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

Dead Man's Chest's punky pirates
photo: Buena Vista Games
Dead Man's Chest's punky pirates

Details

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: 7 Studios/Buena Vista Games
For: PS2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Publisher: Buena Vista Games
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
For: PSP
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    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. 

    But, as an assassin, he's a loner, introspective, and outside of society.  He's not only a bald rebel without a cause; he's genetically engineered from the bad seed DNA of five of the worst criminals the world has ever known. He can kill ruthlessly. Yet he's scared of needles and, as a youth, lovingly cared for his pet rabbit. He also has a bar code tattoo on the back of his head so his creators can find him easily. All of this makes his complexities even more interesting. 

    Hitman: Blood Money starts out with a haunting version of "Ave Maria" as a crow flies onto the shoulder of the statue of the Virgin Mary in a cemetery. The opening movie then cuts to a dramatic action visual of 36 people dying in an amusement park as a Ferris wheel crashes to the ground. That's followed by a montage of newspaper clips showing the park's owner on trial, and, ultimately, being cleared of all charges. A grieving but vengeful father hires 47 to rid the world of the Swing King, the amusement park owner.

    Although the first level is a tutorial, it's a lot of fun since it takes place in the run down, ocean-side park which is richly detailed, and kind of scary. You'll distract guards with the throw of coin, and get to your prey with easy-to-follow directions that appear onscreen. As the levels progress, however, the game turns much harder—quickly—and a mystery begins to unravel.  Apparently, a rival wants to remove the bald 47 and will stop at nothing until he's eliminated. 

    The tension you'll feel during the dozen missions is palpable. During a mission that takes place on a Mississippi river boat, you'll have to kill six gang members and a boss. And during a level in a casino à la Las Vegas, you'll find a case full of important DNA. But you'll have to kill a sheik and a scientist before you're through. You'll also find yourself at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, although a post-Katrina scenario would have been more frightening.  And, like this year's 24 on TV, you'll have to deal with a devilishly evil White House official in the Oval Office.

    This is a thinking player's game rather than a strict shoot 'em up. You'll have to strategize and prepare for your assassinations. If you simply go in with guns blazing, you'll soon die. This stealth requires a lot of exploration of the various environs. But because the levels are so beautifully designed and graphically stunning, you'll enjoy the sights (along with the creeps you meet) pretty much everywhere you go. 

    Hitman: Blood Money isn't for everyone. It's an M-rated game with guts, gore, and cussing. But for those of you who can deal with the mature themes, Hitman will reward you with great gameplay and a nicely written story. Just as in Die Hard: With a Vengeance, you'll "Think fast. Look alive. Die hard." And you'll do that every minute you play.

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