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Posted by MajorMitch (1161 posts) -

Welcome to “Gaming Memories,” a blog series where I reminisce about my favorite video games. I will slowly but surely get to every game on the list (and possibly beyond), and speak to why each holds a special place in my heart. That not only means I’ll talk about why I think each is a great game that speaks to my tastes, but also where and how it affected me in a larger context. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

You’re speeding down the streets of Paradise City, jockeying among a pack of cars to gain the lead in a blazing race through the city. You could play this by the book, try to gain ground by gently slipping by on an inside turn, or just plain racing cleaner than those other cars.

But this is Burnout, so fuck that.

If your wheels aren't in the air, you're driving way too safely for Burnout.
If your wheels aren't in the air, you're driving way too safely for Burnout.

Instead, you’re more likely to take a shortcut, hit some big-ass ramp to launch yourself two streets over, or just wreck the living shit out of the other cars. Burnout is barely about racing; I prefer to call it a driving game. The series’ trademark features are its blazing sense of speed, impeccable car handling, and rambunctious spirit that promotes gnarly crashes over clean racing. It’s telling that perhaps the most iconic event in the series, Road Rage, is all about taking down other cars. As for driving lines? Car culture? Trying to avoid scratching up pretty licensed cars? That’s the kind of nonsense Burnout will have none of. You build your boost meter by doing things like driving the “wrong” way into oncoming traffic, nearly missing other cars, drifting around turns, and getting lots of airtime. And you’re encouraged to use that boost all the time to perform a “burnout” to refill it all on the spot. Burnout wants you to drive as fast and as dangerously as you can all the damn time, and the result is a fun-first driving game that aims to deliver high speed thrills at every possible moment.

I jumped on the Burnout bandwagon with Burnout 3: Takedown, which remains a wonderful game. But Burnout Paradise was where I truly fell in love. It was the first “open world” driving game I played, and as far as I know one of the first to successfully pull it off. And it was precisely that open structure that endeared it to me over its predecessors. Rather than follow mostly linear courses, you now had a sprawling city at your disposal to find a path to the finish line. This gave the game’s events a much more dynamic feel, where knowing the layout of the city (which came to feel like its own character) opened up all sorts of options. You were able to take any route you wanted; all you were given was a finish line to reach. More than being able to find your own path during events, however, was the freedom to cruise the city as you please in between them. In the end, the most fun I had with Burnout Paradise came from roaming the streets with no grand goal in mind, engaging with whatever caught my eye. Gates, billboards, ramps and super jumps, and whole playgrounds tucked away in random places made the world engaging at all times. And with how good the car handling was, all I needed was something fun to poke at while I drove around for hours.

It just might be paradise after all.
It just might be paradise after all.

I first played Burnout Paradise a few months after it came out, during the summer of 2008. I had that summer off, and really enjoyed learning the ins and outs of Paradise City, and completed a lot of the game’s events. But it was the next year where I really dove deep. Around the time the Big Surf Island expansion came out I picked the game up again and maxed out my license, smashed every gate and billboard, and played many of the online challenges. I never got as into those challenges as I could have; for as ingenious as they were (which I fully recognize), I wasn’t a huge online guy at the time. Fast forward a decade to the release of Burnout Paradise Remastered, and I found myself sucked right back in. I played a number of open world driving games during that decade, but none of them did it like Burnout. Sometimes they missed the mark in baffling ways too: what’s the point of an open world driving game if you don’t let players pick their own route, instead forcing them through an ordered series of checkpoints in a race? But mostly, it’s the sense of speed, the sick crashes, the still unmatched car handling, and the endless positivity I always miss the most. There’s an infectious spirit within Burnout Paradise that I haven’t experienced in any other driving game, which was made ever more apparent in the wake of its remaster a full decade later.

I even love the silly little details. I love that the cars don’t actually have people in them, like some robot utopian future. I love DJ Atomica’s spunk. I love how non-functional this city is, with its haphazard ramps and smashable objects set up in the most ridiculous places. I love the offbeat rock/punk soundtrack that’s not always great, yet somehow feels just right for this game. It feels like a big vacation for all involved, where you can leave your worries behind and just drive the open road. And I think that’s precisely why I keep coming back to Paradise City. I’ve revisited the game multiple times over the years, and many of those times have been stressful ones in my life. But Burnout Paradise always works as a pick-me-up. It’s a fun, positive, upbeat, carefree experience that also happens to play extremely well. The result is one of the most affecting and memorable games I’ve played, and a personal paradise of my own.

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#1 Edited by Slag (8157 posts) -

I feel like I missed my chance with this game. I played some last year and it just didn't connect with me like I thought it would.

Maybe I'm just too hung up with Driving Games looking cutting edge, or maybe some of the modern missing QoL features bothered me more than they should (good lord does the playlist always have to start on the same song?),Or maybe it's just too aimless for me. I tend to get paralysis by analysis in games with too much freedom like Skyrim.

In any event I totally can see now why it's so beloved after playing some, the Arcadey handling/sensibilities + plus Open World is really something that should still exist today.

Nice post Mitch, You really summed up quite well why you enjoyed the game so much.

