
But Burnout Paradise removes many of the abstractions we're so used to. Everything from vehicle repair to selecting and taking part in races is initiated within the game world rather than being drawn out to separate menus. You're not guided at all - you're just there. This frustrated the hell out of 'gamers' at the time, because we're used to familiar design 'on ramps' where the structure is unfolded before us, goading us in. Burnout Paradise only reveals its many events and modes as you drive, and you can totally ignore them, which my son did because he was four and didn't know what a Showtime Mode was and simply didn't care.
It's presented in pristine, native 4K on Xbox One X, yet despite the vast resolution increase over its debut outing on last-gen consoles, Burnout Paradise looks and plays just as you remember it. In this respect it's a remaster done right. There are enhancements - many of them in fact, as you shall see - but it's all in service of adapting the original experience to sit nicely on a new, higher precision medium. And in a world of freebie X-enhanced 360 titles and the existing PC version available on Origin for just 5, that's a good thing. The key takeaway here is that Burnout Paradise Remastered is more than just a port.
To put that to test, we stacked up the new release against the best available legacy version - Criterion's original PC release. It was always light on system resources back in the day, and that translates well into the current era - Nvidia's bargain basement GTX 1050 can comfortably run this at maxed settings or close to it at 1440p - but it does have some issues. First and foremost amongst them is a broken ambient occlusion implementation that introduces some bad aliasing artefacts, particularly noticeable around powerlines. The remaster not only fixes this but substantially improves the entire SSAO effect.
In fact, image quality is refined accordingly all around - native resolution is confirmed at 3840x2160 on Xbox One X, with a full 1920x1080 on the base Xbox One, and while there isn't blanket coverage, the MSAA of the PC version is swapped out for AMD's hardware-level EQAA, set to 4x. Beyond that, while the geometry of the original game (and seemingly most of its LODs) are a match for the vanilla PC experience at its best, developer Stellar Entertainment has embarked on a range of subtle, but effective upgrades to the original game. Most noticeable is the artwork: core assets are now of a significantly higher resolution, with ground art and building textures the most obvious beneficiaries. A bulk of its art seem to be retouched here, right down to the traffic lights.
Maybe it's something about Renderware. It must be, right? 500 Agility Orbs in the Renderware-powered Crackdown, daring you to allow anything else in the game to rival those humming green treats for sheer narrative appeal. And in Burnout Paradise, another Renderware joint, 400 yellow crash gates. They're shortcuts ostensibly but, given the way they scatter on the wind in your wake, I suspect people would happily charge through them even if they lead to nowhere more exciting than a small out-of-hours pharmacy. 400 yellow gates, twinkling their lurid twinkle and lending a throbbing emergency-yellow shape to the wild city looping and tumbling around you. And 120 billboards to smash through. And 50 super jumps to super jump. And ten multi-storeys...
Coming back to it after all these years, peeling out of the auto shop, mentally buckling in, physically shunting through the best worst soundtrack ever constructed in order to find the best worst song of them all - Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend - and then heading for the hills, for the wind farm, for the docks, for the first, hundredth, thousandth time? Doing all of this on instinct alone, it is so clear, so thrillingly clear, that you have found yourself at the centre of something very special. Burnout Paradise is one of the most energising driving games ever created, one of the purest zone games in years, and one of the most thoughtful and surprising and integrated takes on what makes an open-worlder tick and what keeps an open-world feeling connected, readable, and coherent. And hilariously - hilariously! - it's not even the best Burnout.
In fact, at times, Paradise is barely Burnout at all. It ditches the chevrons, for Pete's sake! It ditches those glowing gutter guards that appeared alongside the tracks you raced down meaning that you never really had to worry about steering very much when you were pushing your way into infamy in Takedown or Revenge. Instead, you can get lost on races in Paradise! You can take a wrong turn and suddenly drop from 1/8 to 8/8 like the Pope himself hitting a holy air pocket. (I don't know why I've brought the pope into this; maybe all that talk of Paradise, maybe it's just that Criterion has a way of making its players feel special.)
Burnout Paradise Remastered does not feature any in-game microtransactions, EA has reassured - despite the game's official store listing saying the opposite.
Fans noticed the phrase "in-game game purchases optional" in Paradise's new store listing last night and feared the worst.
While the Remastered edition features all major DLC, EA made a point of mentioning the game's Time Saver packs were not part of the offering. It is these which fans suspected would be sold as extras.