If there’s one genre of gaming where the Switch is arguably lacking, it’s open-world racing. In fairness, that’s because there aren’t too many of them in general, but whereas other systems have their Forza Horizons, Need For Speeds and The Crews, the Switch is almost entirely bereft of free-roaming driving. That finally changes with Burnout Paradise Remastered.
For those who’ve somehow managed to avoid its existence for the past 12 years, Burnout Paradise is the seventh game in the Burnout series (if you count the handheld ones) and the first to provide players with the freedom to drive wherever they like rather than simply offering them a series of races. As in its predecessors, the name of the game – other than Burnout, obviously – is to pelt through city streets at obscenely high speeds, deliberately driving dangerously to build up a boost meter. Playing it safe won’t win you any races here: you’ll have to drive on the wrong side of the road and go out of your way to create near-misses with oncoming traffic to get the boosts needed to pull away from the pack.
This new remastered edition is based on the one that launched on Xbox One, PS4 and PC a couple of years ago. It replaces the original textures with high-resolution ones and generally promises a more visually-detailed game. Naturally, these improvements are less blatant on the Switch, given that it has less power than the other systems, but it’s still an impressive game nonetheless (when played docked, at least).
This is partly due to the frame rate. We tend not to like focusing too much on frame rates in most reviews because some people take them a tad too seriously and treat them with higher importance than they maybe should have, but there’s no denying that a smooth 60 frames per second has always been one of the defining characteristics of the Burnout series, and thankfully that’s no different here. It’s a rock-solid 60 throughout, which is more or less essential when bombing it down the streets at crazy speeds that require quick reactions.
That’s not to say it looks fantastic throughout, however. The detail is generally nice and during optimal conditions, it’s easy enough to race through Paradise City while spotting the many shortcuts, huge jumps and road turnings along the way. There are some elements that can make things harder to see though, which in a game this fast can be a massive hindrance.
The first of these is the game’s day/night cycle; when night falls, the environment can get extremely dark. Obviously we appreciate that’s the whole point of night, but it perhaps goes a little too far in sizeable swathes of the game map, more than in most other racing games. When you’re travelling at speeds that were tricky enough to keep on top of during broad daylight, doing it in extreme darkness where you’re squinting to see where you’re going just doesn’t feel fun at times. Thankfully, you can get around this by either turning the brightness setting up or turning off the day/night cycle completely, but the former leads to washed-out daytime scenes and the latter means turning off what should have been a cool feature, had it been tweaked a bit better.
The other notable hit to the visual detail comes when you play in handheld mode. Let’s be positive first: Burnout Paradise still manages to run at a solid 60 frames per second in handheld, which is verging on a miracle, given that it’s an open-world game that chucks scenery at you at a terrifying rate. Sadly, in order to manage this feat, the game does make use of some fairly aggressive dynamic resolution scaling, which gets more severe the faster you go. If you played the Switch version of the 2016 Doom reboot you’ll know what we’re talking about here: the detail drops significantly and it’s very noticeable – especially when you’re trying to look ahead for your next turn or shortcut and you’re just staring at a big smudge. If you play in docked, this will, of course, be less of an issue.
Other aspects of the game are more welcome. The remaster includes eight of the nine DLC packs previously released for the game – the only one that didn’t make the jump over was the Time Savers pack, which was just an instant unlock cheat that opened up the entire game. This means you get a whole host of car packs – including the ability to ride motorbikes and the addition of cool ‘legendary’ cars that look suspiciously like the Ghostbusters’ ECTO-1 and Kitt from Knight Rider – and the Big Surf Island area, which admittedly doesn’t look massively different from the rest of the city but at least gives you another bunch of races.
As obviously welcome as all this additional content is, it does also trivialise the whole concept of making any sort of progress. The main idea is that your starting car is a hunk of junk and, as you work your way through the races, slowly upgrading your racing licence, you’ll unlock progressively better vehicles. This concept is a bit pointless now when you realise that there are something like 50 DLC cars available from you right away, some of which are absolute beasts and were clearly originally designed for people who’d already been playing the game for ages. It’s not necessarily a problem, just something to bear in mind; if you want to progress through the game in a more traditional fashion, you’re going to need to have some willpower and ignore the fancier cars sitting in your garage.
There are plenty of other niggles that were perfectly fine 12 years ago but now feel a little out of date and could have been updated. You can view a map of the game area to see where the races and other points of interest are, but you can’t set a waypoint to one or choose a ‘fast travel’ option. Meanwhile, if you want to swap your current car, you have to find and drive to one of the five junkyards dotted around the city; the game map isn’t massive, to be fair, but it’s still needlessly time-consuming. There’s also no real overall goal, other than just taking on numerous events and slowly improving your licence – modern equivalents would at least chuck some sort of story in there to give you a reason to keep you going.
We know what you're thinking – we're really dunking on what, for many people, is one of the best open world racers ever, and it's true that pretty much all of the above issues are instantly forgotten once you’re in amongst the action. For all its faults, Burnout Paradise Remastered is still one of the most thoroughly entertaining racing games on the Switch when it comes to the actual racing itself. The high speeds are exhilarating, it’s deeply satisfying to execute a huge speed boost while continuing to top up your meter by near-missing other cars while in the wrong lane and watching a rival car fall to pieces after you've nudged it into oncoming traffic never gets old.
The only serious grievance to bear in mind is that at $49.99, the price is something of an insult. Burnout Paradise Remastered currently costs $20 on other systems (and is heavily discounted on PC and PS4 at the time of writing), so paying more than double the price for the privilege of a blurry handheld mode feels a bit frustrating. We appreciate that the Xbox One and PS4 versions have been out for two years now, but they originally launched at $39.99, meaning even by launch price standards, Switch owners are getting a bum deal.
Elements of Burnout Paradise are starting to show their age now, but nobody can argue with the quality of its actual racing action. If you can put up with its various niggles and quirks and don’t mind the astronomical price (relative to other systems), it’s easily one of the most entertaining – and certainly one of the fastest – racing games on the Switch.