Name: Cars 2
Genre: Arcade racer
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
Pixar’s Cars 2 races onto the Xbox 360 and PS3 following the release of the summer sequel in cinemas. Have the Disney team pushed the anthropomorphised motors the extra mile, or is this just another Hollywood cash-in? Read on to find out.
Last year Pixar teamed up with developers Avalanche Software for the Toy Story 3 console game, which, through close collaboration with the Pixar animators, resulted in one of the finest licensed videogames in recent memory. That partnership has continued with Cars 2, and has yielded even greater results in this kart racer.
Though this is essentially a Mario Kart style arcade driving game, there’s a loose story ripped straight from the movie pulling together the action. The movie’s stars Lightning McQueen and Mater set off to train at a the base of a secret spying organisation known as CHROME (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations & Motorized Espionage), who are out to foil a massive world-threatening plot. This is based on a kids Disney film of course so don’t expect Jason Bourne levels of intrigue, and is mostly used as a framing tool for the road-based mayhem that Cars 2 is really all about.
And when it comes to burning rubber, Cars 2 rivals even the mighty Mario Kart. With a heavy focus on combat, you’ll take control of 25 different cars, ranging from fast-talking sports cars to stoned camper vans, equipped with everything from machine guns to landmines.
If this sounds just like a re-skinning of Mario Kart to fit the Pixar movie, you’re only half right; while it certainly takes its cues from the Nintendo racer, Cars 2 has plenty of its own tricks tucked under its bonnet. For instance, each vehicle can jump high into the air, allowing you to find secret short cuts on the stylised real-world tracks, while driving in reverse using backwards steering controls allows you to build up turbo boosts. Each car can also jump horizontally from side to side, which can be used to shunt enemy vehicles into oncoming obstacles, or force them off the road during a tough turn.
While the controls are quite unlike your regular racer, with a heavy emphasis on drifting and jumping, Cars 2 is simple enough for almost every gamer to pick up and play straight away. All the cars have a light and floaty handling style, which in most other racers would be a fault. Here however it adds to the madcap charm on screen; these are as much living breathing characters as they are vehicles (highlighted by their humanised animations) and as such shouldn’t be expected to handle like Gran Turismo motors. You’re barking up the wrong tree with Cars 2 if that’s the sort of driving experience you’re after, but you’d be missing out on some truly thrilling fun, especially in Cars 2’s multiplayer modes.
Which leads us onto our only two real complaints with Cars 2. Best enjoyed in with friends, it seems a foolish decision to lock the game’s best competitive multiplayer modes off from players at the outset until they’ve completed enough of the 40-odd Career mode challenges. Kart racers are best enjoyed in quick battle modes, and Cars 2 has excellent variations on these events (with the capture-the-flag style Disruptor races a true highlight), so why not offer these superb events straight away? Likewise, there’s no online modes with which to play Cars 2. It’s nit-picking, as all the Career mode events offer local 4-player drop-in-drop-out multiplayer anyway, and the other modes will eventually be unlocked, but this seems unnecessarily restrictive.
But from chase races to arena style battles, the Career mode is a charming one regardless, so it wont be long before those multiplayer modes are unlocked anyway. Cars 2 looks a treat too, which makes playing in single player, full-screen, a real pleasure. It’s not easy to give cars character, but both vehicles and tracks alike bustle with life, even if the repetitive voice-over work starts to grate.
When you consider the party/racer genre has only one real stand-out series in the shape of Nintendo’s classic Mario Kart franchise, it’s no small compliment to say that Cars 2 is racing easily alongside the mushroom-chomping big boys. Though the need to progress through the story to unlock all the multiplayer modes is a clunky decision that hampers out-of-the-box competitive fun, Cars 2 is a superbly fun racer once you get going. It oozes Pixar charm, with enough solid, madcap ideas to put it on the starting grid just a tad behind Mario Kart, which is a great achievement.