- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Here’s a look at some of the latest hardware or software available:

Test Drive Unlimited from Atari for Xbox 360, for players 10 and older, $39.99. Aloha from Oahu Island. I now “live” in Honolulu County and own a small virtual house near the beach with a spacious garage for my souped-up fleet of vehicles. All this “rotten luck” is thanks to a slick street-racing simulation that enables a player to drive on- and off-road over more than 1,000 miles of diverse, photo-realistic Hawaiian terrain, challenge fellow drivers, run a few errands and avoid trouble with the authorities.

In Test Drive Unlimited, a player selects an avatar from a motley crew (which would fit in on any MTV reality show) waiting in line at an airport. He then takes a flight to the island, rents a car and visits a real estate agent to spend some of his bankroll on a hip pad.

Then, most important, he visits various car dealerships in the area to find a vehicle he can afford. Test Drive eventually offers more than 90 licensed sports cars and motorcycles that look as if they were pulled off the showroom floor. My choice was a slick Chevrolet SSR with a two-tone paint job that only set me back $40,000.

Once I checked out my car, I tuned in a radio station and started to drive, drive and drive. Along the way, obeying basic traffic laws and speed limits was optional, but an accident with another car caused trouble. Have enough accidents, and police officers will hunt down and corral the player on the side of the road to issue him a big, fat ticket.

Of course, keeping up the renegade racer lifestyle requires more cash, and the game provides more than 350 moneymaking opportunities. It could be taking on a speed challenge, delivering a car to another part of the island or running a traditional street race.

Every vehicle also comes with a very cool audio-enhanced Global Positioning System that displays as a satellite map of the island and can set directions automatically or manually or quickly create new routes if a driver goes off course.

What really makes Test Drive Unlimited stand out is what Atari calls M.O.O.R. — Massively Open Online Racing. Basically, a player online with an Xbox Live gold membership can, in real time, interact with fellow gamers driving vehicles on the island.

This meld of sneaky online interactivity is irresistible, and players will find themselves driving hundreds of miles just to find other buddies to hang with, join a club and start an impromptu race (with a flash of the headlights).

That is just a taste of the simulation. Throw in the chance to shoot photos, watch replays of races, change a driver’s clothing, upgrade vehicles with aftermarket parts and create customized courses, and Atari has delivered a driver’s dream world.

LocoRoco from Sony for PSP, rated E for everyone, $29.99. This addictive two-dimensional puzzler offers enough cheer and quirkiness that one might assume it came from Nintendo’s bag of virtual tricks.

Using simple controls, the player bumps, bounces and tilts the home world of noisy creatures to help them escape from hostile extraterrestrials.

Within 40 stages of action, six types of blobs that resemble living drops of liquid and come with their own soundtrack are rolled along, morphed, broken apart into a team and put back together as the world revolves around them.

The player can help them collect fruit to grow and unlock minigames or find their buddies, the Mui Mui, who are hidden within the lush terrain and offer pieces to build a LocoRoco home.

The ability to build LocoRoco stages, swap houses with pals and send a taste of the challenge to others through the PSP’s wireless capabilities add to the replayability of the family-friendly fun.

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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