Version tested: PC
Just over a year on from its initial release, Electronic Arts has re-issued Burnout Paradise in the form of The Ultimate Box. This combines the original game with all of its download add-ons, a brand new Party mode and a range of other less headline-grabbing but equally welcome updates.
And yes, that includes a restart option.
Some might argue that Criterion has finally bowed under the pressure of its critics. But the truth of the matter is the inclusion of the much sought-after feature isn't just about appeasing The Internet; it is just one of an array of tweaks, upgrades and changes designed to make the whole game more appealing to a less hardcore audience.
In fact, most of the toolings under the hood are about expanding the game's reach. The initial stages of the game have been completely rebalanced, with an all-new, less punishing handling model dished out to the first few cars and the difficulty level lowered to accommodate less experienced gamers.
Other changes include less strenuous target times on events such as the Burning Routes and a relaxing of the tight time limits on maintaining combos in the Stunt Runs. Billboards, Smashes and Super Jumps now benefit from additional highlighting, making them easier to track down. The end result of these tweaks is that single-player Burnout is undoubtedly easier, but the difficulty level still ramps up acceptably the further you progress into the game.
Moving into the multiplayer realm, the new Party Pack is further proof of Criterion's desire to attract a more 'pick up and play' audience. It offers pass-the-controller style multiplayer gameplay for two to eight players, and a range of new challenges grouped into three different categories: stunt, skill and speed. You can design your own menu of events for each session, or you can just let the CPU decide for you.
Then the games begin: landing difficult jumps, dodging traffic, smashing billboards - it's all here, and it's pretty good fun. Also impressive is the way that key points of Paradise City are expertly utilised for the challenges; if you're a newcomer to the game, it's a great way to get acquainted with the local landmarks.
While the events are short, sweet and entertaining enough in the party context, the appeal is limited to Burnout veterans. The overall impression is that the tasks on offer aren't actually that taxing: certainly, little skill and ingenuity are required compared to Criterion's previous party-based masterpiece, Crash Mode (surely due a return as a Party Pack in its own right).
Moreover, it's possible for the same event to crop up twice in subsequent party sessions with alarming frequency. This gives the impression - rightly or wrongly - that there's not much actual content in there. As an introduction to a different spin on the traditional Burnout gameplay, and as a new way to bring less hardcore gamers to the series, the Party Pack works, but the series' traditional audience isn't going to expend a huge amount of time on it.
Ultimate Box purchasers get the Party Pack for free as part of the new package. Existing owners of the original launch version need to cough up 7.99 GBP on PSN or 800 Microsoft Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60) to catch up. That's undoubtedly pricey in the context of PSN and Live Arcade games and indeed Criterion's own free updates.
The other improvements Criterion has made to the core game outside of the Party Pack are all available to existing owners as a free downloadable upgrade. That means nobody gets left behind - if you want the Party content, it's there. If you don't, there's nothing else in the game that compels you to buy it. Original launch and Ultimate Box gamers can all still play online together regardless.
On to the PC version then. Developed by Criterion in-house, it's everything you would imagine - the ultimate iteration of the game, with a performance level to match your hardware budget and a feature-set that brings it bang up to date with the console versions. Any reasonable dual core CPU, coupled with a GBP 100 graphics card, basically guarantees you 60fps gameplay at up to 1920x1200.
Check out 1080p screenshot gallery grabbed from the PC build. The difference in performance between my Core 2 Quad system with the nVidia GTX295 (the world's most powerful GPU) versus the same game running an 8800GT with Core 2 Duo downclocked to 2.0GHz is barely worth comment. I also tried AMD's sub-GBP 100 entry level enthusiast card - a Sapphire HD 4830 - and it performed very comfortably at 1650x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing, dropping down from 60fps routinely if pushed to 1080p.
Even if you've played Burnout Paradise before on console, the PC version remains a very attractive proposition. There really is something very special about playing this game with all video settings ramped up to the max - it's similar to the feeling you get from playing the original Ridge Racer on PlayStation then returning to the original arcade version. This feels like the real deal, pristine and cutting edge. With its support for the Xbox 360 controller, Burnout PC once again makes a very strong case for a combined games and media PC taking pride of place connected to your living room HDTV, particularly if you have a full HD display.
The bottom line is that Burnout Paradise PC is no sloppy console port: even a reasonably modest gaming machine can offer excellent graphical performance that easily outstrips the already superb visuals on console. Criterion being Criterion, there's also in-built support for crazy PC-only features including multiple monitors and even nVidia's own 3D Vision glasses, which make an incredible case for the inclusion of true stereoscopic 3D in next gen gaming hardware. (Sony is already working on it, as its recent CES demos prove.)
So, we reach the highly subjective final score. It's been just over a year since Kristan reviewed the launch version of the game, and much has changed in those twelve months. Criterion has attracted masses of goodwill through its ambitious and rewarding packages of DLC, it has improved the game in both single-player and multi-player modes through re-balancing the gameplay and adding bonus online challenges.
The bike pack on its own, included as standard in the Ultimate Box, adds yet more value, but even in the small details (i.e. adding 1080i support to the PS3 game post-launch) Criterion hasn't let its audience down. And yes, it has a restart option. Best of all, the game is still evolving through yet more DLC. It's just getting better and better, and deserves a score to match.
9 / 10