BURNOUT REVENGE,

Electronic Arts

Without question, last year's Burnout 3: Takedown was the best arcade racer on the planet.

Following a single creed -- "aggressive driving required" -- Burnout 3 brought out the inner racing animal in all of us. With its over-the-top presentation, adrenaline-pumping game play and edge-of-your-seat action, it's no wonder players have been clamoring for a sequel.

Finally, the wait is over.

The folks at Electronic Arts and Criterion Games have answered the call with an incredibly polished and deep racing game that will not disappoint. Burnout Revenge is road rage redefined.

For Revenge, the developers have shaken things up a bit. The biggest change is with the World Tour. Instead of traveling the globe and racing in various countries, the tour is broken up into 11 distinct rankings. As you compete in race events, you'll earn medals and star rankings. The more hostile you are in your races -- checking other cars, taking out your opponents and driving on the wrong side of the road, for example -- the greater your overall ranking will be.

As your rank gets higher, you'll unlock new cars and tracks. With 169 levels to complete, there is plenty here for even the most seasoned racer.

A key change to the game is the ability to "check" non-racing traffic. During your races, you can now drive into small and medium-size cars, knocking them out of your way as you race.

What's cool is that you can use these vehicles as weapons. For example, if you manage to slam into a car at the right angle, it will take out a competing racer in one shot. Good times.

The biggest stars of the game are the racetracks themselves. Not only are they bigger and longer than before, but the developers have incorporated hidden alternate routes for you to discover. Just when you think your opponents have you beat, you'll find a shortcut that puts you back in the race. The addition of ramps also makes things interesting. Ramps allow players to achieve massive amounts of air, and they can take down opponents from above.

Vertical takedowns are definitely the most satisfying.

Graphically, Burnout Revenge is top notch. Nicely rendered vehicles are coupled with fantastic crash animations to create a great racing experience. And while both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions looked good, Xbox had sharper visuals.

Burnout Revenge also has a robust multi-player component that includes split-screen racing or online live racing against other players.

-- Tom Ham

PlayStation2, Xbox, $50

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, Activision

The latest installment of the popular Spider-Man series is kind of an alternate-reality tale that takes us back to when Peter Parker was just a scrawny 15-year-old kid. And this retelling of the story also jumps us back into the comic book world that allowed us to fall in love with Spider-Man in the first place.

Between the graphics and comic-book-style scenes, you really will feel like you are inside a beautifully animated comic book. The game's story and illustrations were created by comic book artists Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley.

The story follows Parker and his best friend, Eddie Brock, whose fathers apparently died while working on a suit that would cure cancer. It turns out that the suit is evil and turns Brock into super villain Venom, who is stronger than Spider-Man. But the suit slowly eats Venom alive so he must trap and ingest innocent people from time to time to regain his health.

Players assume the roles of both Spider-Man and Venom. Each has his own fighting style, but the combat is simplistic enough that anyone can pick it up easily.

There are only three basic moves. Spidey can punch, kick or fire a web, and Venom can do a claw attack, a tentacle sweep or ingest a person. These moves can be strung together into basic combinations, such as having Spidey web a villain and then hang him from a lamppost to await the police.

The game play is mostly non-linear, with the ability to web-sling around New York wherever you want. There are various race and fight missions, as well as plenty of random crime.

As Spider-Man, you will be confronted with problems as varied as getting to work on time and catching purse snatchers. It's also fun to see Parker try to do the right thing despite the trouble he gets into. The voice acting is also top notch, with plenty of banter. Hearing Spidey scream "sweet sassy molasses" when he gets scared is priceless.

And for true comic book nerds, expect random appearances by Marvel heroes and villains -- from Johnny Storm to Silver Sable to perennial favorite Wolverine.

-- John Breeden II

Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Windows XP, $50

Burnout Revenge follows the hugely Successful Burnout 3: Takedown and does not disappoint.Ultimate Spider-Man puts players in control of Spidey and villain Venom.