It's the online integration that sets Paradise apart from many other racers. It is without doubt the best integration I've seen and all accessed by simply pressing right on the d-pad. From this in-game menu you can race against friends or take on some random players. Criterion has included race events and challenges for every permutation of players (up to eight can play together online - although there's no road rage or marked man events) and the way the game uses the consoles' webcams to take snap shots of victorious and not so victorious moments (smugshots and mugshots) is a stroke of genius.
Burnout Paradise is an excellent game when played alone, but online with friends it reaches another level. Racing from point to point with friends is insane fun, with the carnage making for plenty of frenzied shouting and incredible near misses. And when you're bored of standard races you can tackle the many Freeburn challenges - a mode which somehow manages to make trivial tasks hell of a lot of fun.
Much has been made of Criterion's decision to use the PlayStation 3 as the primary platform for development and this seems to have been a good choice for gamers. Both versions of the game look great, sporting a great frame rate, superb lighting, incredible car damage, an unrivalled sense of speed and no loading at all. No matter which version you buy, you'll be getting one of the most technically proficient next-gen racers to date. But there are differences.
After extensive play it was nearly impossible to pick between the two games visually, but whereas I never spotted slowdown while playing the game on PS3, the 360 game stuttered on one or two occasions. It's minor and barely worth mentioning, but a difference all the same. Certain areas of the city also exhibit different lighting, although it's subtle and hard to say which version looks better - don't be fooled by the way the game drains of colour as your car becomes increasingly damaged. One thing neither version does is allow you to watch replays - something I wanted to do only moments after starting my first race. In a game full of so many insane moments I can only assume the game's open nature made this somewhat of a technical challenge.
More important to many will be the things missing in the PS3 game. The fact that there's no custom soundtrack support is odd, considering every PS3 comes with a hard drive. This is something the Xbox 360 offers and makes the less than spectacular soundtrack a lot easier to bear - you can just listen to something else. The 360 game also includes some excellent Achievements and rumble support in the controller. Online performance is nigh-on identical but, given the game's strong online functionality, playing on the console where you have most friends will make a big difference.
Also worth mentioning is how the city is completely devoid of people. Cars are everywhere, but there's not a person in sight. There's no doubt this decision was made to ensure the game received a family-friendly rating, but I wonder if there would have been a way to include pedestrians without the risk of them being mowed down by boost-happy drivers... Picking holes in the presentation is being harsh on Criterion though, as the variety in the huge city is incredible and the draw distance at certain points has to be seen to be believed.
And we've arrived at the tricky matter of summing up all Burnout Paradise offers. It's without doubt a marvellous achievement on both consoles, but do the new additions and free-roaming city make it a more entertaining game than Burnout Revenge? I went back to Revenge on the Xbox 360 for an afternoon and it made the strides made in Paradise all the easier to see.
Going back to the standard menu-driven system of the past was pretty jarring after spending days cruising from event to event in Paradise. I was simply having more fun in Criterion's latest racer. I'm not budging on the issue of navigating during race events though - the closed track races in Revenge are far more enjoyable. Even so, for true next-gen arcade racing thrills Burnout Paradise is most definitely your best option. Criterion has delivered a game that every gamer should have in their collection.
Don't want to read the review? Head over to the VideoGamer.com video player to check out our Burnout Paradise video review.