If I have to hear that goddamn Guns N’ Roses song one more time…
Nintendo doesn’t see very many racing games hit its platforms. The genre is known for its outstanding and realistic graphics, something that’s not always capable of being pulled off on hardware that tends to lag behind the competition. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Seven years ago, Criterion Games and EA released arguably the best racing sim to hit a Nintendo console with Need For Speed Most Wanted U.
It’s one of the most visually impressive titles on the Wii U platform and still entertaining as hell to play. I anticipated the same sort of brilliance with the Switch port of Burnout Paradise Remastered, but perhaps that previous game set my expectations a bit too high.
Burnout Paradise Remastered (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: June 19, 2020
Burnout Paradise Remastered is something of a unique creature. It’s a racing title that mixes simulation and arcade driving in an open-world setting where players are more-or-less left to make their own fun. This structure, or rather a lack of structure, offers a more freeing experience than other titles in the genre that tend to tie progression to story, checkpoints, specific races, or some combination of the three. It sounds enticing, but if the various events aren’t all that exciting, the novelty might wear off quickly.
This is actually my first time taking a trip to Paradise City, and I appreciate how quickly the game hands total control over to the player. After giving me my first car, it guides me to the nearest drive-thru body shop and gas station before putting me into my first race. After that, I’m left to discover everything else it has to offer with only the occasional tutorial to explain something specific that I need to know.
I like that everything is open right from the beginning. No part of the city is restricted and I have immediate access to Big Surf Island, one of the pieces of DLC from Paradise‘s original release that are included in this set. Burnout Bikes, Cops and Robbers, and all the free updates Paradise received are all here, available right from the start. It’s nice to have such a large selection at hand because part of the joy I’ve found with Paradise is learning the ins-and-outs of how each different vehicle handles.
But that was all covered in Chris Carter’s review of the Xbox One version of the game released two years ago. I imagine the one question anybody has about the Switch version of the game is, “How does it run?” In a word, fantastic. Burnout Paradise Remastered on Switch has a blistering sense of speed no matter which way you choose to play. The loading screen to get into the game can feel a bit long, as does loading each of your cars at the junkyard. But racing from the far west side of Paradise City to the eastern beaches of Big Surf Island is immaculate. The frame rate does not drop. There is minor pop-in to deal with, but it’s always so far ahead of my vehicle that it never interfered with my driving.
As polished as this product is, there are two issues I can’t neglect. Although I hate to keep comparing this to something like Need for Speed Most Wanted U, the visual pizzazz that permeated throughout that title is absent here. I don’t think Paradise City is all that creative of a location. There are no real compelling points of interest, no location on the map that fills me with awe each time I drive by it. Structures tend to blend into the background, and while it can be argued that pedestrian design adds a sense of realism to the makeup of the city, I’d argue back that I’m not interested in realism in a game where I’m challenged to complete insane jumps through billboards.
With more personality in the design, I wouldn’t mind completing the back-to-back races that send me clear across the map in the first race only to return me to right where I started in the second. But the far bigger issue is with the lighting. It’s not an issue when playing during daylight hours, but when it gets dark, it really gets dark. Street lights are there only for show, and the backroads of the western side of the map it can be impossible to see what’s ahead of you, headlights from other vehicles barely emit any light, and the headlights on my vehicles, at least those with headlights, do very little to illuminate the road ahead. Even tunnels feel unnecessarily and unrealistically dark. I experienced far more unintentional crashes playing at night than I did during the day because of an unseen curve or a car ahead of me with lights too dim to notice. And as bad as that is on my big screen, it can be absolute misery when playing in handheld mode.
I don’t think I’ve ever complained about lighting in a game before. It seems like such a negligible issue, and yet, so many parts of Paradise City feel like they’re under a dark sky ordinance. The lack of light can be a serious issue when trying to complete events after sundown. And without a decent amount of glow, the neon-lit signs of Big Surf Island look meek.
To be clear, you can turn nighttime off and avoid the poorly lit streets altogether. However, some of my best memories of racing sims revolve around night driving and seeing the way the developers have chosen to illumine the roads I’m racing on. I don’t see myself creating new memories like that with Burnout Paradise Remastered, but what’s here is a fast and fierce racer that’s rock-solid no matter if you’re playing at home or on the go.
[This port report is based on a retail version of the game provided by the publisher.]