The first thing that hits you is how sprawling Paradise's map seems. Then you realise you can drive from one end to the other in only about four minutes, and around its entire circumference in about ten, and it's a little disheartening. But then you discover just how dense Paradise City is, how much there is to explore away from the main roads and all seems rosy.

Except that, although 120 race events sounds like plenty, it isn't - we uncovered 97 of them within six hours, and although you can only take part in some events with certain cars, a dedicated gamer could polish off the bulk of the action in a couple of days.

But let's rewind a bit, and tell you what most hardcore Burnout fans really want to know - yes, it's fast. Hurtling along with your boost bar at top whack is a rush unsurpassed by any other driving game, and the framerate is perfect. That it can look so beautiful, and shift so much around the screen so quickly (other cars, crash debris, palm trees, road signs, buildings, lakes, mountains) is cause for celebration.

But the new free-roaming structure won't be to everyone's taste - having all the events open from the beginning impacts negatively on your feelings of progression. You don't unlock any new levels; you simply get a mark on your driving license. This rewards you with new cars whenever you go up a rank. To actually get your new car, you've got to find it driving around the city somewhere, ram it off the road, and then collect it from the junkyard. It's a process designed to artificially lengthen the game and can become a bit of a chore.

If you're not the sort of person who enjoys collecting every little thing in a game and nailing it 100%, you might have trouble in Paradise. Aware that the free-roaming thing has muddied the game's focus, Criterion have injected BP with a stack of other objectives. There are 50 GTA-style Super Jumps to find which you might discover at the top of a hill, say, or above a multi-story car park - and it's massively exciting when you're pelting down a road, spot a hidden alley out of the corner of your eye, and then hit a ramp and soar skyward. There are 400 secret gates to break down and 120 Burnout billboards dotted about to find and smash through.

Our favourite new mode is Marked Man, which tasks you to race to a checkpoint while a herd of computer cars gang up on you and try to ram you until your car is a write-off. Then there's Stunt Race, which baffles the first time you play because you won't have uncovered enough ramps and jumps to do stunts on and will fail dismally. Once you've found them, though, you can perform a satisfying array of leaps, slides and near-misses with the traffic and walls. Even with the map replacing the giant arrows of old, it's still easy to hare off the wrong way and keeping an eye on the map and the on-road chaos at the same time is... well, 'tough' doesn't even describe it. You get used to it, though, and as you learn the layout of Paradise City you'll rely on your compass and map less.

At its core, this is Burnout at its finest: it's the best-looking, it's got the widest range of cars, traffic-checking's been toned down so you can't just plough into anything that moves without fear. Each individual road has its own Time Trial and Stunt modes... and it's got an immense soundtrack - Jane's Addiction? Guns 'N' Roses? (Guess which song.) Faith No More? Yes, please. Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend? Erm, if you insist. Oh, and there's the online game, with its promise to let you invite friends into your world via a couple of simple D-pad taps with no break in play.

It's not perfect and it might not last some players long, but this latest Burnout oozes confidence. It sucks you in, distracts you from its faults and, for a while, takes over your world. Paradise? Not quite, but it's not far away.

Burnout Paradise reviewed!


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