Since around now is the time when games writers and industry watchers begin formulating their “top x of 2008″ lists, it’s the perfect occasion to remind everyone of one of the year’s best games — one that might be forgotten because of its early release date: Burnout Paradise.. Released in January to strong reviews, Paradise offered racing fans a huge open world to race in. The technical achievement of having a giant city to race in with zero loading was marred only by some complaints that the game lacked a “retry” option after losing a race. However, since literally every street corner in the game offers something to do, I didn’t find that to be a serious flaw.
Beside the standard races, Paradise also offers a wide variety of events. Long-time Burnout fans lamented the lack of a crash mode — something I also miss — but there’s still plenty to do. In addition to the arcade racing available in the single player mode, Paradise offers an incredibly smooth online experience. With just a few taps of the D-pad, you can be racing against other people online.
As if the best arcade-style racing franchise’s leap to the current generation with a huge open world and a progressive online experience weren’t enough, the developers at Criterion supported the game well after its launch with multiple free content packs. In an era in which Need For Speed offers gamers the chance to spend real money to unlock cars they’d earn anyway in the course of progressing through the game, Criterion added new cars, a new UI, new multiplayer modes, and most significantly, the first motorcycles in the Burnout franchise…and all of it was completely free.
Of course, I doubt they did it out of the goodness of their hearts. Paradise was a game that stayed relevant throughout the entire year, and managed to get a lot of press long after most games have been forgotten. Whereas most games get all of their consumer impressions within a short launch window and then fall off the face of the internet, Paradise remained frequently discussed by the gaming press and community. New gamers were jumping into Burnout all throughout the year, and people who already owned Paradise held onto it. Why sell a game when you know you’re going to get new things to do in it for free? (The full, budget-priced DLC version of the game that arrived half a year later probably didn’t hurt, either.)
I’m not saying that Burnout Paradise merits consideration for inclusion in year-end best game wrap-ups because of its experimental marketing, but rather because the upshot of all that was a great experience for the end user. At launch, Paradise was a fantastic arcade-style racing game that would make it onto my list even if it hadn’t given me so much more afterwords. They did give me all that stuff, though, and I kept going back to it. I don’t think Burnout Paradise is the game of the year — not in a year which includes LittleBigPlanet and Mirror’s Edge and other exemplary experiences — but it deserves to be in the conversation.