Look down – at the score. Now look back up. Confused? Don’t be: Cars 2 is – as you might expect from the developers behind Toy Story 3 – rather good. In fact, if you like Mario Kart and other simple, arcade racers of the ilk, Cars 2 is actually right up your street because it plugs right into what makes Nintendo’s classic so good and adds its own individuality on top. And on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, where the nearest competition is something like Blur, you’re hardly spoiled for choice.
But any discussion of a lack of alternatives only takes away credit from Cars 2, which Avalanche have crafted into something that sits alongside the film (complete with C.H.R.O.M.E. training section) but doesn’t try to replicate it, instead offering up a series of race types over a handful of courses (with various layouts) with all the key players present and correct. Lightning McQueen, loveable Mater and the numerous spies and enemies that make up the movie’s plot but are here relegated (wisely) to bit parts and voice-overs.
There's lots of cars to collect, fans of the movies will absolutely love the work that Avalanche have done here.
The game’s built around a series of increasingly difficult ‘clearance levels’ (keeping with the thinly spread ‘spy’ theme present in the film) which are unlocked as you progress through each level depending on your success. Come first, take out a set number of enemies or beat a rival and you’ll earn more spy points, thus bumping up the RPG-like level bar and therefore opening up more races. It keeps things organised (and relatively non-linear) and ensures there’s always a target to aim at.
The game starts with a training session, though, which needs to be cleared first. This set of introductory courses show you how to drive, build up your energy bar (which is used for turbos) and do tricks like spinning in the air (for more energy) and side bashes (for taking out nearby racers) and doesn’t take too long to beat. It’s a good idea for first time players, certainly, although some of the messages aren’t communicated clearly (like telling you to ‘exit’ which does not mean press the ‘exit’ button) and the loading’s a bit of a drag.
Once in the game, though, and you’re doing tricks off jumps and boosting past Corvette look-a-likes whilst drifting underneath aeroplanes, it all makes sense. There’s a multitude of race modes, including a few with weapons and one that’s purely an arena-based battle rather than a race, and they’re mixed around liberally so as to try to avoid repetition. The actual racing isn’t particularly quick but it’s definitely smooth and although the weaponry isn’t ever detailed it doesn’t take long to figure out what does what. Our favourites include the triple missile launchers and the gatling guns.
Visually it’s actually quite a suprise. Once you’re past the wonky shadows (that always seem to miss a wheel making it look like cars are floating) and some odd texture load-in (usually whatever the camera’s pointing at, pre-race) the tracks are suitably varied, nicely detailed and brightly coloured. There’s some flashy effects like lovely motion blur and the game generally runs at sixty frames per second, which really gives it that arcade look and feel, and some of the courses are occasionally beautiful, even in multiplayer.
It’s odd, then, that there’s no online play at all. We’re all for split screen multiplayer (and wouldn’t ever trade that for anything) but in 2011 gamers will want the ability to play online against friends. Cars 2 doesn’t offer this, for whatever reason, which might limit the replayability for some.
Without that longevity, you’re left with a healthy pile of races in the campaign mode (which can be playing in single player or with three mates) and a nice ‘free play’ mode where you can pick and choose your event and other variables, but little else. Sure, there’s lots to collect and stacks of cars to amass, but unless you’ve got mates that live nearby you won’t be getting the most out of the game by any stretch. Like the Nintendo favourite this clearly apes, local multiplayer is as much a requirement as it’s ever been. But with it, you’re in for a blast.
- Superb arcade handling
- Frequently great graphics
- Bags of character
- Wicked in multiplayer
- The 3D visuals are great on PS3
- Slightly dull courses
- Weapons can have that annoying factor
- No online
- 3D mode switches itself on every time you load
There’s much to like about Cars 2. It’s simple enough to be just about ‘pick up and play’ and the characters, whilst all nicely done and voiced, never really get in the way of the action. The course design is perhaps a little bit too traditional and reserved given the somewhat over the top racing and weaponry, but it’s all nicely rooted in the Cars universe so Pixar fans will lap up the fan service. We’d love to see Avalanche let loose on their own IP again but until then, this is a talented studio seemingly capable of anything.
Shots of the game in motion are particularly difficult to source. We’ll try to get a video done.