Platforms: Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3.
Taking a well established series in a new direction always has its risks. You can confuse or even alienate the fans, lose identity or simply muck up whatever it is that has made your series special. For every series reboot that has worked - Resident Evil 4, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Tomb Raider: Legend, Medal of Honor: Airborne - there are plenty that haven't. Did anyone out there like Need for Speed: ProStreet's new direction? How about Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness or the last Alone in the Dark?
Arguably the Burnout series is even more sensitive to change than most. Barring the deliberate backwards step that was last year's Burnout: Dominator, the Burnout games have continually evolved with each new instalment, adding new features and new game modes and making dramatic changes to the gameplay every time. In each case, some fans have cried foul. Not everyone liked Burnout 3's emphasis on offensive driving, while Burnout: Revenge's over-egged ‘traffic checking' system was hugely divisive. In a game where weaving in and out of traffic is a major part of the rush, making the player able to hit 90 per cent of cars with impunity was maybe not the smartest move.
Luckily, Criterion's new spin on Burnout is a triumph. Paradise takes the series to a whole new level, yet the core experience is still recognisably Burnout through and through. Some hardcore Burnout fans are bound to disagree, but for me it's an instant classic, both in context of the series and in terms of the arcade racing genre as a whole.
The biggest, boldest move, of course, is the decision to shift away from courses, leagues, career ladders and competitions to a single, coherent open world. Fears that Paradise City might be some homogenous urban sprawl are blown away within the first hour or so of play, as it soon becomes apparent that, with its various downtown, harbour, industrial, suburban and mountain districts, Paradise equals any Burnout to date in terms of the variety of its locations. While there are comparisons to be made with the approach taken by EA in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Paradise simply does it better.
It will take you days of solid play before you've worked out half of the shortcuts, major routes and side-roads that link any one location to another, Crucially for a game in which stunt runs are a big part of the challenge, it may be even longer before you know every ramp, bank and jump opportunity in the city. What matters here isn't the size of the city but its density - every road, street, district and backway is packed with things to discover.