Imagine a game like Need for Speed Underground 2, in which you can drive around in a freely explorable city, racing other drivers or just messing around as you see fit. Now, imagine it with talking cars, a tiny desert town and nearly every hint of crime or violence removed, and you'll have a good idea of what to expect from Cars.
While it ties in with the Pixar movie, Cars actually picks up where the film left off, with cherry-red racetrack star Lightning McQueen settling into the town of Radiator Springs. With the help of the quirky residents, he'll need to get in shape for the next pro racing season, which means lots of short street races, off-road runs and other challenges, all punctuated by assorted minigames and NASCAR-style circuit races for the coveted Piston Cup.
In the meantime, Lightning is free to tear through Radiator Springs, the surrounding desert and - later on - the nearby mountains and the neighboring fields of Ornament Valley. Lightning's fast and handles smoothly, and his abilities to tilt onto two wheels or hop on command make exploring the big, rocky landscape a breeze. He'll also gain a turbo boost later on, which makes the races almost too easy.
Those abilities transfer to Lightning's friends too. At certain points in the game, you'll be able to play as more than 10 other characters from the movie, including Mater the tow truck, the deceptively fast Sheriff and even a crew of neon-decked street-racer hooligans.