The rarest of beasts in gamedom is the good licensed movie tie-in. Ratchet and Clank was an example of it happening, but that, of course, was already a game first, and the movie was so painfully ordinary that the bar wasn’t exactly set all that high. Many have tried, few have succeeded, and if you were to ask me for a genuine contender for a good tie-in, I would not have said Cars 3: Driven to Win had you asked me every day until the world’s inevitable nuclear end. Yet here we are. Cars 3: Driven to Win is that rare beast, parading around under the name of Pixar’s weakest films.
Cars 3: Driven to Win is quite sensibly, a racing game, an arcade-style one at that. It briefly touches upon the plot of the movie, then in another sensible move, cans any mention of it for a good long while until you finally unlock a showdown with sleek newcomer Jackson Storm.
Instead, you get given races and cups galore. Regular racing, stunt racing, battle racing, fastest
lap , and more feature among the choices. Simple, easy to understand game types covering the majority of arcade racing bases. Then there’s a series of challenges and unlocks to keep you sweet along the way. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works. Mainly because it funnels you a constant stream of new things all the way till completion.
For fans of the films (there must be a few given were three films deep) it’s got a lot of pleasing nods towards, and representation of, the Cars universe. All the cars available for racing lean heavily towards the cast of the third film, but you still get a handful of series stalwarts like Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, Sally, Chick, and Guido. The tracks span the whole trilogy, so you’ll get to speed around London and Tokyo alongside Radiator Springs and the Florida Speedway. Each track has neat little touches that call back to certain scenes from the films (such as the cow tractors that tip up if you hit them). Graphically, Cars 3 does a fine job of replicating the world of Cars. It isn’t as eye-poppingly polished as a Pixar film, but throughout Driven to Win, there’s no mistaking the game’s identity.
The basic racing experience in Cars 3 sees you choose one of a selection of characters from the films and pit yourself against 9 others in a 3 lap race. You can use a turbo boost to edge ahead of the competition, and that can be filled up by sideswiping opponents, pulling off aerial tricks, driving on two wheels, driving backwards, and drifting. There’s also three types of special strips on the tracks that fill your boost quicker if you drive over them in the correct manner (two wheels, backwards, and drifting). Cars 3 is a comfortably enjoyable racer. The stunt driving is handled by flicks of the right stick, and the handling of the cars at speed is flexible and loose in a mostly pleasant way. Swinging a cartoon car around corners should be fun, and developer Avalanche (who’ve had a fair bit of experience swinging cars about with Just Cause and Mad Max) has got that nailed down here. Racing just feels delightfully accessible in Cars 3, great to both handle and watch in motion.
If that plainish racing was all that was on offer, It’d make for a decent, if limited, tie-in racer, which is about as high as expectations would normally get in these cases, but Cars 3 tries a bit harder. Battle racing takes the core of every kart racer ever and implements weapon pickups to debilitate your opponents, and consist of the usual suspects such as rockets, oil spills, and the like. Stunt Racing adds ramps and point-scoring balloons to the tracks. Here you try and get as much air as possible off the ramps before spinning and tricking in mid-air to rack up the points. Again, it’s a simple mode, but done well. Fastest Lap is pretty self explanatory, so nothing to say there. The highlight in terms of pure enjoyment comes in the form of Takedown.
Yes, much like Burnout’s famous car-checking mode, Cars 3 allows you to unleash an unhealthy amount of destruction as you seek to reach the target score by either shunting explosive cars off the road, or by using weapons to destroy them en masse. Creating all that carnage is a whole bundle of destructive fun, if a little fiddly as it gets tougher.
There’s also cups to win, which consist of three-race series for each of the race types. There’s special Master Events, which equate to boss fights against the ‘elite’ vehicles of each race type (which I found easier than most of the regular races), and the whole package is rounded off by the sandbox playground mode, which is easily the weakest offering in the package. Cars 3 is a good goer at pace, but as you try to best challenges in the playground, it becomes clear that turning on a sixpence is not in this game’s repertoire. Where the rest of the game has an effortless, simple grace, the playground is a rhino on rollerskates. The challenges here may offer something a bit different to the rest of the game, but Cars 3 is best when it focuses on the racing.
Every car essentially runs at the same speed, and power. This is good for the intended audience as there’s no disadvantage to picking your favorites. That might put some off, and be seen as a somewhat lazy cop out way of not balancing the cars, but given the cast, you’d find some just simply unusable in a balanced and grounded world.
Multiplayer adds plenty. The accessible nature of the game makes for a competitive racer for the audience it will attract, but while I don’t expect many sane people would expect this to be competitive for everyone, It’s still worth saying that anyone really into their racers is going to find this lacks the edge they desire.
Cars 3: Driven to Win is a genuine surprise. More so personally because I dislike the franchise, and I’m extremely picky about racing games. Sure, there’s nothing overly fresh or innovative about the game, but Avalanche understands what the priorities are here… accessibility and instant enjoyment for a young audience whilst offering plenty to do. An adult could easily consume the majority of the single player content in a week, but it’s almost always a great time while it lasts. It’s unfortunate that the playground mode is so ill-suited to the game, as having that work well, on top of the joyful racing, could have pushed Cars 3: Driven to Win to even greater heights.