Where cars crash, smash, and explode: It’s our idea of Paradise in this latest look at Criterion’s ultra-fast racer.

The world of Burnout is about to open up. With Criterion Games’ upcoming Burnout Paradise, the high-speed, crash-’em-up style of Burnout play you’ve come to expect from the series is expanding to include go-anywhere, open-world gameplay, as well as online play that will keep you and your friends zipping through the highways and byways of Paradise City long after the game is released in January. Hot on the heels of last week’s look at the Paradise demo, we’ve been spending some time with the full game for a sneak peek at what to expect once it crashes into store shelves.

Though it’s tough to boil down a game as huge as Burnout Paradise, the way we see it there are three overall ways to enjoy your time in Paradise City. Step one is simply getting used to the huge expanses that make up the open-world environment; the entirety of which is open to you from the get-go in Paradise. The city is massive, and you’ll likely spend your first hour in the game just trying to get your bearings or marveling at the sites. With enough time, you’ll get to know the city pretty well, learn the shortcuts you need to get you from one spot to the next, and even uncover some secret spots that don’t show up on the game’s minimap.

Once you’ve got some miles under your tires, you can move on to the second step of enjoying Paradise: the challenges. Every intersection in the game has a challenge associated with it, and you can choose to enter a challenge simply by stopping at an intersection and burning the tires (by pressing the LT and RT triggers simultaneously). Different challenge types are indicated by colored dots on the minimap, so you always know what kind of challenge you’re near. The challenges themselves are pretty standard Burnout fare. You have your race challenges that take you from one end of Paradise City to the next, and your stunt events where you execute as many huge jumps, drift turns, and barrel rolls as you can to string together to score huge point combos.

There are also marked-man events, where you must get from one point to another without being taken down by psychotic drivers looking to do your car much harm, as well as road-rage challenges, where you flip the script and try to take down as many cars as you can in a given amount of time. Finally there are make-specific challenges, which you can enter only in the prescribed car. To switch cars, you head to the closest junkyard (the Paradise equivalent to the garage) and change your current ride for any car you’ve collected on the way. You collect cars either by upgrading your license, or taking them down during the occasional street encounters with these special collectible rides.

Different cars in Burnout Paradise have different attributes. There are your souped-up, tricked-out speedsters, which are obvious choices for the race events, as well as bulkier rides whose strength will keep your challenge hopes alive even when the pressure gets intense. Choosing the right car for the right event becomes more important as the game progresses. For example, you don’t want to enter a marked-man event with a slim, speedy sports car like the Rossolini LM Classis, as it will most likely get eaten alive.

As you travel through Paradise City, you’ll encounter stations along the way that can provide some timely help in a crunch. Perhaps the most valuable are the repair shops; drive through one and your car will be instantly repaired and ready to continue on its way. Gas stations come in handy, too; zip through one and your boost meter will fill up to its maximum as you exit. Finally, there are the paint shops; yeah, they don’t really help you for challenges, but they’re an easy way to quickly (and randomly) change the color of your ride. All of these stations appear on your minimap after you’ve discovered them for the first time. It’s good to know where all of them are, so exploration in the early goings is a must.

Winning challenges in Burnout Paradise is how you upgrade your Paradise City driver’s license and thus get access to better vehicles. However, it isn’t just about the intersection challenges; every road in Paradise City is a challenge unto itself in this game. By pressing up on the directional pad, you can enter one of four road-rules challenges: two race (offline and online) and two crash events (offline and online). Road-rules races challenge your timed run from the very beginning of the street to the very end, whereas crash events will test your high score in “showtime” mode, which is essentially one extended car accident.

By pressing the left and right buttons simultaneously, you can enter showtime mode at any point, even during a challenge. Your goal is to destroy as many cars as you can before your boost meter runs out. You can press A to leap your heap of wreckage into the air, and hitting big-score objects such as buses will give you a multiplier to your score (and more boost to continue the mayhem). At the end of race or showtime events, you can save your results for offline events, or upload them in online events, to compare your handywork against others. Each street in the game has its own lap time record and showtime score to beat, which essentially turns every inch of asphalt in Paradise into its own mini-game.

The seamless uploading of times and scores for races and showtime events is really just a prelude to the third and potentially most rewarding method for playing Burnout Paradise: online multiplayer. Here, up to eight players can compete and cooperate in a variety of challenges. All online access is controlled with the directional pad. You can first invite friends to your multiplayer session by choosing them from a list. Once your pals are in the same session as you, you’ve got a lot of options. First of all, you can create races from scratch, choosing the start and end points, as well as setting any checkpoints you wish players to drive through along the way. You can also create multiple-race events, with each succeeding event taking a completely different route than the one prior.

Where things really get interesting online are the online challenges, which feature both competitive and cooperative play that opens up the world of Paradise in exciting new directions. There are 50 challenges to take part in online, and the kinds of challenges available depend on the number of people online with you. Though there is some overlap, the list of challenges available to four people online is slightly different than the list available to five or six, and so on. These challenges run from the relatively mundane, such as crashing into one another or meeting at a particular spot on the map, to the considerably more interesting, such as power-parking challenges (which judge you at your skill in parallel parking your car at top speed).

The cooperative challenges are some of the best. One two-player challenge requires you both to barrel roll off ramps at the same time, which takes some delicate timing and communication between the two players. One eight-player challenge requires seven drivers on the steps at Ocean View, while the eighth player jumps over them. If you have an Xbox Live vision camera or PlayStation Eye handy, you can take photos of yourself for use on your license, or for bragging rights when you take down one of your buddies. All of your collected pics will be stored in a menu known as “the lineup” that you can refer back to later, if only to see the smiling (or otherwise) faces of your defeated foes.

We’ve spent a good deal of time with Burnout Paradise so far, and it’s hard not to be impressed with the amount of content that is being stuffed into this game. All that’s left to do is continue to refine the elements of the game that are currently in place; most notably the artificial intelligence, which seems as if it could use a good dose of aggression to give the road-rage and marked-man events a bit more oomph to them. Nevertheless, it seems that, long after you’ve tired of the single-player challenges in Paradise City, you’ll want to experience the multiplayer challenge events to see what kind of trouble you and your friends can stir up.
Source: gamespot.com