Of all the games that we got to see and play at the EA press event this game was the one we wanted to just sit down and play all day long. Criterion's latest entry in their arcade racing series takes the franchise in an all new direction; instead of a series of fixed races you are driving in a vast open world enviroment. We played on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game (the Criterion devs stated that the PS3 was the lead platform for Burnout Paradise) and the visuals were first rate with some incredible looking car designs. Even better was the damage effects which dwarf previous entries in the series; when cars wreck they crumble, shatter, and smash in massive detail.
As we said Burnout Paradise takes place in an open world enviroment in the fictional Paradise City. The city has pretty much everything you could want; from busy urban city streets with tall skyscrapers as scenery to industrial regions to quick drives to the country where you can see sites like a windmill farm, a telescope observatory and more. As one might expect there is a ton of side streets and paths you can take on in the game. You can even drive on railway bridges that span the entire city. There's lots of things to run over in the game (fences, light sources, etc) as well. If you are used to open world racing games like Need For Speed Most Wanted you shouldn't be disappointed with this game's vast array of locations.
Of course, Burnout games are all about going fast and smashing other cars. In this respect, Criterion is taking that basic gameplay idea and expanding it to include a ton of new gameplay features, especially in multiplayer. Basically you never leave the game to look for other players; they show up when you call them via your D-Pad and then a few second later you see them on screen. It's completely seemless. Once you collect a group of racers online you proceed to go through what Criterion is calling the Freeburn challenges. Basically you and the rest of online racers team up to perform a series of challenges; for example making a series of barrel rolls with your car without crashing or participating in a drift competition.
Of course the game still has a single player element but this time it's not linear at all. You drive through intersections that you see in the game's map which identify various challenges (pure racing, road rage, etc). Completing races successfully will unlock more and more cars. Again, Criterion is more interested in giving gamers in Burnout Paradise more freedom in driving, selecting races and bringing in buddies. There are even locations that when you drive through them repair your car instantly, refill your boost meter or even give your car a new paint job.
So is Burnout Paradise as cool to play as previous entries? Oh yeah. The handling of the cars in the game is just as fast and tight as the older editions. You are flying through the city streets, just avoiding traffic and generally feel like you are the greatest driver in the world. Will you crash a lot? Yes, but you won't care because the game will make you want to drive more and more to accomplish challenges, win races or just go for a really, really fast Sunday ride through city streets.
Burnout Paradise's other new feature is tied into the Xbox 360's Vision camera and the PS3's Eyetoy 2 camera. Basically when you take out a fellow online racer and both of you have your cameras ready the camera takes a picture of the other guy who looses. It's a nice taunting feature that should inspire a few....interesting...poses.
Burnout Paradise looks to be the ultimate version of the racing series and we can't wait to play the final version. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are currently targeted for Jaunuary 2008 and while we are disappointed the game won't be under our Christmas tree it still won't be that long of a way to go burning again.