Also available on: Xbox 360, PC, DS, Wii
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Pixar/Disney Interactive
Genre: Racing game
It's fair to say that by Pixar's own lofty standards, Cars 2 has been a relatively underwhelming prospect on the silver screen. Sure, the film is as visually stunning as you would expect from the acclaimed studio, but Cars 2 appears to lack the engaging and emotive storyline of movies such as Toy Story and Up. So, hopes were not high for the film's video game tie-in, but thankfully Cars 2: The Video Game is actually pretty good. The game sensibly avoids recreating the film's story and instead just focuses on the joy of racing. Taking inspiration from Mario Kart and, possibly even more so, Disney's Split/Second: Velocity, Cars 2: The Video Game allows players to race colourful vehicles around interesting tracks, firing rockets, driving backwards and turbo-bursting to the finishing line. The lack of online play is a glaring omission, but Cars 2 is still a really fun racer with lots of interesting ideas that is an absolute blast to play locally with friends.
The rather weak story in Cars 2 involves the sinister Professor Z masterminding a dastardly plot to make cars reliant on his energy source, requiring the C.H.R.O.M.E. secret agency, led by suave British sports car Finn McMissile, voiced in the film by Michael Caine, to swing into action. Among the 30-plus vehicles in the game are series favourites, such as Lightning McQueen, Mater and Holley Shiftwell. The cars all feel very flighty on the road and this is certainly not as solid a racer as Mario Kart, yet that issue never spoils the show. Instead, it fits with the light and fun feel of the game that is perfect for its target younger audience. The game kicks off with a tutorial section explaining the controls, which are unconventional yet effective. A button press puts the car into a power slide, while the cars can also be switched into reverse gear by flicking the right stick - these moves are slightly odd to get used to, but ultimately feel intuitive.
For Cars 2, Avalanche has clearly taken many cues from destructive racer Split/Second. The turbo system works by having four segments that can be filled up by performing power slides, doing tricks in the air, driving backwards and riding on two wheels. The player can either use their turbos in segments or wait until the meter is full for a longer and more powerful boost (in Split Second, the meter was instead used for triggering destructive events). But also, the tracks have a range of weapons in a battle system lifted pretty much directly from Nintendo's Mario Kart, now into its seventh iteration.
The tracks have lines of bonus icons that can be picked up to access a range of weapons, such as chain guns, missiles, oil slicks and homing missiles (little RC trucks loaded with explosives), along with more devastating items such as an orbital laser that can either target the race leader or fire out in a path of destruction. Flipping your car into reverse allows you to fire weapons at cars behind, which is a neat trick. The weapons are all fun to fire and it's a nice mechanic to have them fitted Transformers-style to your car. Aside from the straight races, the weapons also play a part in the many events in Cars 2's main campaign.
The game features challenges where you must kill as many enemies, or "lemons", as possible within a time limit, with the same principle occurring in the Hunter attack arenas, but with the difference that the enemies come in five waves. Another challenge involves driving around a track while Professor Z attempts to kill you with a big laser, requiring you to collect batteries to power a constantly-depleting shield to fend off the attack for as long as possible. The player unlocks new multiplayer modes by gradually beating the 40-plus events in the C.H.R.O.M.E. main campaign. However, all the events can also be played with up to three friends locally, which is really where the most fun is held in the game.
One of the most enjoyable multiplayer events in Cars 2 takes a few hours to unlock and is called Disruptor, working similarly to capture the flag in first-person shooters. Players on two teams must attempt to destroy each other's bases with a special Disruptor weapon on maps such as an oil rig or Tokyo airport. Once a player finds the Disruptor they become slower and less able to defend themselves while carrying it to the target, allowing opponents to take it for themselves. There is a nice ebb and flow to the challenge, as the Disruptor is fought over between the teams until one has scored around three hits on the opposing base. A nice touch is that the bases defend themselves after being hit, requiring the players to vary up their tactics to destroy it. The mode is a real blast to play and there is a good balance in the difficulty to make it always engaging.
Fitting to Pixar's legacy, Cars 2 is a really good-looking game. All the cars are nicely recreated but it's the tracks that are the real star. Whether it's imagined raceways on an oil rig and the town of Radiator Springs, or the real-life versions of London, Tokyo and Monaco; the tracks are always fun and visually interesting to tear around. There are also some great options and shortcuts available to the player, such as nipping through Buckingham Palace or crashing through an elaborate villa. Ten cars are unlocked from the start, including Finn McMissile, Lightning McQueen and Mater, along with a range of cartoony national stereotypes, such as an arrogant Italian F1 car called Francesco Bernoulli. You can unlock a total of 35 cars if you factor in alternate versions and there are even more options available by linking your game to the World of Cars Online virtual space. The cars are mostly fun and interesting, but their constant spewing of jibes and irksome comments becomes irritating after a while.
In sum, the lack of online play in Cars 2 is a real shame, but the game has enough good ideas to avoid becoming a shameless movie cash-in. There is oodles of fun to be had in tackling the tracks alone or even more so with friends playing locally. The game takes direct inspiration from Mario Kart and Split/Second, yet it also does things its own way - combining tricks and special driving techniques with weapons and innovative race modes to always make the action feel fresh. The graphics and presentation is really impressive, while the multiplayer modes of Hunter and Disruptor are a joy to play. Cars 2 is certainly not the best racing game out there, but it is also great fun for younger audiences and possibly even has the unusual quirk of actually being better than the movie on which it is based.
> What do you think of the game? Share your views