Driving With Owen Wilson

Some people say adamantly that Disney's acquisition of Pixar was a mistake, that Pixar has seen better days, and that the studio is beginning to pump out the same kind of computer animation time after time. While I don't agree, CARS isn't the greatest Pixar movie of all time. In fact, for all its warmth and cuddly-ness, it's probably the weakest. And that may be because racing cars aren't that cute (Disney's Herbie, The Love Bug being the exception). They can be sexy; they can be strong. But they're not adorable like toys or superheroes or little fishes. Creating an irresistible family story around cars just isn't that easy. Having said that: Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. There's a lot to like in the video game version of the animated Pixar movie, Cars. There's a fair amount to dislike as well. The question is, does the great stuff that's in the game win the race over the stuff that's not great at all? The answer's yes…with reservations.

When you put Cars into your drive, you really don't get an alluring opening movie to put you in the spirit of the game. Instead, you're optimistic rookie Lightning McQueen, dropped into a very easy race against the other cars in the vista-filled desert environment of Radiator Springs. Here, you'll get an idea of the unique personalities of the other vehicles when you accidentally nudge them or crash into them. You'll also be able to drift your car, or, as the game calls it, Power Slide.

But after that initial race in Full Story mode, I began to see some problems. First, there are long load times between the movie-like scenes and this wait dampened the anticipation I had. I wanted to put my virtual pedal to the metal, and not be daunted. While the second race was a lot of fun, I couldn't progress to the next level until I finished a hunt for postcards (which was not that interesting). You may be able to avoid the postcard hunt by playing the Compact Story mode, which is more geared toward kids. 

Doing the power slide in Cars
Courtesy: THQ
Doing the power slide in Cars

Details

Cars
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Rainbow Studios
For: PC, PS2, Xbox, DS, GBA, GameCube

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    This, of course, isn't true racing. If you hit another car, for example, it doesn't sustain physical damage. But the car does scream and yell, saying mildly humorous things like, "Hey, you almost took off my bumper," if you crash into them. Also, if you're near another car, Lightning will utter things like, "Can I get an autograph?" or "You're that guy!" repeatedly. After a while, it gets annoying. One of the things you can do is to take various Sunday drives across the open environments. During that time, you'll get used to maneuvering your car and also find little lightning bolt icons which add points to your score when you drive through them.

    What kept me going when things got a little dull was the driving soundtrack, which includes everything from Edgar Winter's old school "Free Ride" to the All-American Rejects' Night Drive. Also, while I enjoyed Owen Wilson's voice acting, the older fellow in me marveled as I heard the dulcet tones of the great Paul Newman in a video game. To me, this was as much of a charge as listening to Marlon Brando in the recent The Godfather game. 

    As you progress and try valiantly to win the Piston Cup, you'll find all sorts of races including "Monster Truck Mayhem," "Sally's Sunshine Circuit," and "Sarge's Off Road Challenge." You'll be able to track down speeders in a cop car and even assume the role of a car from the wrong side of the tracks that steals things. Since the offering was developed by the same people who gave the world the "MX vs. ATV" games, it's got pretty amazing automobile physics, especially during the off road race. (Tip: if you're buying a handheld version of the game, skip the Gameboy Advance and DS versions, which aren't that hot at all. Get the more console-like PSP version instead.)

    Ultimately, Cars, the videogame, is a lot like Cars, the movie. It's a good game with honorable intentions and a warm, virtual heart that sometimes plays great and sometimes gets boring. Unfortunately, it doesn't come up to the level of the stellar The Incredibles game or even the Toy Story game for the original PlayStation

    Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

    Hitman: Blood Money
    Publisher: Eidos
    Developer: lo-Interactive

    Over a hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud wrote, "No one, who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed."  So it is with The Hitman, also inelegantly named Agent 47. 47's no psychoanalyst, but he's got the demons on him nonetheless.

    Of all the dark characters in the world of gangland style video game shoot 'em ups and stealthy spy thrillers, Agent 47 may be the most compelling. That's because he seems to have the deepest back story and a real personality that's not one-dimensional. Sure, 47 benefits from having four installments of the HITMAN video game series which reveal his character's proclivities. 

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