Video games based on the popular animated movie series, “Cars,” have been hit or miss over the past four years. The first game really wasn’t bad at all, and neither was Cars: Mater-National . But the wheels fell off with the mediocre Cars: Race-O-Rama , so I was a little worried about playing the latest offering from Disney Interactive. But as it turns out, Cars 2: The Video Game is a lot of fun and in some ways, even refreshing. It’s colorful, sounds great, and can be surprisingly addictive, depending on the event in question. Fans of the films will have a blast sampling the diverse action.
As you might expect, developer Avalanche Software gives us a bright, vibrant environment through which we will race. The detail isn’t super clean and I thought more could’ve been done with a few of the backdrops, but the effects are pleasant and nicely produced and the overall presentation is designed with the appropriate audience in mind. It’s one of those games where you should be content with what’s directly before you; if you go about searching high and low for small graphical shortcomings, you’ll find them. But why bother? They’re never right in your face and in general, everything you see, from the great animations to the lively atmosphere, will put a smile on your face. That's the point, I believe.
What I’m trying to say is, we probably shouldn’t be too anal concerning the technical elements. For reviews, we’re supposed to consider the intended age group and in this case, that group will be happy with what they see. They’ll be even happier with the sound, as the voices are top-notch, the special effects are crisp and on point, and the soundtrack fits every last aspect of the game. The music isn’t quite as prominent as it should be, as the effects and voices will often override the soundtrack, but that’s a minor balancing issue. The bottom line is that Cars 2 sounds a lot like the movie, and that’s a definite plus.
The game is about driving but believe it or not, you’ve really never played anything like it before. It mixes standard racing elements with action/platform techniques that add a ton of spice and flavor to the experience; one never feels as if he’s merely playing another ho-hum, cut-from-the-same-mold title. First off, everyone can jump as well as drive, which is a feature fans of the games have seen before. Secondly, there’s a distinct Twisted Metal tinge thanks to a surprising amount of weapons affixed to vehicles. Now, because of this rather unique approach to the gameplay, the controls can feel a little…bizarre. But thankfully, it’s easy to adapt.
Quick tutorials will help you along and although I still don’t like the idea of using a button to trigger power slides, the mechanic still works quite well. Besides, the more you play, the more you’re realize that letting the game automatically trigger the power slide is a bad idea. Jumping isn’t tough, and throwing your car into reverse often makes good sense. My only issue with the setup is utilizing the right analog stick to execute a 180 spin, because in my mind, it never felt right. Plus, every last vehicle in the game lacks any semblance of weight, so you often feel as if you’re just bouncing or floating around an environment that somehow sports slightly lesser gravity.
But you’ll get over these eccentricities without much difficulty, because the game always remains accessible. The Career option is lengthy and satisfying and there are over 30 characters to sample and drive. You can boost, perform tricks, and take out other drivers; the more hazardous and insane your antics, the faster your boost meter fills up. This is another returning feature and it functions just as well as before. But there’s nothing all that predictable about the majority of the game, as many of the events are varied and imaginative, and that hefty weapon arsenal makes for entertaining races. Homing missiles (exploding skateboards) remain my favorite. How could they not be?
The track designs are cool, the attitude and style is quintessential “Cars,” and there’s plenty of bang for your buck. There is no online play, but you can still have fun with up to four players via standard split-screen action. The only problem is that none of the multiplayer options are available at the start; you have to unlock them by completing CHROME missions in the career mode. It’s great that there are over 40 events but if you’re looking to get some multiplayer entertainment, you’ll have to play for a while by yourself before indulging with buddies. This can be a drawback depending on your intentions but personally, I like any game that really emphasizes the solo aspect so I’m gonna remain plenty fulfilled by a robust Career Mode. It'll last you quite some time.
Cars 2: The Video Game is a solid, well-presented game that features a lot of creativity, great sound, and an action/racing style that really can’t be found anywhere else. The control can be iffy, the technical aspects aren’t supremely polished, and having the multiplayer options locked from the outset is an issue, but the experience remains fun for long periods of time. The events in Career Mode are always engaging (although somewhat silly) and with so many playable characters, you won’t get bored too soon. It’s a great option for just about anyone under the age of 12 or 13, or anyone who’s a fan of the movies.
The Good: Great voices and a decent soundtrack. Really cool tracks and events. 30+ playable characters. Relatively unique action/racing format. Satisfying Career Mode.
The Bad: Technical elements aren’t overly impressive. Control can be questionable. Multiplayer modes locked at the start.
The Ugly: “Right analog stick for the 180? …damnit, no.”