Open-world racing games for PC powered by EA Origin
Burnout Paradise vs. Need for Speed: Most Wanted
I don't recall when exactly it was I first used EA's Origin service for Windows PCs. It was perhaps following a purchase of the Humble Origin Bundle in September 2013 through Humblebundle.com which became one of their most successful bundles to date. It was a great way of donating to worthy charities and of getting some games that you may not already own added to your PC games library.
Several titles in the bundle included licence keys for both Steam and Origin which was also great as you could redeem your software keys based on what works best for you. One thing I do recall following purchasing the bundle was an issue with getting games to download which was solved by enabling the beta version of the Origin client which I'm still using.
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box
Along with access to several other titles for PC from EA Games I received additional copies of Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box (2009) from Criterion Games. There are many types of racing games, from the open-world type which are accessible to pretty much anyone to racing simulators which aim to get as close to reality as possible. During gaming related podcasts when it comes to the topic of racing games the Burnout series is often referred to. In most cases discussions would be centered around the console versions of these titles and in this case Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box being primarily a console title was indeed released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 but also for Microsoft Windows.
I already owned a copy of Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box which I'd purchased through Steam. There's no Steam integration to manage achievements or to play online with friends as the game requires an EA account for any such options. And since it predates the launch of the EA Origin service in 2011 as far as I can tell you don't need the Origin client running to play it.
When you first start the game there's only one vehicle available with plenty more to unlock. I found some files online to unlock the other vehicles as I was mostly just interested in trying out different vehicle types and the various environments and generally just messing about with it. And it's anyway possible to reset the game and start from scratch should you wish to. One of the unlocked vehicles is a Jansen P12 88 Special which is modelled on the DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future movies.
This vehicle can be unlocked but its not included with this version of the game as it's part of a downloadable expansion pack. Criterion released several additional expansion packs for the game, the focus being content for the console versions. Some of this additional content was released for the PC version though and used to be available via the in-game Burnout Store which has since been taken offline it seems. The Burnout Store interface elements are still present but you can't purchase anything through it, or at least I've never been able to, which may cause confusion and no doubt frustration for some.
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box is still available to purchase through Steam or Origin where the price per region appears to vary a lot, 6 EUR or 19 USD the last time I checked. Both stores include the ability to purchase expansion packs for games if available but not for this title. I wouldn't have expected it from Steam but maybe from Origin. U.S-based online retailers will sell you a code to redeem a Bonus Vehicle Pack for the PC version, if you happen to live in the U.S. that is. The codes can be redeemed via your EA account which you need to use for the online components of the game which thankfully for now still function. Why Origin or Steam don't offer this additional content that obviously still works with the PC version I'm not sure.
Which leads me to what is I guess a bit of a grey area in that modifications (or 'mods') for the PC version are available which provide you with the additional content that many of us are no longer capable of purchasing. Whether installing this content breaks some rules at this point I'm not sure either. Once the modifications were installed I had access to the Jansen P12 88 Special which like the DeLorean featured in the movie hovers and you can take it over a ski jump!
So thanks to the Community Burnout Paradise is very much still alive right now.
Other than the issue of the Burnout Store being offline I've never experienced any issues as such with the PC version. It runs well on any PC where I've installed it and appears to work okay with Windows 8 as well. And what's more impressive is the fact that no matter how much I've added modifications over time it still functions okay. I found myself having to re-install it to remind myself of what is actually included with the original. At this point I have several copies of the game and multiple Steam and EA Origin accounts, at least three of each, which I needed to create for proper usage of the licence keys I'd purchased.
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box - Multiplayer
As I noted this game doesn't require the Origin client to function but you do need an EA account to get access to all the features. A user account creation system is included with the game or you can just create the EA account via the Origin website. Once created you can proceed to login inside the game to access the online features.
Depending on the number of PCs with copies of the game installed and logged in with EA accounts I can use Burnout Paradise for some fun open-world racing at home LAN (local area network) style. To make things simpler I first created friend relationships between the various EA accounts. I actually used the Origin PC client to connect the accounts which once done I could close since I don't need it to play the game. Once I have the game running on across multiple PCs it's a matter of utilising the in-game invite a friend option to setup an online session in what's referred to as Freeburn Online. In this case I'm using Xbox controllers connected to each PC so it's just a matter of using the D-Pad to initiate a friend invite.
Once the invite to a Freeburn Online session is sent from one PC a prompt appears in the game on the recipient's screen which in turn is accepted using the D-Pad on the Xbox controller.
