Back once again with the barricade master
When one of the best developers of action-packed racing games has a go at one of the biggest brands in gaming, something interesting is bound to come out of it.
And so it was that Criterion took on the mighty Need For Speed and instantly dropped one of its all-time greatest offerings. Leaving behind the neon and rain of the Underground series and borrowing from the PS2 classic Hot Pursuit 2 that came a year before Underground made it all ‘street’, the Burnout devs injected the formula with online-enabled ‘Autolog’ competition. The result arguably changed the whole of gaming for the next 10 years as everyone embraced friend-baiting leaderboard challenges. But how does a decade-old game fare on 2021’s consoles?
From a pure gameplay perspective, it’s still got it. You play as either a cop or a street racer, alternating between the two whenever you like between events (but not during them). There’s no story, just brief scene-setting sequences before you take control. Cop gameplay sees you either taking down street racers, Burnout Revenge-style, or just speeding to the scene of the crime in a time trial mode, which penalises you by adding seconds to your time whenever you touch a wall or collide with another car.
These point-to-point races are the dullest element of the game since there’s little to do besides curse the surprisingly laborious car handling and keep an eye out for yellow shortcuts coming up on the map. Everything else, however, is much more fun.
Taking out racers by ramming them off the road is enjoyable enough in its own right, but you soon get given extra toys to play with. These range from dropping spike strips to puncture the tyres of pursuing cars to calling in roadblocks up ahead. As you progress, you can upgrade all of this and unlock even more toys until you’ve got your very own helicopter buzzing the racers overhead while you hit them with EMP blasts. Such special attacks are finite and have cooldown times, which means there’s a distinct tactical element added to what would otherwise be a shiny but shallow game.
On the racers’ side, you can also unlock spike strips and EMP blasts, as well as jammers to break away from pursuing cars’ EMP locks. The weapon allocation has been balanced with care and you rarely feel overpowered. And in the few instances that you do, you soon realise you should have saved some of your attacks for later in the race as you stare in horror at the ‘11.7 miles to go’ readout in the top corner.
Cars each have a damage bar, which means you can be removed from the race entirely, but enemy cars can too, which means you can take great delight in ending a rival’s race. When you do see collisions like this, there is a fair degree of spectacle, but it’s all in the particle physics and flipping cars. Since these cars are licensed, there is far less actual damage done to the chassis of your ride than in, say, Burnout Paradise. As a result, while there’s plenty of satisfaction in the act of a takedown, it can feel a little unsatisfying to see the car come to a rest looking relatively unscathed.
All of this was true of the original release, of course, so what of the Remastered version’s upgrades? Well, I have to say, it’s one of the least impressive ‘upgrades’ I’ve seen. If you’re playing on the base PS4, it barely looks any better than the PS3 original. In some ways that’s tantamount to Criterion’s skill at getting the most from the PS3 (which, let’s be honest, many devs failed to do), but I do feel that a modern remaster should at least hit a constant 60fps.
Very bizarrely, not only is the Remastered version locked to 30fps even if you play it on a PS5 but when you unpause the game you do see a couple of seconds of 60fps fluidity. I appreciate the PS4 Pro probably couldn’t do this at 4K and the base PS4 couldn’t do it at full 1080p, but the fact the engine is clearly capable of 60fps does smart more than a little when the PS5 is twiddling its thumbs and yawning.
Naturally, the Switch version can only do 720p in handheld mode and again you’re only getting 30fps there, but like Burnout Paradise’s remaster, that just means it’s a handheld version of a previous generation’s home console game, and that’s really cool.
Besides the resolution boost for the bigger consoles, there’s really very little difference in the graphical quality. In fact, if anything, the increased fidelity actually makes the environmental graphics look worse, as you can see flat textures on hillsides, and the cleverly-masked scenery fade-in on foliage and rocks is more obvious when it’s happening at 4K and 55 inches big on your wall. It just doesn’t feel like enough has been done to remaster the game visually and that’s a big thing to consider, especially when Burnout Paradise Remastered really does feel like it’s been polished up considerably when you play it on consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
The content of the game has been given some small tweaks, namely introducing a photo mode in the menu screens to show off the still-lovely car models, cross-play for the online leaderboards and all of the DLC has been incorporated into the career mode in full – making this the definitive way to play the game even considering expanded versions of the former release.
But nonetheless, there’s a feeling of having to do less than in other, similar games. There’s an awful lot of driving very quickly down open highways, weaving clumsily between pretty sparse traffic. The cumbersome handling can undo an otherwise perfectly good run in just one awkward shortcut entrance, meaning you’ll be restarting events frequently to get the gold medals.
Despite that, when the weapons are added to the mix, it makes for an involving and enjoyable experience and one that’s fun even if you’re not very good at controlling the car. So my advice would be to check it out if you see it cheap, but don’t be surprised when it’s outshone by Burnout Paradise. Again.
|Developer||Criterion Games and Stellar Entertainment|
|Release date||16th November 2020|
|Available platforms||PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam, Origin) and Nintendo Switch|
|Version/s tested||PS4 (and via a PS4 and PS5)|
|Best played with||Controller|
Full disclosure: We bought this game for the purposes of review. Here is our review policy.