Despite being in an open world, the game still retains the 60 frames-per-second most Burnout games have used. Initially day and night cycles were not included in the game but a software update entitled "Davis" added this element to the game. Records will now be kept on players' drivers licenses and there will be statistics such as fastest time and biggest crash for every street in the game. Unlike in previous Burnout games, Crash Mode, now called Showtime, can now be started at any time and place in the game; though Showtime mode is rather different from the usual Crash Mode. Also, for races, players may now take any route to get to the destination. Races and other events are simply started by stopping at any of the 120 traffic lights around Paradise City and applying the accelerator and brake at the same time. Multiple settings have been confirmed to be fully customisable such as:
- "Boost Rules", where the player may choose cars that use the boost styles from previous Burnout games.
- Whether or not there is traffic in an online event.
- Start and finish points for online events with up to 16 checkpoints.
The damage system has also been reworked. There are now two different types of crash based on the car's condition after the crash. If the player's car manages to retain all four wheels, and not break its chassis, the player may drive out of the crash and continue playing; this is called a "driveaway". If a player's car loses any of its wheels, has the engine damaged too much from an impact, or winds up outside of the game's map, the car is in a "wrecked" state and the player will have to wait until their car is reset. Cars can also be torn into several pieces, be compressed and deform around objects as you crash into them. However, Alex Ward confirmed in the Official Crash FM podcast that cars may not be ripped in half, as concept pictures and early information had stated. There are also other cars which can be obtained by typing in a sponsor code. These only work for certain regions. One of these sponsor code cars is the Steel Wheels version of the Carson GT concept car, which features the car with an armor plate and supercharger. The code for this car could be obtained from pre-ordering the game from certain retailers. When starting the single player mode you are assigned with a learner's permit and a single car. While playing you race and win events to earn points towards a higher license, from a Learners Permit (E-class), D-class, C-class, B-class, A-class, Burnout Paradise (S-class), Burnout Elite (SS-class) up to Criterion Elite (SSS-class). After earning a new license every event that you complete is reset so you can replay the event again to earn credit towards a new license.
Cars now have manufacturer and model names, which are loosely based on real-world cars but are mostly fictional (some of the cars are even based on those from a previous Burnout game, e.g. the Hunter Manhattan is the Classic from Burnout 2). Cars may not be "tuned up" or customized apart from color changes, which may be done in real-time by driving through the forecourt of a blow shop, which will randomly assign a color to the car, or by selecting the color in the Junkyard where you select your vehicle (after taking the car through a Paint Booth drivethru at least once). Other real-time changes include driving through the forecourt of a gas station to automatically refill your Burnout meter, and driving through the forecourt of a repair shop to automatically repair your car, allowing you to extend a Road Rage or Marked Man event beyond the car's damage limits.
The online lobby system used by most video games has been replaced by a streamlined system known as "Easy Drive". While driving, players simply hit right on the D-Pad and the Easy Drive menu pops up on the bottom left hand corner of their screen. From there, players are able to invite another player from their friends list. Once friends have joined the game, the hosting player is then able to pick from a variety of events to play. There are also special Burnout Racing Team cars that you can get.
Cars in Burnout Paradise can have one of three different types of "Boost Standard", showing what a player will have to do with the car in order to build up their boost bar:
- Speed: Driving the car at high speeds through oncoming traffic and/or weaving through traffic (performing a "Near Miss" where the car avoids another by a few inches or less) builds up the boost bar. This is the only type of boost in which the boost is not available until the meter is completely filled. When it is filled, the boost bar becomes inflamed and the player may use it until the player crashes, lets off of the boost, or runs out of boost power. However, the depletion of boost power on a Speed standard can cause a "Burnout" if the player keeps the boost button pressed after their boost bar is depleted, in which the bar refills allowing the player to continue to use their boost. As long as the boost is continued to be used and the car is continuing to be driven, the player can create a "Burnout Chain" for as long as the player is able. This is the only standard that allows a Burnout chain.
- Stunt: The player can only build up this boost bar by performing stunts with the car (driving through incoming traffic counts). However, as long as there is boost power stored, the player is able to use it. The Stunt boost is the longest boost bar initially.
- Aggression: The player will only be able to fill up this boost bar by reckless driving, such as performing traffic checks and/or takedowns, knocking over signs, performing stunts, and driving through oncoming traffic. Initially, the boost bar of these cars shows a "x2" at the end of the bar. If a player performs a takedown, the bar can be extended until the player switches cars (the only boost standard that has this ability), thereby showing a "x3" at the end of the bar instead. Like the Stunt standard, boost can be used immediately, regardless of if the player has the bar completely filled.
Cars are also rated on three merits when viewed at the Junkyard:
- Speed: How fast a car can go. The higher the rating, the higher the top speed in which a car will be able to reach without using boost.
- Boost: The cars boost power. The higher this rating, the longer the boost power on that car will last before running out.
- Strength: How long a car can go before becoming completely totaled. The higher this rating, the more likely the car will be able to survive a crash or be able to make another car crash instead of them (if a car is stronger than another, the more likely the car will make the other crash upon collision). This rating also determines how many crashes a car is allowed in Road Rage or Marked Man events before an event ends when the car is in mint condition upon entering the event.
Races, Marked Man events and Burning Routes can start in any location around Paradise City, but the destination is always one of eight: the Maplemount Country Club, the Coastguard HQ, the Waterfront Plaza, the Paradise Wildcats Baseball Stadium, the Fort Lawrence Naval Yard, the Lone Stallion Ranch, the Paradise City Wind Farm and the Crystal Summit Observatory. Road Rages and Stunt Runs have no set end destination.
