STAFF REVIEW of Cars 2: The Video Game (Xbox 360)

Friday, August 5, 2011.
by Ken Laffrenier

Cars 2: The Video Game Box art Globally, we have seen an abundance of successful educators, politicians, auditors, intellectuals, scientists, engineers, philanthropists and business leaders. But the one aspect of modern life that seems to elude us is that of the successful secret agent. We struggle to find a new spy hero and it feels like we wait to the last minute before we introduce the next great prodigy.

While by no means a complete list, let?s try to break down the last 60 years; the 1950?s introduced James Bond, the 1960?s gave us Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) and the Mission: Impossible series, the 1970?s saw the arrival of Steve Austin and Lancelot Link, the 80?s had MacGyver and Jason Bourne (in book form at least), the 1990?s were heavily populated with agents and agencies like Austin Powers and Jack Ryan (although he was introduced in book form in the 80?s) and who can forget the Men in Black, all of which leads us to the 2000?s giving us the likes of Alias, 24 and Chuck.

But this is not to be a story of what?s come before, this is an introduction of a new hero, the quintessential spy, the ever resourceful Tow Mater; codename ?Mater?. While his complete back-story is shrouded in mystery, the many tales of his exploits have become the stuff of legends. It is only now with the theatrical release of Cars 2 do we get a glimpse of the shrewd intellect behind the awkward facade.

In order to give us a feel for the life of an international spy, Disney Interactive Studios brings us their latest video game title based upon its Pixar movie namesake. Cars 2: the Video Game is also the latest collaboration, with Disney Interactive, from developer Avalanche Studios. The team has worked together on other Disney Animation based games including Bolt, Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons but after their success in developing a game for Pixar?s Toy Story 3; the team seemed to be the obvious choice to develop the newest Pixar character based game.

I?m certain that I wasn?t the first to raise their brow and offer a quiet ?meh? to the thought of this title. Let?s face it there are a couple of strikes against it, even before removing the packaging. First up, this is yet another movie tie-in title, in a year of lackluster tie-ins, during a decade of truly awful movie tie-in video games. Secondly, this is a racing title, it seems that from 2008-2010 most developers have turned their sights to creating a racing title?.this could have been a good thing except that many didn?t invest the time and effort necessary to create an enjoyable racing experience. And finally, from the looks of this title coming out of last year?s E3, it seemed that we were going to be forced into a ?Mario Kart? clone.

Thankfully, I was given the task of trying out Cars 2: the Video Game and each of the major concerns I had were quickly dismissed and replaced by an outstanding amount of entertainment. This isn?t to say that there weren?t any issues, but rather that the issues are relatively minor, outmatched by enjoyable gameplay and all wrapped up in a family friendly bow.

Staying true to the movie?s narrative, the video game pits you against an ever expanding list of ?lemons? while Professor Z coordinates his efforts to take down the agents of C.H.R.O.M.E. (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations & Motorized Espionage). Of course, in the world of espionage nothing is as it seems. Common races are warped to create hunter missions, battle races, attack and survival missions. Weapon arsenals such as guns and missiles are augmented to include skateboard inspired homing bombs, satellite lasers and plasma orbs.

You start off by going through a series of tutorial levels dressed up as initial missions. These missions will introduce you to the myriad of matches, weapons and tactics. Some of these tactics will showcase your ability to perform various stunts in order to generate additional turbo, others will teach you how to take out multiple enemies with a double detonation of the satellite laser and other tactics will instruct you on how to spin 180 degrees to shoot back at your trailing competitors. Of all of these tactics the most informative has to be the ability to increase your available turbo, not just because it can be fun going fast but because many of these tactics will also decrease your race times. Jumping various obstacles, smashing signs and performing stunts will also provide insight into many of the games shortcuts. These shortcuts are varied and plentiful, some are hard to find but all of them provide a level of satisfaction when you find them that is sorely lacking in today?s games. Finally we have the drifting ability; this specific action is, to me, the most well developed aspect of the game. You can maintain speed while cutting corners and in many areas, holding a drift through long corners quickly adds to your turbo. As a nod to many younger players, the drifting ability can be switched to automatic; however, this auto drift is somewhat tempermental and only serves to keep an inexperienced player from being in last place every time.

Visually the game, while not up to the movie levels is still very stunning. All of the tracks are well put together and filled with numerous details (watch out for the little flying VW ?beetles?). There are a lot of locations and tracks to keep your field of view entertained. There are also a huge number of playable ?characters? that you will unlock as the game develops ranging from the stars, Mater and Lightning to secondary characters such as Sally, Sarge, Francesco and Finn McMissile to many of the new race car characters featured in the new movie. The race graphics offer a great sense of speed and the inclusion of the weapons adds to the on screen action through well developed visuals to represent the trail of a missile or the huge explosion of fuel tanks.

The sound is also well done, while not outstanding. You are never really drawn to the sounds in game, but they don?t ever take away from the gameplay. This is where the first of the 2 issues I do have with this title come in. The voice actors are tremendous, most are representing their movie counterparts and those that aren?t are not immediately recognizable; the issue however is the lack of sound clips. This is not a short game to play and you will want to play for long periods of time but there are only so many times you can hear Lightning refer to his greatness or hear Mater?s hillbilly comments before you long for the 8-bit notes of old.

Which brings me to the only other sizeable irritation I was able to find in this title; the complete lack of online multiplayer. This game really shines when playing the ?local? co-op or 4 player ?local? freeplay and much like many other race titles there is a great sense of accomplishment when you?re able to overtake your coworkers with the help of a well timed gatling gun round but this is extremely limiting by not having online multiplayer. I have heard a number of reasons why this hasn?t been implemented but none seem to explain this glaring lack of playability. By not having this feature the game loses major points, heck I would have even forgiven the repetitive soundbites for this ability.

This game has taken the longest for me to develop a review for. It has taken me weeks longer than any other game I?ve ever played to go from playing, to analyzing, to writing the review. And while it doesn?t help that the game is released in the summer, the thing that has kept me away from getting the writing done is that my kids have been playing it non-stop for the past couple of weeks! I know what you?re thinking ?how does that keep you from writing??, well I?ll tell you?.it?s not fair that I have to write while my kids play Cars 2:the Video Game alone. I?m a good Dad and I should be there to help them out. I?m only getting this review done now because my 7 and 10 year old daughters are able to soundly beat me in every single game mode.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.9 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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