There's a word that sums up Burnout Paradise - and that word is "ballsy." Criterion could probably have gone on producing a new HD variant on the old Burnout themes, throwing in a few new game modes or ramping up the levels of destruction, and I reckon the game would still have flown off the shelves like hot cakes. Instead the team is going for what it's calling "a complete reinvention of the series." Based on a couple of hours of hands-on time with an advanced build of the PS3 version, I'd have to say that description is spot on.
Don't worry - it's still Burnout. You're still driving at ludicrous speeds, racing hard through gaps in the traffic and wrecking cars in glorious slow-motion. It's just that this time the world you're racing in is so much larger and more open. Whereas previous Burnouts just gave you a series of tracks to race on and junctions to crash through, Paradise gives you a city and the freedom to explore it at your leisure. There's no rigid structure of events to progress through, just a range of races and challenges you can find at almost every set of traffic lights in Paradise City.
Of course, the likes of Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Test Drive Unlimited have pioneered the open world approach to racing, and to be fair Burnout Paradise has a little in common with both. However, it takes the whole concept that much further. There are no barriers that spring up to tell you which route to take and not even any preset course to follow. Join a race, and all you have to worry about is getting from the start line to the finish line before the competition, and over the smoking wreckage of their cars if that's what it takes.
It's no longer just a question of rapid reflexes; learning routes and discovering shortcuts is vital if you want to win. You have a map to look at and the city seems designed to give you clear routes and obvious landmarks, but if you're looking for a glowing green arrow to tell you where you should be going, Paradise isn't going to hand a win to you that easy.
Impressively there's only the bare minimum of a UI to get in the way of the fiction. Want to change cars? Better drive to a nearby junkyard? Car need fixing? Find your way to the local repair shop. You can't jump into events where and when you wish - you have to track them down, stop near the line then hammer the accelerator while braking hard to signal your interest with some wheelspin. Sure, Paradise has some things in common with NFS: MW, but this isn't like any driving game you've played before.