Burnout Paradise

Meanwhile new events make the most of the open world setting. Stunt challenges give you a time limit in which to pull off the most outrageous jumps, drifts, rolls and spins, and it's up to you to find the means with which to pull them off. Chaining stunts together is an enormously satisfying feat. Marked Man puts a team of bounty hunters on your heels, and all you need to worry about is getting to a preset destination in one piece. These events offer some of the biggest driving thrills since Most Wanted's high-octane cop chases; you can survive a few crashes, but the more you're run down, the less chance you have of reaching your target.

Meanwhile everyone's favourite, Crash mode, has been ditches in favour of Showtime. Press the L1 and R1 buttons anywhere you like and the game flicks into Showtime mode. Combining aftertouch and a faintly ridiculous bounce facility, you can send your vehicle careering all over the place, smacking into other cars, blasting into buses and causing millions of dollars of damage wherever you go. Expect the competition on this one to be fierce.

Most decent recent racers have understood the importance of online leaderboards and multiplayer tournaments, but Paradise goes in big for street-by-street speed records, crash records and other achievements. Cleverly you can put your own mugshot in the game, meaning everyone can put a face to the name of the guy who just ‘pwned' them. Better still, Paradise is designed for easy drop-in, drop-out cooperative play - I can't wait to try it with my motley crew of gaming buddies.

Needless to say from the team that made the PS2 sing with Burnout: Revenge and Burnout: Dominator, Burnout: Paradise looks absolutely dazzling. The cars may be fictional, but the models rival PGR4 for detail, and everything from the reflections to the warm pseudo-Californian sunshine seems blessed with a gorgeous sheen. And if you thought you were bored with Burnout's damage replays, think again. With so much twisting metal and splintering glass being pushed around each time there is an incident, each slow-motion workout is a stunner. And how can you not love a game where you're shoving rival racers into barriers, watching cars crumple in grisly detail, while Faith No More's Epic blasts out majestically over the soundtrack?

There's a lot more to see and a lot more to do before we can talk about anything more than first impressions, but I know I'll be playing this one a lot more before the full review appears towards the end of January. It's always a challenge to reinvent a series without losing its heart and soul, but at the moment I suspect Criterion has managed it. It just goes to show - sometimes it pays to make that ballsy move.

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