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#2 Posted by MajorMitch (1161 posts) -

@slag: Thanks Slag! I've been wanting to start these kinds of posts for a while, where I can sum up my favorites better than I can in a list ;)

I do wonder if it's more time and place for you and Burnout Paradise, or if maybe this is a kind of game that wouldn't have appealed to you even if you played it at the time. One of the most striking things about playing its remaster recently was just how apparent it made it that nothing else has done anything in the ballpark of Burnout over the past decade. So in a way it doesn't feel all that dated to me since nothing else has tried that stuff to surpass it. Or maybe that's just nostalgia speaking, idk. I certainly understand that this isn't a game for everyone though- you're right that there is a certain amount of aimlessness to it. But that's also part of the joy for me, having a chill driving game that controls so well, and full of a mess of fun things to engage with. If you can embrace that, it's pretty special :)

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#3 Posted by HellBrendy (1306 posts) -

BO Paradise is one of those genre-enders for me. Just like Mortal Kombat 9 was for fighting games, I reach a point where I am no longer good enough to play like I feel the game wants me to, and don't care enough to put the work in to get better. Paradise was a fantastic game that gave me much fun, and I'm glad they remastered it so more people can experience what driving games could be way back when.

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#4 Posted by FacelessVixen (2577 posts) -

I mean, I don't have the strong, cult-following attachment to Paradise that many people around here have for one reason or another. My favorite Burnout is somewhere between 3's music and Revenge's traffic checking and crash mode. My favorite racing game overall is probably Need for Speed 2015 since it brought back the things I liked about Underground 1 and 2. And I could probably argue that Midnight Club could use some recognition since Paradise took its open-ended approach to racing from point A to B. But I still enjoyed my time with Paradise on the 360 all those years ago, and I'm interested in re-exploring Big Surf Island with the 88 Special. ...at least when EA finally release the remaster for PC given the limitations of the original version on Steam.

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#5 Posted by Cheetoman (525 posts) -

3 and Revenge are better in my opinion. Having a real crash mode helps balance out all the racing you do.

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#6 Posted by notnert427 (2203 posts) -

I'm still a Revenge man in terms of my favorite Burnout, but Paradise is still really good and I fully get why people love it. One of the things Paradise did better than most games (in any genre) is just be a pure distillation of fun. There is next to no lull in the action ever, the soundtrack is energetic in endearing ways even when some of its cheesier songs play, and it kinda goes for it in every imaginable way. Even simple stuff like selecting a car, painting it, etc. is accompanied by ridiculous animations and/or sounds that make it into this "fuck yeah!" style that makes everything seem a little more awesome than it is. It's like the entirety of the game is permeated by the devs high-fiving you with an incessant "hit the BOOOOOST!!!" attitude, and it's pretty great.

These days, in a sadly Burnout-less world, the Forza Horizon games are my security blankie. Admittedly, they lack some of the 'tude of a Paradise, both because that's a bit "of a different era" now and because the Forza games are a bit more polished (for better or worse). Still, I've found that jumping some Bowler off a fucking mountain in the Horizon games is at least 95% as fun as the best parts of Paradise, especially if you pair it with similarly fitting dumb/great rock music like, say, AC/DC. That said, Paradise definitely deserves its fame among all-time racing games. It was certainly great in its day and still mostly holds up now, and I don't think the Horizon games would exist without it. It's a classic.

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#7 Posted by MajorMitch (1161 posts) -

@notnert427: I think you hit a lot of what makes Paradise stand out to me, a lot of it is in the way it creates that fun attitude every second. Even the soundtrack like you say manages to be endearing even when it's cheesy. It's just extreme all the time in a goofy way you can pump your fist to, and of course plays extremely well the entire time. It swung for the fences, and if that clicks, it's going to really click. I think that's why the people that love it (myself included) are so passionate about it. There's nothing else like it (even the Forza Horizon games don't quite nail that rambunctious spirit, like you said).

It makes total sense to me that a lot of people like Burnout 3/Revenge better, as they are more focused and traditional experiences that still play amazingly well. But something about the way Paradise just goes for it is special to me :)

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#8 Posted by Slag (8157 posts) -

@slag: Thanks Slag! I've been wanting to start these kinds of posts for a while, where I can sum up my favorites better than I can in a list ;)

I do wonder if it's more time and place for you and Burnout Paradise, or if maybe this is a kind of game that wouldn't have appealed to you even if you played it at the time. One of the most striking things about playing its remaster recently was just how apparent it made it that nothing else has done anything in the ballpark of Burnout over the past decade. So in a way it doesn't feel all that dated to me since nothing else has tried that stuff to surpass it. Or maybe that's just nostalgia speaking, idk. I certainly understand that this isn't a game for everyone though- you're right that there is a certain amount of aimlessness to it. But that's also part of the joy for me, having a chill driving game that controls so well, and full of a mess of fun things to engage with. If you can embrace that, it's pretty special :)

Cool man, I look to forward to more of your thoughts! This is a great idea for a blog series. Looking at your favorites list besides the obvious choices (like Metroid Prime which you already covered) I bet TWEWY, Freedom Fighters and Perfect Dark might be fun games to reminisce about. Selfishly I'd love to read your thoughts on Age of Empires 2, since all of the games on your list that one strikes me as the most different from the rest and it sounds like it was a formative game for you.

I more I think about it the more I think it's probably mostly the former (time & place) for me. It's just hard to unsee what you've seen since, when it comes to quality of life stuff. For example I played a couple games in the last couple years I think I got to, too late (Shenmue and the Guardian Legend) that I think would have blown me away back in the day. Maybe some people would honestly be able to play a "new to you" NES/Dreamcast etc game for the first time and think it's their favorite thing ever, but I don't think I'm wired that way. I can appreciate them and enjoy them, but they don't enrapture me like newish stuff does. The only game I've played 10+ years after release for the first time and loved was Super Metroid.

I 100% agree with you that there just isn't anything out there like Burnout. Which is strange since Open World car games are still a thing. Maybe some indie will eventually pick that Arcadey Open World Crash Racing game torch back up.