Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cars 2

Cars has the dubious distinction of being the one film when, it is widely agreed, Pixar were anything less than stellar. Perhaps it’s hard to care about talking cars in the same way as sad robots or the toys of our childhood come to life, but Cars, even some five years after release, still sticks out in the Pixar roster as a brash, noisy estranged cousin. The reason we’re here of course is that, of all the films, it’s Cars that Pixar has decided to follow-up this summer. Cars 2, by all accounts, is even messier and more headache-inducing than the first film, a globe-trotting journey of auto-destruction seemingly made specifically for six-year old boys. Perfect videogame fodder, then.

Last year’s Toy Story 3 tie-in was notable in that it was the first Pixar videogame in a long time that effectively captured the essence of its source material. Cars 2 follows in this tradition, albeit with the understandable restriction that a film about racing cars was only ever going to turn into one particular type of videogame. Yep, that’s right – Cars 2 is an existential journey akin to Flower. Only kidding, it’s a racing game built from some decent sources.

The bulk of the game takes place in the CHROME mission mode, a series of tiered events in which experience points are quickly accrued, leading to the unlocking of further modes and tracks. It does a good job at throwing a succession of varied game types at the player, from standard races to various styles of battle racing, which prove to be the highlights of Cars 2. Handling is responsive, tidy and is accessibly arcade-like; those looking for intricacy in their racing experience will obviously be in the wrong place here, but it’s also just as easy for developers to mis-judge issues of sensitivity and spoil what should be a breezy game, which thankfully isn’t the case here.

Although pure races do have their share of distractions in the form of alternate track routes and jumps (from which you can pull showboating tricks with the use of the right stick), it’s in the different battle modes that Cars 2 really starts to reflect the manic franchise upon which it’s based. Battle Races are like a normal race but with the added bonus of weapons, collected by driving over the power-ups dotted around the track – the weapons don’t have the variety of imagination as a Mario Kart, but it’s undeniably fun. Attack is an addictive high-score run in which extra time is added to the clock for every successful hit, while Hunter is a sporadic arena battle in which waves of enemies need to be successfully defeated. If I found it a pleasurable game than

Of all the recent games that Cars 2 reminds us of, it’s probably Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing that is the closest comparison. Sega’s game may be the more polished experience, but Avalanche Software (who were also behind last year’s aforementioned Toy Story 3 game) have done a good job with the license, and the entire package ends up being fairly substantial. Although the myriad amount of crests available to unlock, for such feats as driving a total of 250km, appeals to this OCD-happy writer, of more interest to younger gamers will be a garage which includes all the familiar characters (and many new ones), for them to pore over in a sort of pre-school version of Forza. There’s also a strong influence from last year’s sensational Split Second: Velocity, in terms of the boost-collecting mechanic and certain on-track set-pieces (a plane landing on the track anyone?). Split Second’s developer were of course also under the Disney Interactive Studios umbrella before their untimely demise, but whether there was overlap in development staff is one for the file marked ‘speculation’.

Overall then Cars 2 is a loveable excursion into the world of Pixar. Built with all the efficiency and character that you’d expect from the movie studio’s cinema work, it demonstrates that what may not work so well as a film (unless of course you are six, in which case Cars is the best thing ever) does just fine in the style of a knockabout children’s action racer. Grown ups can play as well.

- Originally published on D+PAD Magazine.

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