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The Beauty of the Race

Game On

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Gentlemen, start your graphics engines.

"MotorStorm" roars onto the PlayStation 3, splattering mud and kicking up dust in the most glorious mess seen to date on the new system.

And just in time, as far as PS3 fans and Sony bookkeepers are concerned. For almost six months, the new Sony gaming box has relied more on potential than on high-octane thrills. The PS3 might look like it was smuggled out of Area 51, but until now no one had created a game to really show off all the technology that is stuffed into the gleaming black package. Watching the high-definition copy of "Talladega Nights" that shipped with the machine went only so far to justify the purchase of this pricey home-entertainment system.

"MotorStorm" might lack the genre-busting innovation you always hope will arrive on a new gaming system. But even though this rally-racing title sticks to the muddy ruts of previous games, the developers have used high-definition media to create some heart-pounding fun.

Racing with motorcycles, dune buggies, semis and more, players strap into or onto a hunk of metal and then throttle down the desolate desert track.

Speed always has been the friend of graphics. Once players get the scenery flying by fast enough, the game can drop details while the driver's eyes have to stay focused on the road. With "MotorStorm," your imagination still looks out the window while the rest of the brain concentrates on keeping your vehicle on the track. "MotorStorm" just feels more exciting because it looks so great.

Ironically, the level of detail in the graphics isn't matched anywhere else. Unlike most race titles on the market, "Motorstorm" doesn't let you customize your vehicles, tweak the suspension, select the tires or mod the fuel-injection system. Rather than delivering the most sophisticated driving game ever, "MotorStorm" provides play that feels like the sort of thing that costs a dollar a pop at the local high-end video arcade.

In that sense, "MotorStorm" is less the killer application for the system than it is its best demo.

But what this game demonstrates bodes well for the platform. By opening up the racetracks with a variety of surfaces and undulating driving lines, debris and obstacles that clatter around the track and a high-fidelity soundtrack, it's not the game that stars, but the environment. What "MotorStorm" lacks in the mental challenge of customization in the garage, it makes up for by offering a place so vivid that you find yourself tearing around the same tracks again and again just to relive the experience.

The scenery might not change, but like a return trip to Disneyland, that's OK. The experience of walking down Main Street or burning rubber across the desert provides its own excitement and renewed discovery. "MotorStorm" shows us that graphics still matter.

Who's It For: With its simple premise and easy-to-learn controls, "MotorStorm" is the game for anyone who feels the need for speed.

If You Like This, Try That: When it comes to car culture, nothing beats the "Gran Turismo" series on the PlayStation 2. Featuring hundreds of cars, famous racetracks and exhaustive detail, "GT" is as much about the science as the sport of racing.

Best Part: Supporting up to 12 players racing head-to-head online, "MotorStorm" turns demolition-derby-style racing into a social gathering.

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