When I was a young boy, my favorite thing to do in video games was drive. Of course shooting was cool, but I got to fire real guns when I went hunting with my father. While I lacked the desire and the patience to kill actual ducks, I imagine the clay pigeons still tell their grandchildren about the massacre I visited upon them in the winter of ’92. But driving was strictly off-limits until I was the right age. Cars were the last big toy the grown-ups wouldn’t let me play with. Arcade cabinets like Outrun, Spy Hunter and Cruis’n USA were as close as I could get, and they made getting behind the wheel look like unbridled freedom. But today, Burnout Paradise Remastered makes driving feel just the way that kid always imagined it would—nothing but high-speed adventure.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is an arcade-style racing game set in an open world. You are free to drive anywhere and everywhere. Paradise City would be a nightmare to live in, but it is perfectly suited for driving everywhere way too fast. Brutal straightaways through urban sprawl give way to sprawling curves through the mountains. The city is dotted with a variety of events ranging from straight up street races to road rage rampages, available when you pull up to any stoplight. There are no set routes, leaving you free to figure out whatever will get you across the line fastest. If driving on the train tracks and across rooftops will get you there 5 seconds sooner, go for it. At every turn, realism has been sacrificed in the name of fun. Cars go so ludicrously fast they can literally fly off the road, and they crumple like a soda can under a truck tire when they slam into an intersection full of traffic. And of course there is a plethora of ramps and unfinished bridges to help you catch some sick air. I’ve been having an absurdly good time crashing through billboards in a car that is legally distinct from the General Lee in Dukes of Hazzard.
My favorite feature is the ability to just start the game and drive, no goals or structure necessary. It can be surprisingly relaxing after a long day. Even outside of events, driving aimlessly around the city can be rewarding. New and interesting cars will try to kill you, but if you can take them down, the vehicle goes in your garage. There are super jumps, drive-thrus and shortcuts to discover—you can cut across the baseball diamond in Wildcats Stadium, for example. Knowing those will be essential if you intend to rule any roads. The game keeps track of the fastest times for every road in the city, so every now and then another player’s time and a ticking clock will pop up to encourage you to drive faster, and don’t spare the boost. Paradise City is beautiful to behold, even as a brightly colored smear outside your window. Drifting down the mountain pass at sunrise is a sight I will not soon forget. Even the sound design is top-notch—with a half-decent subwoofer you can feel an accelerating muscle car roar in your toes.
All that’s not to say the game is perfect. There are a few quality-of-life considerations that could have been added. Changing cars requires driving all the way to junkyard, and it is impossible to quickly restart a race when you know it’s hopeless. Navigation can be difficult, requiring you to keep an eye on both the road and the mini-map to figure out where you are going—a waypoint system would have been a value add. Although the lack of fast travel irked me at first, I have found that this particular limitation actually forced me to learn my way around the city, making me a better driver. Oftentimes the key to winning isn’t just driving faster, but smarter. The game also has an excellent sliding difficulty scale, filling the streets with more slow civilian cars and aggressive competitors to make reaching the finish line a bit more challenging.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is a great racing game, but it is also a finely tuned nostalgia engine, one that had a powerful effect on me despite never playing the original game. From the moment your first wreck rolls out of the junkyard and the engine revs, you are sixteen years old again, all alone on an empty highway for the first time with no parental supervision, ready to find out what exactly happens when you push the gas pedal all the way down. The answer is an exhilarating sense of speed. If you wanna go fast, this is the game for you. I have already driven over 500 miles in this game, and I will likely drive 500 more, just to be the man who drove a thousand miles to make that joke work.