Vroom! I love the smell of high octane in the morning. One of the few things that PlayStation 3 video games do better than movies are racing games. Forget Talledega Nights, which admittedly doesn’t have jaw-dropping racing scenes, even in Blu-ray. Forget even Steve McQueen’s 1971 Le Mans, which, despite its weak plot, features some of the best racing cinematics imaginable. The finest, next generation racing games put you in the driver’s seat for a terrific, if sometimes harrowing, time. So hold onto your helmet. Sure, you can watch a race via Fox TV’s NASCAR driver’s cam. But you won’t feel the track like you do when you race in RIDGE RACER 7 or NEED FOR SPEED: CARBON. And no movie will let you dream the massive nightmares of destruction that you experience in FULL AUTO 2: BATTLELINES.
Here’s what I mean. In EA’s thrilling Need For Speed: Carbon, you not only get to customize your own car. You’ll race against aggressive hellions that are like those in The Fast and the Furious movie. Add to that cops who are always on your tail, a sometimes-annoying guide who helps you through the winding city streets that are so realistic, you’ll once or twice rub your eyes in disbelief. You’ll even have a wingman ahead of you to clear the way and help you win some very tough races. The story here is alluring, too, and maddening when a bounty hunter totals your pimped up car. I even like seeing the beautiful Emmanuelle Vaugier, a take-no-prisoners lady guide who last year appeared in Two and a Half Men and in one of the Saw horror movies. While the boss levels against thugs from a rival racing crews are sometimes way too challenging, it’s a deep game that’s a worthy addition to the Need For Speed series.
Ridge Racer 7 for the PS3 is an update of Ridge Racer 6, released last year for the Xbox 360. It doesn’t hide its simple, arcade roots: choose a car and drive carefully with alacrity to win the race. One of the things that’s of paramount import is learning to drift, a way of driving and steering to preserve high speed that was first popularized by Japan’s Kunimitsu Takahashi three decades ago. Although I find tweaking a car a little banal, the driver who cares about detail can spend hours customizing a vehicle, getting it to race just right. And the graphics on an HDTV? Like you’re standing in the middle of the track watching it all go by at 200 mph.
Want to blast things to high heaven and race with pulse-pounding puissance? Full Auto 2: Battlelines may be the game for you. While it’s sometimes difficult to race and shoot at the same time in these cars that are outfitted better than a Russian Black Eagle tank, the fireworks that ensue onscreen can be electrifying. You even have an “Unwreck” mode. Here, you can turn back time just like Cher always wished she could do and try to win in way that won’t leave you splat on the street. Heck, if you want to be like the King Kong of racers, you can even maneuver to drop a commuter train or a water tower on your foe for ultimate destruction.