|EA, PS3; also for Xbox 360
Take me down to the Paradise City where the cars careen and the wrecks are gritty. (Eat your heart out, Axl!) The Burnout franchise is back, once again blowing the doors off the other driving sims with its extreme, arcade-style action. But this time, the series shifts gears by steering away from confined, point-to-point racetracks and, instead, barreling toward a massive, drive-anywhere, open-world environment that's jam-packed with loads of objectives.
Paradise provides 18 square miles of insanely detailed graphics: frantic freeways, winding mountain roads, and grid-mapped downtown murk. And no matter how much mayhem is onscreen, the game runs at a super-smooth 60 frames per second, thanks to the processing power under the PS3's hood. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound adds to the immersion, with plenty of front-to-rear panning as you streak past opponents. And who needs a rear-view mirror when the sound tells you which side your adversary is approaching from?
In Paradise City, you only need to pull your fictitious (yet photorealistic) ride up to any of 120 stoplights and spin your wheels to start one of the race- or stunt-oriented events. Sometimes, you'll have to run as many rivals off the road as possible within a set time limit. Other times, you are the prey, as you try to reach the finish line before your enemies smash you off-course. If your car does get crushed like an accordion, you'll still be thrilled by the spectacular slo-mo playback, the moans and groans of twisting metal, and the enveloping sound of shattered glass raining down all around you.
To gain an edge over your opponents, you can break through barriers to uncover shortcuts and hit hidden jumps to reach secret rooftop routes. You'll also need to use the small, inset map - which, be warned, is tough to read if you're not playing on a decent-size high-def TV. The map doesn't adjust itself to your position, as it would on a GPS, so it's easy to miss an important turn. Lose a race, and you'll have to slog all the way back to the starting line - that is, if you can remember at which of the traffic lights the race began.
Still, that quibble is more than made up for by seamlessly integrated online play, which allows you and your friends to connect instantly without having to wait or exit the game. It's innovation like this that makes you forget you are in fact playing a game - and that ultimately makes Burnout Paradise a driver's utopia.
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