- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

Burnout Paradise (Electronic Arts for PlayStation 3, rated E10+ for ages 10 and older, $59.99) is not a Grateful Dead theme park, but a free-roaming sandbox racing experience loaded with a smorgasbord of vehicular destruction. The fifth title in the Burnout franchise, this entry is easily the most accessible, frenzied and dazzling of the bunch.

Gratuitous chaos defines the action as a player finds himself able to wreak havoc over almost 12 square miles of virtual road entrenched in the fabled Paradise City.

In the beginning, a learner’s permit and a stop at the junkyard give the driver a stunt-modified vehicle only a demolition derby could love. (Players with an Eye Camera hooked up to the PS3 also get to take a mug shot that appears on the license. It’s not a revolutionary concept, but a nice touch.) Another spin through a mechanic’s garage cleans up the car just in time to destroy it.

The license grades evolve as the driver wins events. To engage an event, he need only pull up to one of the 120 light signals and squeal the tires. A tap of the bumper controls, and he can accept challenges that test speed, guts and finesse.

I excelled at the Road Rage event (a favorite of past Burnout games) which requires drivers to fly through the streets and take down opponents’ vehicles, and the new Stunt Run, which has the driver combining drifting and Joey Chitwood-style jumps fueled by speed boosts to collect points.

Less interesting, but an element I’m sure will appeal to the PS3 Pain crowd, is the Showtime mode, an episode defined by keeping a rolling, bouncing crash going as long as possible.

The domino effect of winning events also opens up more than 70 vehicles the driver can manhandle. The vehicles, however, are not simply unlocked and dumped in the player’s junkyard; they first cruise the city. The player must knock them out to have them placed in his junkyard.

The dazzling vehicle designs and paint jobs mix a Hot Wheels collector’s dream with computer effects styling that jumps right out of high-definition television screens.

Crashes are especially devastating as the cars’ beauty can be crumpled quickly into a heap of twisted metal, much to the vocally expressed awe of audience members.

New this year is the painless multiplayer experience, which seamlessly blurs the line between online and off-line gaming. Much like Sega’ s Test Drive Unlimited, Burnout’s broadband-fueled drivers from around the world coexist in Paradise City and can work together in events or challenge one another.

A simple click on the directional pad brings up the online possibilities, including customized races with checkpoints, and a few more clicks immediately place the driver in multiplayer land.

By the way, Paradise City is a wonderful place where the sun never sets and weather doesn’t exist. It’s a mix of winding California-style mountain roads, the urban enormity of New York City, an infrastructure of Chicago (a sports stadium looks a bit like Wrigley Field) and a selection of San Francisco-style bridges.

Scattered among the locales are ramps, breakable billboards and speed trials just to keep drivers coming back for more.

Completing the package is a selection of songs blasting during the rides. Among the hits, drivers will find an eclectic lot such as Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop,” Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” and Junkie XL’s “Cities in Dust” (a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover). Of course, Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” leads the way.

I am not a fan of traditional racing games, but being a daily survivor of the Beltway, I finally have found a perfect fit with Burnout Paradise.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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