Review: Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box

BurnoutParadiseUltimateBox.jpg As I downloaded and installed this from the EA store (more on that in a minute), I recalled the origins of my history with racing games. The first one I really loved in particular. I mean, as a kid in the 70’s, I had Pong in the mid-70’s, and by the time Asteroids hit a few years later I was already flush with cash from my routines of paper route / snow shoveling / babysitting / lawn mowing so I could dump quarters into arcade machines with reckless abandon. And to a small extent I did enjoy the arcades of the late 70’s, but it was towards the end of my ‘arcade experience’, during the first couple of years of the 1980’s, that I found my favorite arcade games. Things like Sinistar, Disks of Tron, Robotron, Joust … and Spy Hunter. Those games had a major cultural impact for myself and my friends as we were transitioning into adulthood and independence as we entered our college years, and remain fun for myself and my family when we revisit them in ‘classic’ arcade settings today.

With that as an introduction, you might expect to hear about a glorious history of me playing racing games through the years … but alas, it hasn’t happened. While I played a couple of race games on the Mac, including the controversial Carmageddon. But it wasn’t until I picked up Outrun Coast-to-Coast for the PSP a couple of years ago, followed by Test Drive Unlimited for the PC and PSP, that I started getting back into the genre. My first Burnout game was Burnout Dominator for the PSP – that’s right, I didn’t even get the first PSP release of the franchise!

Why the long intro? Because Burnout Paradise seems to have caused a rift in the fanbase (cue ‘disturbance in the force’ jokes). Many lamented the loss of the ‘restart race’ option, others lamented how much was happening to make the game more ‘accessible’ to newcomers, still others felt that the core game was shifting away from the fans.

Fortunately I don’t really care one way or another about how the game is positioned, just whether or not it is any good. That might sound odd coming from someone who seems to spend too much time in every review putting things in context, but think of this: Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box is the first time the series has come to the PC.

And what’s more, rather than getting a stripped-down port of the console game, we get all of the add-ons and fixes and even some new stuff! Now THIS is the way to bring a franchise to a new platform!

Since the majority of fans of racing games have long since moved to consoles, I will assume basic familiarity with the genre, and with the Burnout franchise. Let me sum it up by paraphrasing from ‘Better Off Dead’: go that way, really fast; if something gets in your way, CRASH IT!

Burnout Paradise has changed up just about everything in the game. First off, the ‘Crash Mode’ has been replaced by Showtime, which is similar but less challenging and can be engaged any time. In fact, the entire game is played in a big open city called ‘Paradise City’ and similar to Test Drive Unlimited you can actually spend a huge amount of time just cruising around doing nothing. But that isn’t where the game shines – it is all about getting into fast paced action and either crashing yourself or taking out opponents.

Once you get your learner’s permit and a starter car, the first thing you realize is that the game has specific behavior it rewards: driving fast, dangerous, and aggressive! You earn points by driving in ‘burnout’ mode and getting boosts and chaining them up by refilling your meeting while still riding on your last burnout. A simple way to do this is to drive into ongoing traffic really fast without crashing. You also engage in one of several event types: Race, Road Rage, Marked Man, Stunt Run, Burning Route, Burning Ride, and Midnight Ride. You earn loads of points by succeeding at these events.

A major difference in Burnout Paradise is that you can start an event anywhere. Rather than having to go to a designated spot to initiate a race, you just stop at any traffic light and press the accelerator and brake simultaneously to start a race event. Although I would normally separate out my thoughts for multiplayer, there is no need – simply press a button to pop out a menu and join in with folks from your friends list. It is much simpler than an online lobby system and works quite well.

As you are ready to progress, you can choose cars best suited to your driving style – do you prefer Speed, Stunts or Aggressive driving? Each of these classes fills your boost meter more quickly when driving according to the preferred class.

Technically the game is stunning – they went out of their way to take advantage of high-end PC hardware, but as a result be warned that the game isn’t all that friendly on lower end hardware. It will run, but my experience trying to install it on an older laptop was that the default settings were terrible and resulted in glitchy performance and crashes. It ran quite well once I tweaked the settings manually, but really shines on top-end video cards.

The controls work perfectly – I chose to kick back with my X360 wireless controller, but my older son liked the visceral ‘in your face’ feel of being close to the screen and using the keyboard and mouse controls. Both work perfectly well – which is illustrated by the fact that I tend to be a keyboard & mouse guy and my son is more of a console gamer and neither of us were out of our element.

Of course, no Burnout game would be complete without a large, high-quality soundtrack: Burnout Paradise has a few dozen licensed songs that satisfy most tastes in rock music, from stuff like Adam & the Ants and Jane’s Addiction that I liked to Guns N Roses and Soundgarden for my kids. Environmental sounds are also superb – from crashes to tire squealing to engine roar and more, the game wants to be played loud on a good surround system!

I cannot overstate how pleased I was that EA and Criterion included just about EVERYTHING that has been released for the game since it initially launched on console – patches, minor and major add-ons and party packs! There is just a TON of content included in the box.

My expectation was that this would be a reasonable but not great console port with wonky controls and too many glitches, and probably wouldn’t include much aside from the original game. Boy was I ever wrong! The game worked perfectly on two modern laptops, delivering 60+fps performance at high resolution on each. Even the lower-spec laptop I mentioned before ran the game nicely once I tweaked the settings. The title couldn’t be more fitting – this is one Ultimate box of Burnout-style racing, one that PC racing gamers should rush out and get today!

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Massive open areas
+ Loads of options on how to play
+ Multiplayer is a blast

Cons:
– Too much taken away from core game

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Criterion Games
Release Date: 02/03/09
Genre: Driving, Racing
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Players: 1-8

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!