As you progress you'll unlock new cars, but only the cars awarded for a licence upgrade (something which requires more and more event wins as your licence improves) and Burning Route victories are added instantly to your junk yard garage. All the rest need to be taken down first, which is both fun and slightly annoying. While you're driving around you'll often notice a car speed past, and it's these cars that are waiting to be fully unlocked. It adds an element of fun to what otherwise would have been another standard unlock system, but after a while it becomes a little tedious.
The same goes for changing your car. This has to be done by driving to a junk yard (there are five to find in the game map) and then picking the car you want. We're all for seamless gameplay, but some things are better when done in the conventional way. The whole process always takes longer than we want it to and a menu would have solved the problem completely.
Burnout Paradise is a thrilling racing game despite this handful of problems, but Criterion has taken a backwards step in a few key areas, most notably Crash mode. In Paradise Crash mode has been replaced by Showtime - probably the most ridiculous game mode we've ever played in a racer, arcade or otherwise. Essentially Showtime makes every road in the game an event, where there's a high score to beat - both on and offline.
Once activated you have one goal: crash into as many cars as possible. Rather than managing your crash like in previous Burnouts (which featured some brilliant multiplier pick-ups and superb crash breakers), here you have a boost meter that determines how many ground stomps you can perform, propelling your car forwards. Hit another vehicle and your boost increases, so you can go on for ages on the busier stretches of road. The score multiplier pick-ups have been replaced by buses, which multiply your score. The problem here is that the number of buses that arrive is down to luck. Showtime is good for a laugh, but not nearly as skilful as Revenge's Crash mode.
'Brand new to The Ultimate Box is Party Mode, an offline pass the controller mode for up to eight players.'
Each and every road also has a saved fastest time for online and offline, essentially giving you a time trial for every road. It's a nice feature and something to do whenever you're driving to another traffic light triggered event, but really only comes into its own when you're online and getting updates from everyone, including your friends.
It's the online integration that sets Paradise apart from many other racers. It is without doubt the best integration we've seen (even a year after release) and all accessed by a single button press. From this in-game menu you can race against friends or take on some random players. Criterion has included race events and challenges for every permutation of players (up to eight can play together online - although there's no road rage or marked man events) and the way the game uses a connected webcam to take snap shots of victorious and not so victorious moments (smugshots and mugshots) is a stroke of genius.
Burnout Paradise is an excellent game when played alone, but online with friends it reaches another level. Racing from point to point with friends is insane fun, with the carnage making for plenty of frenzied shouting and incredible near misses. And when you're bored of standard races you can tackle the many Freeburn challenges - a mode which somehow manages to make trivial tasks a hell of a lot of fun. Over the past year Criterion added a heap of new content to the original game, so this means you're going to get even more online challenges than there was when we first reviewed the game early in 2008.
Brand new to The Ultimate Box is Party Mode, an offline pass the controller mode for up to eight players. Here you take part in Speed, Stunt and Skill challenges, competing against your friends for the best score or fastest time. It's certainly a more immediate way to enjoy Burnout Paradise, but it's not something we can see dominating your multiplayer gaming sessions. The biggest omission, which is incidentally the most disappointing omission from the whole game, is Crash Mode - something that would have fitted perfectly inside the new Party Mode.
Burnout Paradise on the PC looks great, sporting a great frame rate, superb lighting, incredible car damage, an unrivalled sense of speed and no loading at all once you're in the city - assuming you don't use the restart option, which does result in a fairly brief pause in the action. If you've been hoping your mega PC would run rings around the home console versions of Burnout Paradise, Criterion hasn't let you down. This PC version can be run at ridiculously high resolutions, features improved shadows, ambient occlusion (if your machine is up to it) and performs well on a fairly modest system. The game has lost some of its "wow" factor in the year that's passed, but seeing it run with all the graphical settings maxed is still a rather wonderful thing.
While two of our initial gripes, the fact that the city never becomes dark and that there's no rain, were sorted out through DLC and included hear from the start, visually the game still has a few blemishes. The city is completely devoid of people. Cars are everywhere, but there's not a person in sight. There's no doubt this decision was made to ensure the game received a family-friendly rating, but we wonder if there would have been a way to include pedestrians without the risk of them being mowed down by boost-happy drivers... A few less than spectacular textures also seem to stick out like a sore thumb in the PC version, no doubt because everything else looks so good. Picking holes in the presentation is being harsh on Criterion though, as the variety in the huge city is incredible and the draw distance at certain points has to be seen to be believed.
And we've arrived at the tricky matter of summing up all Burnout Paradise offers. Going back to the standard menu-driven system of older racers is pretty jarring after spending hours and hours cruising from event to event in Paradise. For true next-gen arcade racing thrills Burnout Paradise is most definitely your best option, and on PC your only option. Criterion has delivered a game that every gamer should have in their collection.