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Burnout Paradise

And, as the EA day wound to a close—just a mere hour or two before most of us had to get back on the freeway and head home—what was the last game we exposed ourselves to? (I mean that in the best possible interpretation.) Burnout Paradise, of course. Because, apparently, we have a collective death wish.

Developer Criterion took the Burnout model down to the metal on this one and started over, the result being one immediately evident and interesting new course - namely, a single, totally free-roaming continuous environment spanning many different urban districts as well as some open-country winding roads. Everything in the world and all racing events are made available to the player from the get-go.

So much for “not futzing with the formula”.

Getting newer, better, faster cars is another matter, of course—those, you still need to earn the old-fashioned way. By driving like a maniac.

Players can tool freely around the city and surround environs and call up ‘Freeburn’ challenges during online multi-play: Once they are connected (a simple matter of a few D-pad presses; in virtual-reality terms you “never get out of the car”), players will find a multitude of competitions and challenges (we’re hearing around 200)—drifting competitions, speed, jump and barrel-roll challenges.

While one’s initial exposure to the huge, sprawling, go-anywhere city is a little intimidating, actually starting any given race is as simple as pulling up to any traffic light and hitting the appropriate buttons. This brings up a display of start and end points, and the rest is knowing the streets (or learning them the hard way), cheating with any short-cuts or dubious jumps you can find, the flow of ambient traffic, and maybe the will of the FSM.

The free-roaming environment really is huge—for the better part of an hour and a half, Joe Accorsi and I were trying to hunt each other down, but somehow managed to keep getting distracted by various waylaying challenges. We mostly wound up endlessly circling each other at the farthest fringes of the city, two widely-separated arrows on the main-world map, like the Enterprise and the Reliant circling that moon in The Wrath of Khan.

We were, however, each regularly informed via onscreen updates whenever the other plowed into another vehicle or parts of the landscape. And a cute use of each player’s camera peripheral would bring up a snapshot of the expression on his or her mug at the instant they pulled off something especially interesting – or stupid.

The frame-rate and sense of speed are as incredible and jaw-dropping as ever, if not more so. My only complaint at this time is that the developer seems to have completely removed Crash Mode, which in past iterations has been worth every bit as much playtime as the main racing challenges themselves.

More on this as we see more of Burnout Paradise, which ships in Winter for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

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