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Hallucinogenic NASCAR pumped by Absolute Adrenaline

There is something inherently cool about racing with 43 cars on a hand-held device. And cool is what you get with "NASCAR 07" for the PlayStation Portable, essentially the same game as seen on its console counterparts, except being portable, obviously, which is also why it's better.

Not great, mind you, for as it brings console-caliber goodness to the small screen, so, too, does it bring the hitches and glitches.

It looks amazing, though, and, oddly enough, the PSP's relatively small screen size actually adds to the intensity of racing; the myopia of wearing a helmet and buckled in five ways to Sunday. The fact that it's the only NASCAR game (of any vintage) available for PSP is a big plus, too, of course.

Like the console versions, it suffers a nagging gaffe in the new Absolute Adrenaline feature, in which the visuals start to blur in an effort to convey a sense of speed, but that includes blurring of the cars keeping pace with you, which, according to Einstein and anyone else familiar with The Relativity of Simultaneity, just shouldn't be so.

It's a cool effect, maybe even a good representation of what adrenaline can do to a driver's brain "in the zone," maybe clandestine hallucinogens are all the rage behind the scenes, but ultimately, it's distracting because it's so plainly wrong.

A fantastical arcade race game could get away with it, but a NASCAR simulator?

No.

Also, there is no tangible difference in the game's controls; the PSP version is as touchy and unforgiving as its console brethren. Keeping your racing line in traffic is extremely difficult and equally punishing as other drivers don't appreciate an inadvertent rub and will look for any opportunity to run you off the track as payback after the fact. That takes "simulation" to the other extreme; it's probably true-to-life, but real cars are surely easier to drive as they're not controlled with a fussy little analog thumb nub.

Lastly, "NASCAR 07" for PSP does not offer game share, PS2 interconnectivity or online multiplayer. There's no chance to race against other "live" racers -- modes most race games worth their salt should do because it adds that human dynamic that makes for a fresh experience nearly every time out.

Still, as a solo-only experience, "NASCAR 07" does offer a seriously good-looking series of left turns ad nauseam.

Diehard NASCAR fans (there are a few, apparently) will find enough to love in the fact that this is a fully licensed, endorsed and faithfully reproduced NASCAR environment and all that entails. They'll probably even find reason to revel in the persnickety interface while gleefully dismissing a few things they learned in physics class in favor of absolute eye-candy.

As race games go, however, "NASCAR 07" for PSP can't compete with the many games that feature better controls, multiplayer modes and, in some cases, rewards for rubbing.

"Improvement" is a word that can be loosely associated with "NASCAR 07" for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. But while there are things that make it marginally better then "NASCAR 06," none of it is a particularly big deal.

The sheer amount of things to do in "NASCAR 07" is pretty amazing, mind you. From simple challenges to racing a full season -- and not just with the Nextel Cup cars, but also the Craftsman Truck and the Busch series vehicles -- but even still, it gets repetitive pretty fast. It's variety, sure, but it's as tedious as turning left until your face turns blue, after which, more left.

Otherwise, "NASCAR 07" is very much like "NASCAR 06," so much so that if you already own the latter, there's not much reason to buy this latest version.

The "big" new addition to "07" is the Absolute Adrenaline feature that adds a speed-blur effect, an attempt to convey a palpable sense of white-knuckle velocity, but instead comes off as distracting.

Controls in "07" are still way too touchy. Driving your car and maintaining your line in a pack of cars is extremely difficult, even if you lovingly, patiently tweak the settings to have it handle perfectly. Of course, as in real life, once you ding another car and make its driver mad, that driver will do everything possible to either block your progress or, worse, spin you and take you out of the race -- a fair reaction in reality, but in the game, it's a stiff penalty for twitchy controls.

All told, NASCAR fans don't really have a choice when it comes to NASCAR games. It's EA's or nothing, so "NASCAR 07" is the very best and very worst there is, which averages out to, well, completely average NASCAR racing.

'NASCAR 07'

EA Sports; PlayStation Portable; $39.99

Rating: Everyone (6 )

Score: 1/2 out of 5

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'Scrolls IV: Oblivion' coming to the PS3

Bethesda Softworks recently announced that its blockbuster role-playing game, "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion," will be a launch title for PlayStation 3 in November.

To date, "Oblivion" has been considered one of the best reasons to own an Xbox 360 -- and a good reason not to buy a PS3, since the Sony system didn't seem to have too many blockbuster titles at the ready for its November debut, but now it has at least one gleaming gem.

Bethesda's free-form role-playing game has been wildly praised by consumers and critics alike, earning all sorts of accolades, including more Game of the Year and Editor's Choice awards than you can shake a sword at. Metracritic.com lists "Oblivion" as the highest-rated Xbox 360 game of all time.

"We're very excited to be able to bring a game like 'Oblivion' out for launch for the Play-Station 3," said BethesdaSoftworks President Vlatko Andonov. The game's "countless awards and commercial success to date make it clear that PlayStation 3 owners are in for a real treat this November."

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Ask the expert

Having troubles with your game? Post questions on Shaun Conlin's message board atwww.ageofplay.com/forum. Responses may also appear here in the coming weeks.

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