Once the Freeburn Online session is running two or more players can have some fun. The point here and the best thing about it is that all the invite sending and receiving is done from within the game UI (User Interface). Admittedly it took me a little while to create the accounts and redeem the software codes, install the game and setup the friend relationships but once done you can launch the game and you don't need to leave it. The game itself seamlessly handles the creation of the online session.
Below a quickly taken photo of My son and his friend ready to play Freeburn Online in Burnout Paradise with three players. If this looks a little crazy, in terms of the setup as shown I mean, then you'd be correct it is. Of course the kids enjoy it though and since there are only the vehicles without any character dialogue (other than the in-game radio DJ that is) or violent cut-scenes its takes the role of a sandbox to play in where they can do jumps, seeing who can jump the furthest, and generally beat up their car to truck. Of course they've never heard of Back to the Future so for them the Jansen P12 is "the hover car".
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
I'd read good reviews for Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) another multi-platform title from Criterion Games and published by EA Games. And as another open-world racer with similar elements to those in Burnout Paradise I was interested in trying it and subsequently purchased two copies. The game is also available to purchase for Windows via the EA Origin store and in addition offers expansion packs, thirteen or so ranging from unlocks to expansion packs. There's no in-game store in this case, rather just links to launch overlays from the Origin client from where you can purchase content.
EA ceased publishing games on Steam sometime around 2011 so this title isn't available through Steam and as it includes Origin client integration it must be running in the background to play the game.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted being the more recent of the two titles naturally is graphically more impressive as is the size of its open-world. It runs fine on my most powerful PC but poorly on everything else I've tried to run it on. I've tried every graphic quality reducing setting I could find but to no avail, I couldn't get anything more than 10-15 fps (frames per-second) when it should be at least 30 or more and I can get 60 fps on the powerful PC so it's a real shame. A bad porting of a console game to Windows.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted - Multiplayer
Although I'd need another powerful PC to properly use this title in the same way as I do Burnout Paradise I have still tried it several times. It requires the EA Origin client to be running in the background and includes a mix of an in-game friend invite system and the Origin In-Game overlay which you manage using the PC keyboard. The In-Game overlay includes a web browser component which for some reason prompts me to install Google Chrome which I already have installed, a panel to manage your EA account friends list and Twitch integration for game streaming should you wish to use that.
So I've been trying to setup an online game for two friends using two copies of the game and with EA accounts and signed in to Origin. Both friends are online at this point but one copy of the game doesn't see the friend who is most definitely also online and who is on the same network.
I repeatedly try to setup a friends game, in the same way as I do with Burnout Paradise and I either cannot connect or when I can I'm soon disconnected again.
To setup an online game with a friend, or to just join a public game, you can use the D-Pad or the in-game options screen similar to how you can in Burnout Paradise. At one point I manage to see the other player as visible online inside the game.
I send an invite to the other player for whom a prompt appears to call up the Origin overlay to accept the invite. I use the Join Game option offered which takes me back to the game where I'm informed that I'm disconnected again. It happened several times that I tried to create a friends game which some how failed and I was then added to a public game which if I wished to try and setup a friends game again I had to leave.
To be fair I once was able to get a friends game running which after 10-15 minutes disconnected one of the players. I haven't been able to get a friends game running properly since. I'm not sure what exactly is happening here. I've don't appear to have any trouble with any of the other titles I've tried which include integration of the Origin client. I tried the latest Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare title for free for a couple of days via the Origin Game Time service and it all worked just fine. Mind you if I recall I had to use the overlay to accept an invite which isn't optimal but it worked without any disconnections. I took a screenshot of it, below, so I guess it was so.
As many are aware the Battlefield series published by EA utilises the normal browser installed in Windows, not the Origin In-Game browser, to manage access to the single player and multiplayer components of the game. And if I recall correctly Origin In Game isn't required as such at all. And it functions fine. The same goes for Titanfall.
I've often read comments online stating that if a PC game from EA requires Origin or from Ubisoft requires Uplay then they won't buy it. Now I take their point that if you primarily use Steam to manage your game library with related in-game achievements and friends it becomes a bit annoying when you need to jump out to what is technically another network to play your game. Or for example launching a game from Steam which requires launching of the Uplay client before the game can start. And of course you've got another list of friends in there too.
I can understand game publishers feeling the need to setup their own online stores to promote their own titles, build networks and customer relationships etc as long at it all works. And in most cases it does, except for this Need for Speed: Most Wanted title which for my purposes hasn't so far. And it's a case of the older and some what broken discounted title functioning better than the later one and which are from the same Developer.