Don't want to read the review? Head over to the video player to check out our Burnout Paradise video review.

The current consoles allow for some truly amazing technical feats. Nowhere is this clearer than in Criterion's stunning, open-city racer Burnout Paradise. From the start you literally have the entire city at your disposal, with no load times, no menu screens and no hiccups - it's seamless. The big question then is not if what Criterion set out to do with the Burnout Paradise has been achieved, but if it was right to take it in this direction in the first place? Is Paradise still Burnout?

When I say that Burnout Paradise is a seamless experience, it really is. To start with you must create a Drivers Licence and add a photo (if you've got a webcam hooked up to your console), but from then on all you'll be seeing is game. You start with a pretty slow (relatively speaking) car and you're off, exploring Paradise City and taking part in the 120 events scattered about. You're free to do as you wish.

The structure of previous Burnout games has been replaced with a pick and choose system where you simply cruise up to some traffic lights to start the associated event, be it a Race, Road Rage, Marked Man, Stunt or Burning Route. Some are familiar, some play very differently and some are brand new.

Road Rage events see you taking down a required number of opponent cars, smashing them into walls, into oncoming traffic, into each other or however else you manage to remove their wheels. It's brilliant fun and made all the better thanks to the free-roaming city, with the carnage being taken far from the starting line.

Marked Man requires you to drive from one location to another while a pack of powerful black cars attempt to take you out, relentless in their attack - total your car and you'll be staring at failure. This mode perhaps makes best use of the open city, with your cunning often being the key to survival - shortcuts and small alleys are perfect for staying out of harm's way.

The views are often spectacular

Stunt events ask you to tally up a certain number of stunt points by driving with some style. It works by utilising a combo system, so it's key to link together stunts. Whether you're simply power sliding around a bend, barrel rolling off a ramp or getting big air, your stunt combo will continue. An on-screen clock will indicate how much time you have to perform another stunt and keep the combo going, ramping up the pressure on spotting another stunt opportunity. Luckily a tap of the boost button acts as a stunt so you can use this to move between awkward areas of track.

Of all the event types it's Stunt that seems to have benefited from the city's design the most. After a while you'll be spotting ramps all over the place, getting big air off a side road or power sliding for whole roads at a time. Had we still been racing in closed streets this event type would likely reach a score limit pretty quickly, but in Paradise City you're always discovering new routes and stunt possibilities.

Burning Route events are car specific and ask you to complete a time trial. The problem is that unless you complete each route as you get into a new car, towards the end of the game you're going to have to do a lot of car swapping and repetitive driving to get back to each event.

Racing in the open city can be troublesome

It's the Race events that will polarise opinion on the game though. The only way to complete an event (and in turn get one step closer to increasing your drivers licence rating) is to win it, and this soon becomes pretty tricky. The open nature of the city isn't a problem in the other event types, but in races it's all too easy to miss a turn while you're moving at an insanely high speed.

The game tries to help you out, with the on-screen compass and blinking indicator-like street name image telling you a turning is coming up, but in the heat of the moment these are nowhere near as helpful as giant flashing corner signs seen in previous Burnout games. During races on the more restricted roads, you'll often only have one route to take towards the end, so miss that one vital turn and it's effectively race over - and there's no option to quickly restart. The open nature of the city is brilliant, but the race events don't suit this set-up and I'd have preferred barriers to be put in place during these events, making for less frustration and more fun.

How well you do in each of these events also depends a lot on the class of car you're driving. You've got three types: speed, aggressor and stunt. They're pretty self explanatory but do handle and use boost very differently. The speed class cars can only boost when you've got a full boost bar, but the benefit is the ability to perform burnout chains, effectively giving you an endless boost reserve - if you're good enough to use an entire boost meter in one go.

Aggressors are the heavy duty vehicles that can take more damage before getting totalled, making them the vehicles of choice during Marked Man events. Boost for these beasts is most easily earned by taking down other drivers. And stunt vehicles can perform the best power slides and barrel rolls, can boost at any time (essential for stunt runs) and can take a bit of damage - making them something of an in-between car class.

As you progress you'll unlock new cars, but only the cars awarded for a licence upgrade (something which requires more and more event wins as your licence improves) and Burning Route victories are added instantly to your junk yard garage. All the rest need to be taken down first, which is both fun and slightly annoying. While you're driving around you'll often notice a car speed past, and it's these cars that are waiting to be fully unlocked. It adds an element of fun to what otherwise would have been another standard unlock system, but after a while it becomes a little tedious.

The same goes for changing your car. This has to be done by driving to a junk yard (there are five to find in the game map) and then picking the car you want. I'm all for seamless gameplay, but some things are better when done in the conventional way. The whole process always takes longer than I want and a menu would have solved the problem completely.

Aside from the main events there are loads of activities to do

I don't want to give the wrong impression, as Burnout Paradise is a thrilling racing game, but Criterion has taken a backwards step in a few key areas, most notably Crash mode. In Paradise Crash mode has been replaced by Showtime - probably the most ridiculous game mode I've ever played in a racer, arcade or otherwise. Essentially Showtime makes every road in the game an event, where there's a high score to beat - both on and offline. Press two shoulder buttons together (L1 + R1 on PS3, LB + RB on 360) and you're off.

Once activated you have one goal: crash into as many cars as possible. Rather than managing your crash like in previous Burnouts (which featured some brilliant multiplier pick-ups and superb crash breakers), here you have a boost meter that determines how many ground stomps you can perform, propelling your car forwards. Hit another vehicle and your boost increases, so you can go on for ages on the busier stretches of road. The score multiplier pick-ups have been replaced by buses, which multiply your score. The problem here is that the number of buses that arrive is down to luck. Showtime is good for a laugh, but not nearly as skilful as Revenge's Crash mode.

Each and every road also has a saved fastest time for online and offline, essentially giving you a time trial for every road. It's a nice feature and something to do whenever you're driving to another traffic light triggered event, but really only comes into its own when your console is online and getting updates from everyone, including your friends.

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.

The online integration and modes are key to Paradise's success

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.

You're never going to be short of something to do in Paradise City

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 video player to check out our Burnout Paradise video review.