Burnout Paradise

What makes the Burnout series so appealing, even to people who can't stand driving games, isn't the violence or the wrecks. It's the sheer intensity, the way the blistering motion and garish visuals of Burnout Takedown left the eyes so fried that nothing short of watching Meet The Press could cool them down. And while they reveled in chaos, Takedown and Revenge also rewarded practice, especially in the "Crash" mode, where the challenge of ricocheting through a high-traffic area was akin to playing pool with people's lives.

But Burnout Paradise trades that intensity for laidback cruising. Instead of sticking you in one race after another, the game takes place in an open city where drivers can wander around, exploring the train tracks or cruising the mountain roads as they look for their next race. The strategy isn't a slam dunk: Compared to the exotic settings of the Burnout World Tours, Paradise City looks as dull as Denver. You'll have to find your way to the end of each race, which is rewarding when you know the roads and shortcuts, but frustrating for casual drivers. And instead of the concentrated carnage of "Crash" mode, Paradise introduces the ridiculous "Showtime," which lets you flip a wreck half a mile or more through traffic, bopping onto everything in your path.

Beyond the game: To cover up the game's fantastic violence, the cars in Burnout Paradise have no drivers—which gives the impression that zombie cars have overrun the city, aimlessly prowling the abandoned streets.

Worth playing for: Paradise nails the sweet spot of making you feel like you're careening down twisty mountain rides with your heart in your throat, while protecting you from the dumb mistakes or cheap obstacles that would break the flow.

Frustration sets in when: If you lose a race—and by the way, second and third place are worth bupkus this time—you can't just hit a button and try again; you have to trek all the way back to the starting point, or just write it off and find something else to do.

Final judgment: The Burnout franchise risks a new direction, and comes one sequel away from perfection.

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