Reviews: Racing Video Games Get Pulses Pounding

Racing video games have come a long way since "Pole Position" was considered cutting-edge back in the 1980s.

Three recent titles — "Need for Speed: Carbon," "Test Drive Unlimited" and "Full Auto 2: Battlelines" — show off the power of the newest consoles with blistering graphics that'll make you reach for a seat belt, even if you're sitting on the sofa.

— "Full Auto 2: Battlelines" (Rated T, $59.99, PlayStation 3). By far the best-looking of the bunch is "Full Auto 2" for the shiny new PS3.

It's less of a sequel than it is an enhanced version of the original "Full Auto," which was released for the Xbox 360 in early 2006.

The biggest changes to the original are improved graphics and new game modes. Notably, Arena mode blends gas-guzzlers with shooting, like in "Twisted Metal." Crossing the finish line isn't the goal here — blowing up your enemies is.

The game's regular racing modes are intense and the sensation of speed is practically overwhelming as you blur through various city districts with hood-mounted machine guns, missile launchers and smoke screens.

But like the original, the focus is on arcade-style action. The gameplay is about as simple as driving around in a bumper car.

Still, "Full Auto 2" is a pulse-raising escape from real-world gridlock.

Two and a half stars out of four.

— "Test Drive Unlimited" (Rated E10+, $59.99, Xbox 360). This game for the Xbox 360 certainly does laps around the competition when it comes to realism.

An entire Hawaiian island is rendered in all its digital splendor, where speeding around is not a part of the daily commute — it's a lifestyle.

What's really unique about "TDU" is the online multiplayer feature for races against other real people around the world. We've all played massively multiplayer online games involving dragons and dwarfs, but this is a first for race-car fans.

You can still play off-line, but clearly this game was meant to be enjoyed with others.

So what does one do here? Like most open-ended online games, that's really up to you.

You can drive around, soup up your vehicles, win prize money from various races and even move into nicer dwellings eventually. Customizing and exploring are key draws here.

If your idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon involves motoring around curvy country roads in some exotic sports car, this could be your game. If not, you might get car sick from all the driving around.

Three stars.

— "Need for Speed: Carbon" (Rated T, $29.99-$59.99, all platforms). If you thought "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" was, like, the coolest movie ever, then "Carbon" is your video game.

"Carbon" is the latest in a long line of street-racing games from Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) where "drifting" along curvy canyon roads is just as important as stomping on the gas and brake pedals.

The sensation of speed is impressive, especially on the graphically tweaked Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions I tested.

Yet, sadly, EA seems intent on cranking out a new sequel every year, regardless of innovation.

What this means is there's not much new from last year's "Need for Speed: Most Wanted," so if you already have that game there's not a whole lot of new stuff to check out.

One of the best features — high-speed police chases — is missing this time around.

The new "Autosculpt" feature lets you customize your hot rods in numerous ways, yet the end result doesn't seem to affect performance much.

But of these three racers, "Carbon" definitely strikes the best balance between simulator and arcade game.

Two and a half stars.