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Driven to distraction or simply up the wall?

Most young boys have an unhealthy fascination with cars. At least one of us remembers as far back as his second or third birthday when he was given a petrol station set for his Matchbox collection. Quite a seminal moment, by all accounts.

So it's a little curious that Pixar and Disney haven't really exploited this latent market until now. After all, it's been 11 years since Toy Story. And even though Cars will fill that gap, it's not being released until the 28th of July in the UK (the aforementioned team member's birthday, incidentally - spooky!).

That's some wait. And, given that this, the mobile phone tie-in, picks up the story from the climactic race in the movie, if you don't want to know how it ends (thanks, Disney Mobile, for spoiling it for us!), you shouldn't play the game until after you've seen the film.

And that's unfair, because Cars (the game) is one of the most genuinely enjoyable driving games we've had the pleasure to get behind the wheel of. In fact, it's surprisingly so.

You play as Lightning McQueen, a hot-shot racing car who's competing in the Piston Cup and star of the movie. We wouldn't have been surprised if the game had just been a top-down racer like so many others where you've got to win races on your way to the cup - even if it did contradict the central tenet of the film, that there's more to life than winning.

Instead, Cars provides what is a relatively free-roaming experience where you've got the run of Radiator Springs, the rural town where McQueen is stranded in the film. You can drive around at will, visiting characters and locations from the movie, and interacting with anyone you come across.

Doc, Mater, Flo, Sheriff and the rest of the town's inhabitants are included, drawn in a cartoon style that, while not reminiscent of the movie's CGI brilliance, is bright and detailed. Each will talk to you and ask you to help them out, and this provides the game with its mission structure.

Some missions involve racing other cars, such as the interstate bandits, while others require you to drive around town collecting items before the timer runs out. The missions provide a neat way of varying the difficulty levels and an element of character development creeps in as you improve your driving abilities for the later stages of the game.

There's no compulsion to do any of this, though, and you can spend as long as you like simply exploring. While the setting isn't huge, there's enough room and variation to make it feel bigger than it is, and you'll spend many a happy minute just driving around randomly.

It's this sense of freedom and adventure that sets Cars apart from the pack. It's quite unlike any other driving game you're going to find on mobile phone.

The open-ended(ish) nature of Cars and the fact that you can tackle the missions at your own pace also means that there's plenty of mileage in the game - perhaps enough even to last you until the end of July when you can see the film at the cinema. The bottom line is, Cars is a brilliant and consistently fun game that makes the most of its movie connections while also offering something new.

9 / 10