If you do get a bit bored with the single-player action, you can always hop online and race against others. Doing so is quite seamless. Simply press right on the D pad to bring up the online menu, and then decide if you want to join up with other existing games or create your own. Online in Burnout Paradise is quite a different animal than that of previous Burnout games. You don't just hop into a lobby menu and pick races to engage in. Instead, the city itself is the lobby, and while the host decides what he wants to unleash upon you, you can just mess around and do whatever you like.
When hosting, you have the ability to both race and take on challenges. Races are of your own design, with you setting the beginning and ending points anywhere in the city. Challenges are set, and there are literally hundreds of them. The trick is that there are a limited number of challenges depending on how many players are in a group. There are 50 challenges for two players, 50 for eight players, and 50 for each denomination in between. This means that once you've exhausted all the challenges for two players, you'll have to get three, then four, and so on and so on if you want to complete them all. That might prove unwieldy for those who don't have a lot of friends online to play the game, but at least the challenges themselves are creative and fun. The challenges range from competitive bouts of drifting, crashing, and jumping to cooperative versions of all the same stuff. It's an inventive mode to be sure and an exceptionally fun one when you've got a good crew of friends to play with.
It also bears mention that while online, you can use the PlayStation Eye or Xbox Live Vision Camera to take shots of your rivals online. When you take down a rival player that has a camera hooked up, the cam will take a mugshot of that player's reaction. It's kind of a neat feature that, unfortunately, will probably be abused by all manner of nudity over the course of the game's lifespan, but that's inevitably what happens when you let people do things with cameras.
Paradise's visual presentation is precisely the kind of top-notch work you've come to expect from the series. Once again, the game sets a standard for how a sense of speed should feel in an arcade racer. This game is lightning fast, and the frame rate in both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game holds up regardless of the chaos onscreen. The car crashes in this game are absolutely fantastic, thanks to some dynamite particle effects and camera work in each and every mangled wreck. Cars deform to wonderful effect, scrunching up like an accordion in head-on collisions and bending and twisting nicely in other situations. The only thing that continues to look a little weird is the total lack of drivers in all the cars around the city. It's understandable that Criterion would leave out mangled corpses or what have you for the sake of an E 10+ rating, but it still looks strange seeing all these disembodied cars driving around like a society of Turbo Teens.
It's also worth noting that Burnout Paradise is a game that commands an HD display, and not just for full graphical effect. On the standard-definition TVs we tried, we found the minimap to be borderline useless unless we squinted like crazy. On an HD set, the minimap is detailed and blown up enough to rely on, but when playing in standard definition, it simply became a hassle to use.
Showtime mode won't make you forget about crash mode, but it's a lot of goofy fun in its own right.
If you're looking for differences between the two versions, you won't find many. The PlayStation 3 version looks maybe a hair crisper than the 360 version, but that's about the only visual difference to speak of. On the flipside, the 360 version has a slight edge in that you can use custom soundtracks to drown out the miserable collection of songs EA has amassed for the game. There are a few highlights that fit well with the theme of high-energy racing, but the vast bulk of the music consists of irritating modern rock that's about as ill-fitting as humanly possible. Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" might, itself, be a car wreck of a song, but it doesn't fit the vibe of the game at all. Add in the collection of original Criterion-produced guitar rock tracks from previous Burnout games that sound like they were culled from Joe Satriani's nightmares, and you have a pretty unpleasant musical experience all around. The annoying radio DJ who pops up now and again to give hints, mock you obnoxiously when you fail, and make one glib comment or another about something going on in the city doesn't help matters. He's merely an annoyance that probably wouldn't even be worth mentioning save for the fact that you cannot turn him off. At least the sound effects are still top-flight in every regard. Crashes thunder, engines roar, and tires screech with terrific clarity all throughout the game. If you've got a surround-speaker setup, it's all the better.
It's entirely possible that some people might not enjoy Burnout Paradise's significant shift in direction, specifically those who simply wanted another incremental Burnout sequel. Indeed, Paradise is anything but incremental, and while it might prove a polarizing experience for some, most will likely appreciate what a radical overhaul this game really is. The open-world design isn't just a lazy gimmick--it's a wonderfully executed concept that doesn't rob the game of the series' most beloved tenet: the act of driving fast and wrecking hard. If you're one of the people who tried the Burnout Paradise demo and formed a rather negative opinion of the game, you're not alone. But if you have any affection for the series, you really owe it to yourself to give the full game a look. The demo did little to truly represent what a superbly fun racer this game can be.