October 11, 2006

Game Dork

Speed Racers

Car games have evolved into killing machines (see "Grand Theft Auto," "Burnout Revenge") because, duh, they're fun. But like Gandhi said, you don't have to slaughter people to have a party. To wit, new racing games dish out loads of apple-pie-American good times, minus blood and guts.

-"Test Drive Unlimited" takes us to the pretty vistas of Hawaiian roads, where we race against other cars, zip around past pesky traffic, and zoom near sandy beaches. Hawaiian roads and trees blur around your fast car beautifully. Somehow, you don't run over clueless tourists.

"Unlimited" is a lot like the "Need for Speed" titles in that you buy cars, starting with heinous rentals from the airport. Once you earn money by winning races, you go shopping for mildly faster Audis and such, followed by super-duper racers that, yes, attract police if you cause too many wrecks.

"Test Drive" one-ups some other games by not making you fix your damaged cars all the time. At last, a half-simulation racing game realizes it's no fun spending time at mechanic shops. Who knew?

It retails for $40 for Xbox 360. It comes out Nov. 14 for PS 2 and PSP. It plays fun. Looks great. And it's challenging. Rated "E 10+" for language and mild violence. Three and one-half stars out of four.

— "Nascar '07" — EA has stepped up its Nascar series. This year's zippier races feel more real than before, and more difficult. It's a serious grind to fly upwards of 200 mph while barely inching your way around rivals, without crashing or fender-bender-ing off course.

What isn't great for the Xbox and PS 2 versions is having to always turn the wheel to the left, and constantly pressing the gas button; this hurts my right forearm muscles after 30 minutes. However, this is not a problem for the PSP version, which is more fun than the console titles, anyway.

It's still probably recommended most for true Nascar fans. It retails for $40 for Xbox, PS 2 and PSP. It plays fine, looks good, and is challenging. It's rated "E." Three stars.

— "Ford Bold Moves Street Racing" — I'm not just throwing around insults. "Ford" is built cheap on purpose, to appeal to impoverished gamers by offering a racer for $20 or less. The generic-cereal standards of "Ford" are successful: it'll do; you just get what you pay for.

"Bold Moves" draws up an OK, basic driving routine in L.A., but it doesn't live up to previous cheap "Fords." I'd recommend spending that $20 on a used copy of any "Burnout" or "Need for Speed" title. "Ford" is available for Xbox and PS 2. Plays somewhat dull. Looks below-average. Moderately challenging. Rated "E". One and one-half stars.

— "The Fast and the Furious" — I wanted to review this game here. But my test copy blew up. Such trouble won't befall retail copies in stores. What I did play seemed OK. Previews by other critics suggest it's decent. It retails for $40 for PS 2; comes out Oct. 30 for PSP. It's rated "T" for mild language and mild lyrics.

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