One of the first games I ever reviewed was the original Cars on the PS2. Like many, I assumed that it would be a fun-free, cash-in, happy to sell on the strength of its name rather than any sense of underlying quality. I was wrong. Cars turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It was far from innovative and hardly genre defining, but it was an enjoyable arcade racer, one that captured the look and spirit of the film while delivering an enjoyable, family-friendly racer in its own right. The same is very much true of, Cars 3: Driven to Win.
It’s hardly triple-A and is certainly lacking some of the features you would expect to find in a big budget racer, but Avalanche Software have nonetheless done a great job of taking the spirit of the movies and applying it to a very competent and often very enjoyable racer. It’d be easy to say that it’s a great game for kids (although it is), but honestly, I’m like a proper adult (I’ve finally had to accept that at the age of 35), and I had a great time with it. Sure, the fun is relatively short lived, but for as long as it lasts, Cars 3: Driven to Win is a great little racer and a brilliant accompaniment to what is one of the more underrated Pixar franchises (oh, except for Cars 2…..Cars 2 is rubbish).
The first thing you’ll probably notice is just how great this game looks. It’s not on par with the movies of course and it doesn’t look nearly as good as the Toy Story stuff in Kingdom Hearts 3, but as far as bog standard movie tie-ins go, this game looks better than most. A big of part of that is the games’ character; it might not be the most impressive game from a technical standpoint, but it really does capture the spirit of the movies, and in particular, the cars themselves. The voice work might be a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s all delivered with gusto, and like everything else in the game, a clear love for the source material.
Cars 3: Driven to Win’s greatest strength however has to be the racing itself. Half Mario Kart and half arcade racer, it’s like the primary coloured sequel to Blur that we never got. The drift-centric handling makes for a simplistic but very effective handling model, and while the courses can’t compete with the genre’s finest, Cars 3 delivers a decent selection of visually distinct tracks with plenty of shortcuts and skill specific-boost sections.
Whether it be driving backwards, pushing up on two wheels or nailing a drift, your car’s boost is linked to a combination of good driving and pulling of specific skills in the boost sections dotted around each map….and believe me, you’re going to need to hit these on a regular basis as Cars 3 is no cake walk. It might look like a kids game, but just about every mode in the game offers a stern challenge. Some pretty brutal rubber banding definitely plays its part, but whichever way you look at it, the AI in Cars 3 is unexpectedly brutal. Even on the normal difficulty, I often found myself having to replay events after failing to hit the required target. Perhaps I’m just rubbish, but I for one found the game a lot more difficult than I was expecting.
The rubber band AI can be annoying of course, but it does make for eventful races and certainly increases the tension during events. Whatever the competition might be, I always felt engaged right up to the chequered flag. Of course, the events themselves vary in quality, but it’s surprising just how much variety has been crammed into Cars 3. It’s a shame that the structure is a tad boring with much of the experience feeling more like a collection of box ticking exercises rather than the more narrative-driven experience one might have hoped for, but despite the fact that progression can occasionally feel cold and uninspiring, the game never lacks for challenge and diversity.
Whether it be standard races, takedown battles (which can get pretty mental) or stunt challenges, Cars 3 is constantly providing you with an array of challenges and sub-challenges that serve to keep you motivated through what is an otherwise slightly bland progression system. If anything, as great as it might be to have a ton of different events to enter, there might actually be too much going on. It’s commendable that the developer has seen fit to include so many unique disciplines, but by doing so, Cars 3 ends up a jack of all trades, and a master of none. The game is rarely anything less than entertaining, but no aspect of the game shines particularly brightly. Still, if you’re playing with kids, the constant change in emphasis will probably keep them entertained for hours on end, even if it has come at the potential cost of overall quality.
Cars 3 might lack the polish of its triple-A peers, and it could have arguably done with a more focused approach, but it’s hard to be overly disappointed in a game that clearly goes out of its way to deliver a surprisingly robust and consistently enjoyable experience. With plenty of character and a great handling model, Cars 3: Driven to Win exceeds expectations to deliver one of the better movie tie-ins released for quite some time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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