When a game franchise transforms as completely as the Burnout series has with Paradise, all sorts of things can potentially go wrong. While previous entries in Criterion’s high-speed demolition-derby series were built around discrete events (races against the clock, contests to destroy as many rivals as possible in a given time, etc.), Paradise is more of an open “sandbox” game (à la Grand Theft Auto) in which you drive around a massive city, taking part in street races and car chases in a free-form manner.
The new approach doesn’t deliver as many of the quick-hit adrenaline bursts as series benchmark Burnout 3: Takedown (2004) did, but it works extremely well nonetheless, largely because the winding streets of Paradise City (yes, the Guns N’ Roses song is on the soundtrack) are so much fun to explore. The maps and menus make it easy to play the game as one chooses: If you get tired of racing and feel like doing donuts in the middle of a freeway, you can have the map show you only where to find the stunt-driving events, for example. Despite the changes, the series’ defining elements—crisp graphics, simple controls and fist-pumping slow-motion car wrecks—are here in spades and made better than ever by the horsepower of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Online multiplayer features have been more thoroughly integrated, but you don’t need company to have fun destroying muscle cars.