As was the case with a lot of other people, I was pretty disappointed/concerned about the state of the Burnout franchise when I started messing with the demo. That said, I've spent a lot of the past 2 days playing it, and now I feel pretty comfortable saying that I get it.
The closest analogy I can come up with is Crackdown, another open-world game. The thing about Crackdown - as with Burnout Paradise - is that while there's official stuff for you to do, a great deal of the game's enjoyment can be found simply by exploring the world. Crackdown had orbs for you to find; Burnout has gates and billboards to smash. I've played for almost 8 hours by now and I've really only done 15 actual events; I've mostly just been trying to find everything there is to find - which also just so happens to be a really good way to learn all the hidden routes and shortcuts.
It can be frustrating to not be able to immediately restart an event - something I find myself doing a LOT when I play Burnout 3 - but you get over that pretty quickly, because chances are there's a similar event a few blocks away from wherever you end up finishing. The only real pain is when you're doing a "Burning Route", which is an event specifically tied to the car you're driving, but even then, as you drive yourself back to the starting point, you get a better sense of how to improve your chosen route.
Visually, the game absolutely kicks ass. The sense of speed is breathtaking, and I'm still driving low-level cars. Crashes look as good as they've ever looked; they are visceral and explosive and while they can slow the game's reckless pace down, they're always well-filmed.
Sound-wise, I should say right off the bat that I pretty much hate everything EA Trax stands for, and I hate hate HATE DJs who tell me what to do.... BUT the very first song that came on when I starting playing yesterday just so happened to be my favorite song of 2007 - LCD Soundsystem's "Us v Them."
Another good thing to point out is that while EA has been as shameless about in-game advertising as any developer out there, the signage in this game is relatively unobtrusive. It's there, to be sure, but it's not nearly as oppressive as it's been in other EA games.
So, yeah. I'm liking it a lot more than I'd originally anticipated; the controversial design choices end up making a bit more sense when you start getting into the game's natural rhythm. It's not just a driving game this time around; it's also a really slick-looking toy.