Burnout Paradise reinvigorated Criterion's ultra-successful smash-up racing series when it launched this time last year on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box brings the series' trademark racing action to the PC for the first time. With solid online and offline play, an almost staggering number of events, and more than 70 vehicles, Ultimate Box is at the front of the PC racer pack.
The amount of variety in the game is huge, and how you approach it is up to you; explore Paradise City's open world at leisure, unlock the 70-plus vehicles one at a time through single-player events, or join other players for races and challenges online. Couple this deep variety with the fact that it's hugely fun, and Burnout Paradise is easy to recommend. In addition to all of the content from the original console game, Ultimate Box also includes all of Burnout Paradise's downloadable content released to date. First up, there's Codename: Cagney, which adds the Stunt Run, Marked Man, and Road Rage modes to online multiplayer. The Bikes pack adds two-wheeled racing and a day/night cycle to the series for the first time. And last, there's Burnout Party, the first paid-for content to hit the game. Burnout Party is a pass-the-controller-style offline party mode for two to eight players and is a fun new way to experience Burnout.
Gameplay options are largely unchanged from the console version and include normal race, Stunt Run, Marked Man, Road Rage, and Burning Route. For those new to the Burnout series, in Stunt Run you chain together drifts, jumps, and boosts to achieve combos; in Road Rage events you need to eliminate opponents by smashing them into traffic or objects; and in Marked Man you have to reach the finish line before your opponents can destroy your car. Burning Route consists of time trials from point to point, and by completing them you'll unlock an upgraded model of your current ride. Unlike in Burnout 3, The crash mode and aftertouch takedowns from Burnout 3 are missing from Paradise, but it does have the Showtime mode, which lets you take control of a wreck through the streets of Paradise City and rack up a damage bill in the process. Showtime mode isn't as strategically crafted as the challenges in Crash mode, but you'll still get to dish out plenty of carnage on unsuspecting traffic.
The biggest new feature this time around is the Burnout Paradise Party Pack, which adds an offline pass-the-controller multiplayer challenge mode for up to eight friends. Once you've set up the number of players and game types, you'll compete in a series of minigames where you earn points for successfully passing a challenge or beating your opponents' scores. The Party Pack offers instant gameplay for when you and your friends don't want to compete in longer, more demanding events, and it consists of three challenge types: stunts, skill, and speed. Stunts are a collection of insane tricks, such as successfully landing a cliff-top jump. Skill challenges include driving into oncoming traffic with boost on for as long as possible. Speed challenges might have you smashing a few billboards and then racing back to the start within a designated time limit. The Party Pack is a great addition that finally brings offline multiplayer to Burnout Paradise.
Getting online is as simple as hitting a button during gameplay, at which point you'll join your friends or enter a random lobby. The online mode is seamless, and there are no loading times; you can drop in and out of online games at will. You can set up simple point-to-point races all over the city when hosting a multiplayer session, or tackle a Freeburn Challenge set by the developers, with different challenges depending on the number of players. Burnout Paradise included 350 challenges, and there are now an additional 140 challenges with the new packs. The challenge types are varied and include straight races, beat-the-clock events, jumping over other players' rides, and other more-complex multipart challenges, such as meeting at a designated place and racing a route to an end point while hitting specific jumps along the way. Challenges are a lot of fun, especially when you have a large group of friends to play with, and they give the online play a lot of longevity.
You'll spend the majority of your time in Paradise City on four wheels, but there's an option to use just two. Bikes are a great addition to the game; and while you can only compete in time trial events, there are different events for daytime and nighttime. Bikes come without boost since they're already blisteringly fast, and they won't take damage either. All of the bikes are extremely light and nimble and are so fast that they almost make the cars feel a tad sluggish by comparison. While it would have been great to see damage modelling on the bikes, and more bikes included, you're guaranteed to have a blast with the two bikes at the start and the two upgraded models you can unlock after completing all of the time trials.
Visually, the PC version is even more of a sumptuous feast than its console brethren. Running at its highest resolution, Paradise City has never looked crisper or more vibrant. Cars smash, pop, scrape, and deform just as you'd expect, and the particle effects make the wanton destruction seem real. The weather effects brought in with the Bikes pack look great, with fog, glowing nighttime neon, and the half-light of dusk all rendered with style.
The audio is also top-notch, with traffic and ambient noises providing a backdrop for the high-pitched whines and throaty growls of the game's cars and bikes. Unfortunately, DJ Atomica is back again from Burnout 3 and is still an irritation for the most part. With its bland and generic rock soundtrack, the audio certainly doesn't live up to the high standards set by the visuals. While there are a few notable artists, including Guns N' Roses (providing the game's title track), Jane's Addiction, LCD Soundsystem, and Faith No More, these are outnumbered by the generic guitar rock and electronic tracks from past Burnout games and tracks from a number of less-illustrious artists.
Emerging a year after the original console release, Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box doesn't just manage to keep up with the pace of the competition; it's at the front of the pack. If you own one of the console versions and already have the DLC packs, there's no major benefit to upgrading, but if you're new to Burnout Paradise, The Ultimate Box is the best Burnout experience to date. With a mass of online and offline events and modes, dozens of cars, the addition of bike and night races, and an all-new party mode for up to eight friends, The Ultimate Box is instantly gratifying and long-lasting high-octane entertainment.