The good people over at EA were able to send us a copy of Burnout Paradise an entire week before its release. While we're by no means completely through the game, we've gotten a great idea of what the game is all about, how it works, how it doesn't, and what you can expect.
The biggest news about the latest iteration of Burnout is the new open-world environment you're introduced to just seconds after you begin the game. Known as Paradise City, the town is loaded with destructible areas, jumps, billboards, and hidden paths. In addition, the team at Criterion (the British development house that continues to shepherd the series for publisher Electronic Arts) has decided to drop all menus and car classes in favor of a system that allows you begin an event just by pulling up to various intersections around town. This system works well, but one major drawback is that you won't be able to restart an event via the Pause menu. No, you'll have to return to the intersection at which you began in order to retry the same event. We've noticed ourselves not even worrying about which event goes where, and just beginning a new event at the next available crossroad.
Burnout Paradise is all about leveling up your license, which, in turn, unlocks more events and options. Each license class will require you to finish first in a number of events--when that quota is met, your license gets upgraded. This time around, earning cars is done by taking them down in the open world--once you do so, they will show up in all five of the junkyards spread across the city. The events range from classic Road Rage to traditional races--which you'll have to navigate on your own--bringing us to our next gripe with the game. The map system is not laid out as easy-to-use as we would have hoped. For starters, it does not rotate as you turn, so north is always north in your little mini map at the bottom of the screen. Thus, making split-second decisions on which road to take in an eight-car race doesn't come without frustration. However, the game isn't completely relentless as flashing street signs do come up advising you on the quickest way to travel to your goal. Also, you can't set destination points anywhere on the map, so getting to a specific area will take some stop-and-go consultation.
What might come as the most upsetting omission from Burnout Paradise is the slimming down of the crash modes, a staple in the Burnout series. First, there is no more Aftertouch in the game--a method of controlling your already wrecked vehicle and smashing it into your adversaries as a way of taking them down. Instead, now when you wreck your car during an event, you're greeted with a stylized montage of your crash, rendering the controller useless. Likewise, the crashbreaker mode has been removed as well. That said, Paradise retains the spirit of the crash mode by introducing Showtime, a gameplay mode that can be activated at any time (it will also end any current event, too) that allows you to obliterate hoards of oncoming vehicles. You can continue your crash with "bumping" your car, but this will depend on how much boost you have left.
There is still plenty to cheer about in Burnout Paradise. Not only is the game gorgeous, its silky-smooth frame rate is sure to impress. Collision-detection is nearly perfect, as your car will bend and smash exactly how it should--every scratch and scrape is documented realistically on every car. The online mode in Burnout Paradise is very well implemented. You can access all of the gameplay modes from your onscreen display, never having to exit out of a session. Instantly warping into the online world allows you and up to seven friends to take on events and challenges scattered around Paradise City.
Burnout Paradise is still able to create those sequences of chaotic action that fans of the series have grown to love. While this new version is a departure from the norm, it definitely stays grounded in its roots as an action racer first and foremost. We'll miss some of classic mechanics we've loved so much, but at the same time we'll gladly usher in the newly envisioned Burnout. The open-world, go anywhere and do anything sentiment is a bit overwhelming at first, but you'll find yourself right at home within an hour or two of play.
Burnout Paradise releases today for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Click here for a view of the entire Burnout universe.