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Burnout: Paradise - Burnout: Paradise
The music is a huge improvement on most recent EA games, with a leaning towards US alternative rock that matches the game's setting and atmosphere without the strained punkiness that annoyed in the last two Burnouts. The sound effects, meanwhile, beg for the proper 5.1 treatment. With all the screeching tyres, growling engines, crunching metal and shattering glass in the vicinity at any one time, it's a stunning workout for your sound system.
For the moment I'm limited as to what I can say about online content, for the simple reason that I've rarely been able to find anyone online during the period before release. What does impress is how tightly integrated it is to the rest of the game. Thanks to an elegant in-game menu system, an online race is never more than a couple of presses of the D-pad away, along with your friends list and communications. Maybe Paradise could have taken the massive multiplayer approach pioneered by Test Drive: Unlimited, but I'd argue that what's here works perfectly for the game's style and action. Other players are there if you want them, but otherwise the streets of Paradise City are yours for the taking.
Do I have any criticisms at all? Well, apart from the loss of Crash Junction, I might note that the early stages are perhaps a bit too easy. It was only once I hit the B license that I started failing anything except the odd Marked Man or Stunt event - and I'm no Burnout king by any means. Still, if it keeps people playing and having fun if they're new to the series, I'd rather have too easy than mindlessly frustrating any time.
In case you haven't worked it out by now, we have another addition to the pantheon of great racers. For me, Paradise is the best Burnout since Burnout 2, and a significant step forwards for the series. The style might be different and the open structure may be hard to get a handle on at first, but once you're racing all you'll be worrying about is the horizon, the cars in front and the dozen things you might crash into if you put a foot wrong in the next fraction of a second. You'll be tensing your stomach, whistling through your teeth and wondering how long you can keep this speed up without slamming into something hard. In other words, you'll still be playing Burnout, and it's every bit as good as it has ever been before.
A blinding reboot for Burnout. Paradise adds a sense of freedom and depth to the series without losing the adrenaline rush that makes it tick. Beautiful, brilliant and self-assured.