We recently had an opportunity to check out the next iteration of the Burnout franchise at the E3 Media and Business Summit, and it's clear that Criterion is strongly behind the wheel of this one. Known for its high octane racing, and devastating crash scenes, Burnout Paradise is taking the series in a new direction with a new open-world environment, allowing you to go where you want, when you want, and take on challenges at your leisure.

At a first glance, I was quickly reminded of the style of Rockstar's Midnight Club 3, with a lot more destruction and a different way of navigating the city. The same open-world approach is very evident between the two games, allowing you to take on crash challenges or record-breaking stunts whenever you feel like it. To start a race, simply roll up to a red light and leave some rubber on the pavement. And aside from the racing and various jumps, you'll find a plenty of other various stunts to perform. An example of this is power parking, where the goal is (using the E-brake) to pull a complete 180 and park nicely between two cars, without leaving a scratch on your car.

Each street in Burnout Paradise has a name, and you'll navigate not by glowing red arrows or halos, but by the street indicators that appear at the top of the HUD. They tell you what street you're on, what's left, and what's right at the next intersection, similarly as you would navigate a real-world map. Want a challenge? Simply drive down a street and check out its Road Rules, an in-game stat tracker updated in real-time from your friends list of all of the top crashes, stunts, etc, that were performed on that street. You'll always have a challenge to "own" the road by having the best stats, even if you're friends aren't online.

Multiplayer is also seamless in this racer, after accepting a game invite you'll morph into the online world in the same position that you left your single player city, no loading screen whatsoever. Up to eight players can roam the online city, taking on challenges, racing, or simply having a crash-filled good time that the Burnout franchise is legendary for. If you have a camera connected, when you take out an opponent the camera will quickly snap a picture of their reaction, a neat idea, but we'll reserve our judgment to wait and see how it pans out.

Visually, this is without a doubt the best looking Burnout to date, and really takes good advantage of the power available in the Xbox 360 and PS3. Aside from the beautiful environments and lighting effects, this is by far the most destructible entry into the franchise. The vehicle deformations and crash debris after a major impact are a sight to behold, in slow motion you'll see the cars wrap around telephone poles like you'd expect, while glass and shards of steel litter the air.

The open-world concept of Burnout Paradise is taking the series in a new direction, and it seems to be looking quite good, taking the destructible formula of the past to a new dimension. The only element that I noticed missing was the crashbreaker, and I confirmed with a developer that it was not yet included in the build. With the game in pre-alpha, the team hasn't decided whether or not to include it this time around; we can only hope it makes an appearance as it has been a franchise staple for the last couple of iterations.

Set to ship at the end of this year, Burnout Paradise is already looking sharp. Aside from its gorgeous visuals, the open-world concept will add a new level of flow to the single player experience. The seamless transition to a multiplayer world is a very innovative concept that we're looking forward to checking out further as a release date nears.