- Race: Races consist of the player and at least one other car (races with just one opponent are known as 'Duels'). The player is given a location to race to. The player can take any route through the city to the location, with the aid of a flashing road names at the top of the screen when the player is advised to turn. The first to arrive at the destination wins; there are no points or prizes awarded for placing second or third, unlike most racing games. Online races can also include checkpoints that need to be crossed before reaching the finish.
- Road Rage: The player is given a target number of takedowns and a time limit. A Road Rage event is won by meeting or exceeding this target in the given time limit. A variant of this event was made available for online play in the "Cagney" update.
- Marked Man: In this event, the player is given a destination. At least one opponent is trying to stop the player from reaching the destination by scoring takedowns against them. The player must survive from start to finish in order to win (the player can be part of collisions, but loses the event if he totals the car). A variant designed for online gameplay was included in the "Cagney" update.
- Stunt Run: Players are given a target score. They must earn points towards that score by using boosts, jumps, drifts and other such stunt moves. An online version of this event type was added to the game as part of the "Cagney" update.
- Burning Route: Each Burning Route requires the player to use a specific car. Once the player is driving the required car, they race against the clock to a specified location. When a Burning Route is won the player wins an upgraded version of the vehicle they completed it with. The upgraded vehicle can boast extra boost power, more base speed or a stronger body (but usually in exchange for another category being made weaker). This event is unique in that it does not reset when the player earns a new license, because it's tied to the car used to run it rather than the license level the player is presently at.
After the "Burnout Bikes Update" (formerly called "Davis"), two new events were added that are exclusive to the motorcycles:
- Burning Ride: Same as a Burning Route but for the motorcycles. However, some of these are now timed checkpoint events wherein the rider must ride through a set number of checkpoints before the time limit expires. These checkpoint events also do not have to end at one of the predetermined endpoints in Paradise City (they can terminate at intersections).
- Midnight Ride: Same as a Burning Ride but takes place between the in-game hours of 8PM and 8AM.
A "Mugshots" camera feature is available in the Burnout Paradise versions for the PlayStation 3 (using the PlayStation Eye, the PlayStation 2 EyeToy, and other compatible webcams) and Xbox 360 (using the Xbox Live Vision). When a player is taken down, they have their photo, called a 'Mugshot', taken and shown to the aggressor, and vice versa. These photos can then be saved to the console's hard drive. You receive "Mugshots" for taking down an opponent, an "Event Mugshot" for taking down an opponent during a "Ranked race" online, a "Smugshot" for beating an opponent's fastest Road Rule time, and "Photo Finish" for wining an Online race. Both versions allow cameraless persons, or those who do not wish to use their real face, to use their Gamerpicture/PSN avatar.
For detailed information on Burnout Paradise's Downloadable Content and Updates, visit Burnopedia, the Burnout Wiki.
- Burnout Paradise 1.1 - Astaire, released January 22, 2008
- Burnout Paradise 1.2 - Bogart, released April 18, 2008 for Xbox 360 and April 24, 2008 for PlayStation 3
- Burnout Paradise 1.3 - Cagney, released July 10, 2008 for PlayStation 3 and August 4, 2008 for Xbox 360
- Burnout Paradise 1.4 - Burnout Bikes, released September 18, 2008 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
- Burnout Paradise 1.5 - Trophies, released September 25, 2008 for PlayStation 3, not released for Xbox 360
- Burnout Paradise 1.6 (PC 18.104.22.168) - Free February Update, released February 5, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and PC and February 6, 2009 for Xbox 360
- Burnout Paradise 1.7 (PC 22.214.171.124) - Second Burnout Store Update, (Current Version of the Game for PC) released February 18, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and March 25, 2009 for PC
- Burnout Paradise 1.8 (PC 126.96.36.199) - Third Burnout Store Update, (Current Version of the Game for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) released April 30, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($9.99 / €9.99 / £7.99 / 800 MSP) - Party Pack, released February 5, 2009
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($7.99 / €7.99 / £6.29 / 600 MSP) - Legendary Cars, released February 19, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and March 25, 2009 for PC
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($4.99 / €4.99 / 400 MSP) - Time Savers Pack, released February 19, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and March 25, 2009 for PC
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($12.99 / €12.99 / £9.99 / 1000 MSP) - Toys, released March 5, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and March 25, 2009 for PC
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($7.99 / €7.99 / £6.29 / 640 MSP) - Boost Specials, released March 12, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and March 25, 2009 for PC
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($9.99 / €9.99 / £7.99 / 800 MSP) - Cops and Robbers Pack, released April 30, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Burnout Paradise Premium Content ($12.99 / €12.99 / £9.99/ 1000 MSP) - Big Surf Island, expected June 11, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box is the repackaging of Burnout Paradise and its first four Game Changing Content Packs (Cagney, Burnout Bikes, Big Surf Island, and the Party Pack). It will tweak a few features including the much-griped about inability to restart events. It is the first Burnout game to be released on the PC. A demo is expected to be released February 2009 for the PC, closely followed by the game's release on PC, PlayStation 3, and the Xbox 360.
Burnout Paradise would later be supplanted by Burnout Paradise: Remastered, with all the content from Burnout Paradise's DLC included. EA announced on April 26, 2019, that the servers upon which Burnout Paradise gets its functionality from will be shut down on August 1, 2019. Burnout Paradise: Remastered will be unaffected, as these use different servers.