Cars 2 seems custom-made for a successful video game tie-in - here, they’ve avoided the “follow the story arc of the movie” trap, and players get to play as their favourite characters from the Cars movies, while enjoying different race modes. It’s “inspired by the movie” rather than a blow by blow/follow the key plot elements of the movie, which gave makers Avalanche a free-er hand to craft the game with.
Tying in with the spy theme from the film, you begin secret agent training at CHROME - Command Headquarters for Recon Operations and Motorized Espionage. Your trainers are British Intelligence agents: the dashing Aston Marton Finn McMissile, and young agent Holley Shiftwell, who hold your tyre as you learn all the skills and tricks needed to become ace car spies. It starts off reasonably basic, with cornering etc, and then moves on to more advanced moves, such as drifting and learning how to boost up the turbo, which will get you out of many a sticky situation when you get down to racing.
Once training is complete you’re out racing! And it’s good fun, with lots of variety: some of the tracks are set in locations from the movie (e.g.: the oil rig, Tokyo airport, etc) and some are the tracks featured as part of the World Grand Prix from the film (e.g: the Tokyo and Monaco race tracks). There are also plenty of shortcuts on the racing tracks, if you’re the sort of player who likes to try and blast ahead of the competition in other ways.
There is a wealth of content in the game, including Story Mode, free play (incorporating split screen multiplayer) and the ability to link in with your World of Cars online account (if you have one). World of Cars Online is a virtual world where you can “design your car, play games, and make new friends” (note: it’s free to play but access to special features requires a subscription.)
As you follow Story Mode through, there is a lot of variety: hunter mode, straight racing, racing with weapons, etc. You never get the feeling that you’re doing the same thing twice in a row, so it keeps the material fresh.
Multiplayer is great fun, although if we’re nitpicking, the display showing your race position could be a little more prominent - it’s very small, and hard to tell if you are leading the field or choking in someone’s dust as you roar around in split screen mode.
As a driving game, it actually handles pretty nicely. This is the kind of game where you can do well initially, but improve significantly as you master the advanced moves, like drifting, driving on two wheels, or even acrobatic stunts and flips in mid air for extra points during the judged races.
Graphically it’s more than adequate - having seen the Cars 2 movie in glorious 3D recently, this does look a bit rougher in comparison, but that’s to be expected. It’s colourful and pleasant to look at, and the tracks are really nice to drive around, so you can’t really ask for more than that in a racing game aimed primarily at children.
The sound and music are good, and the voice acting is charming, and fits with the portrayals from the movies, even if the voices aren’t original from the movie. (The kids probably won’t notice it’s not really Michael Caine, but you might.)
The obvious parallels are drawn with Nintendo’s classic Mario Kart, which turned cute familiar characters and surprisingly enjoyable racing experience into an extremely compelling title. LikeMario Kart, Cars 2 has a variety of pickups scattered along the track to collect, which give you an amusing array of weapons or turbos to slow your opponents down with, in order to get ahead, such as oil slick, lightening strike, bullets, and guided missiles.
There is a long and torrid history of diabolical kids movie tie-in games before this, that even little NZGamers will turn their noses up at, but Cars 2 manages enough charm and attachment to the beloved characters for the kids, and enough of a hook that the parents will be able to stomach challenging the kids to a round or two. It’s actually a fun game to play, and the handling of the cars is universally pretty decent, so you could definitely do worse than this on a rainy afternoon with your kids.
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