- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Here’s a look at some of the latest video games based on movie properties.

Cars, from THQ for Xbox and PlayStation 2, rated E for everyone, $39.99. I no longer hate racing video games, thanks to this way-too-much-fun simulation starring the characters of Disney Pixar’s latest animated effort.

The usually exhaustive tasks associated with physics and crash-realistic vehicles in hard-core titles such as Project Gotham Racing and Gran Turismo have been replaced with a pedal-to-the-metal adventure offering a story filled with free-to-roam journeys, minigames and races.

The solo driver takes part in the saga of Lightning McQueen as he controls the rookie race car and a few of his cronies. Players hone skills in Radiator Springs with off-road races, eventually unlocking the ability to compete in the Piston Cup series.

Players spend plenty of time exploring a huge chunk of Ornament Valley, finding icons to enter races and challenges or running over lightning-bolt icons to amass bonus points and unlock vehicles for use in arcade and multiplayer races.

Minigames add a nice respite from pure racing and include controlling Luigi the Fiat as he collects tires in a set amount of time. A hilarious tractor-tipping exercise stars McQueen, who sneaks around a field at night, upending tractors instead of the usual bovine.

The 12-lap Piston Cup races also are a good time. They take place in stadiums and include pit stops starring Guido the forklift that require the player to mimic button and analog stick commands to get the vehicle back on the track.

All vehicles are voiced by the actors from the film, and all of the action is further fueled by a great selection of music, including the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town” and the Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride,” to give the player a bit more inspiration to drive, jump, screech and burn rubber to glory.

Additionally, THQ offers a great-looking PlayStation Portable version of the game ($39.99) that concentrates solely on the thrill of the races, as a single player can work through 25 competitions and eventually unlock 15 of the famed vehicles in the story mode.

Two players, each with a Cars cartridge loaded in his PSP, are in for a treat through wireless race thrills that allow them to compete against each other in both off-road and Grand Prix Cup events.

Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II, from Electronic Arts for Xbox 360, rated T for teen, $59.99. I already have gushed about how this real-time strategy game delivers an action-packed experience for the player through the PC version released earlier in the year.

Now available for Microsoft’s entertainment console, the game gets even better when seen on a widescreen, high-definition television complemented by a Dolby Digital audio system.

A single player takes command of many of the factions and heroes in the “Lord of the Rings” films and books as he conducts war in the northern part of Middle Earth while more familiar characters take care of that problem with the ring in the South.

Fans of the rich Tolkien universe will revel as they enter a campaign mode to control good or evil minions. To actively create and upgrade settlements and manage resources punctuated with taking huge armies into battle is a visual and strategic delight.

A typical mission might find a garrison of elves banded with dwarves working to rid a valley of orcs while they come up against a goblin king and boulder-tossing trolls.

The development team has done an excellent job of porting most of the keyboard and mouse commands into the Xbox 360 controller, and, after about 20 minutes, most players will be skilled leaders and quickly access the palantir to execute commands.

An Xbox Live component takes the war online with up to four players engaged in epic conflicts.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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