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Burnout Paradise

Hands-on: Criterion's sandbox crash-'em-up

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Minimalist touch
Key to Paradise's free-roaming design is its complete lack of loading and menus. That's right, it's all in-game and it's completely seamless.

Other free-roaming racers have touched on this idea by activating races in-game and where events are concerned Burnout isn't any different. Pull up to a set of traffic lights and press the shoulder buttons and you'll kick off an event.

What impressed us though is how all of the game's other components fit into this menu-less world; repairing or refuelling your motor is a simple job of driving through a garage or petrol station, while cancelling out of a race or event is a simple job of pulling up on the side of the road.

The most seamless and exciting example though is how Burnout's online system works. Tap the d-pad and a small menu pops up on the side of the screen, allowing you - just using the d-pad - to cycle through your friends list, search for online games and match up against opponents.

All the while you're still driving about and crashing as normal.

Once you've invited a friend, putting you in the same game is as quick and seamless as starting a race - no loading whatsoever. Awesome.

This leaves you and your mate to crash, compete in today's records or just cruise around town. It's easily the most immersive Burnout yet and it's all totally accessible as well. The girlfriend will love it.

Thankfully - as was our initial concern - this doesn't mean Criterion has sacrificed Burnout's fast, visceral racing either.

Once activated races feel and act exactly like you'd expect them to in a linear Burnout. Darting in and out of traffic at bullet speed will have you on the edge of your seat, plus your opponents are never afraid of sacrificing their body kits in the name of wrapping you around a bus.

With the introduction of a dynamic difficulty system hopefully some of the challenge from earlier Burnouts will see a return as well. Difficulty adapts based on the number of races that you win and generally how well you play through Paradise.

We tried some of the later Marked Man events in action and the computer opponents were very aggressive, quickly smashing us into the nearest corner shop before we could get a lead.

The introduction of quick refuelling stations and garages shakes things up as well. In Takedown races (where you're tasked with smashing up a certain number of opponents) you can opt to drive through a garage to save your own skin, but in the process your takedown meter will be cleared down to zero.

Showtime though, Burnout's new 'cause as much damage as possible' mode, we found a bit bizarre. At any time you cruise around Paradise you can activate Showtime and turn into a big, bouncing car of death.

The more cars you hit, the more your big money damage meter will tick up. Pressing X will "bounce" your car so you can get a bit more distance on your crash, but gravity and realism go well out the window there.

It's a bit at odds with the rest of the game's at least minimal grounding in reality, but undeniably fun.

Crunching around a corner into a bus, then swinging onto a busy crossing to initiate a 20-car pile-up is a sandbox thrill that'd be a shame to miss out on. Especially when our online buddy comes to checkout the commotion, only to get side-swiped by a limo and added to the junk heap.

Yep, we're glad they jumped on the free-roaming bandwagon.

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