Reviews: Get Into The Fast Lane

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The Independent Online

GAMES

CARS, Format: PS2, Publisher: THQ, Price: £34.99

Cars the game is a tie-in with the Pixar movie of the same name. The action revolves around racing the titular vehicles and completing some fairly amusing mini-games. A bit of freedom is included, with players able to search the main hub for hidden goodies, but the meat of the action is the racing.

Cars offers some rewarding entertainment. Winning races is insultingly easy, but the charm of the characters makes the game hard to dislike. True, you may be disappointed by the sluggish feel of the vehicles, but Cars is a polished and professional game that will appeal to you whether you're old enough to drive your own car or not.

It's not Grand Theft Auto, but Cars features a surprisingly large game world for you to explore, with wide canyons and action-packed towns. And almost the entire cast of the movie, including Owen Wilson and Paul Newman, have recorded original dialogue for the game.

FLATOUT 2, Format: PC, Windows XP, Publisher: Empire, Price: £29.99

One of the purest and most entertaining racers around, FlatOut 2 has spectacular visuals and an impressive choice of rides and upgrades. The mini games are great, if short-lived; you will soon get the hang of them, and then get bored. But there's enough decent material to work through to continually provide new challenges and interest.

FlatOut 2 is not as exciting as FlatOut 1, but it's pretty riveting, as sequels go. The main change is that the racetracks are now based in America, rather than the European landscapes of the first game. On the negative side, the handling of the cars is fairly basic and there isn't a skid option. The highlights are the crashes. When you crash, boy, do you crash bad: the driver flies straight through the windscreen and into the air. Add to that a great soundtrack and plenty of destructible objects and you've got a winner of a race game.

FILM

TRANSFORMERS, Director: Michael Bay, Release date: 2007

This is a movie for Eighties children who remember the Transformers TV series and toys, centred around robots that fold down into various vehicular shapes. ("Robots in disguise" anybody? If that doesn't ring any bells, don't bother).

The movie focuses on the battle between the heroic Autobot Transformers and the evil Decepticon Transformers, two warring factions of transforming robots from the planet Cybertron. The plot also involves the giant planet Unicron, which is ready to consume anything that stands in its way. The only thing that can stop Unicron is the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, which the Decepticons, under Unicron's orders, are trying to steal from the Autobots.

Yes, it's very boysie stuff! The movie is set in 2005, 20 years after the TV series. Without their great leader, Optimus Prime, the Autobots face a destiny they know nothing about. It's a crazy world we don't live in, isn't it?

BOOKS

A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian , By Marina Lewycka, Publisher: Viking, Price: £10.99

This is a tender and funny novel following a second-generation immigrant Ukrainian family. When Vera and Nadezhda's eccentric elderly father marries a busty, 30-something divorced mother, the sisters have something other than their own squabbles to worry about. He is looking for passion in his twilight years; she wants an easy route to the West, and all the accoutrements that go with it, including a flash car that she can't drive and a "reputable hoover" she never uses. And all the while, the father is composing a book about tractors in the Ukraine, which helps to hook the more trivial aspects of the plot to the backdrop of Communism and war.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a quick, enjoyable read. The broken English and put-downs are hilarious, facilitated by Lewycka's razor-sharp and sympathetic wit.

Long Lane With Turnings: Last Words Of A Motoring Legend, By L.J.K. Setright, Publisher: Granta Books, Price: £12.99

Leonard Setright was one of the 20th century's most influential, opinionated and idiosyncratic motoring journalists. Described as "more Isaiah Berlin than Jeremy Clarkson," everything he wrote was inspired by his knowledge of and passion for all things automotive.

Long Lane with Turnings is a dryly witty memoir of his early years, left unfinished at the time of his death in the summer of 2005. We encounter Setright as a child, developing that independence of mind that so characterised his writing as a critic. His descriptions of the cars he drove are pitch-perfect, be it the Mini ("a very convincing little brick") or a Renault 4 ("swaying like a sailing dinghy in corners"). The portrait that emerges from these pages is marvellously detailed, quirky and full of warmth.

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