Cars 2: Disney brings series in-house for a tune-up

June 29, 2011

It’s only the second Cars movie, but Cars 2 is the fourth game in the franchise. THQ published and developed the previous games, but Disney decided to go in-house with Cars 2, and it shows. The game surpasses previous ones in the series, with added features such as weapons, four-player capability and enhanced graphics. Still, is Cars 2 worthy of your time, or should you save that money for when the bigger AAA games come out later this year?

The overall feel of Cars 2 is so much better than that of any previous ones in the series. That may be due to a longer development cycle, but it could also be due to Avalanche Software, the team behind the well-made Toy Story 3. That studio knows how to crank out good movie-based video games, and it shows. Previous games in the series had an open-world element to it, with you driving to your next race or minigame. Cars 2 drops this for a more linear mission format. Once you start the tutorial, you can simply play each mission in succession by simply selecting next after you complete a race or an event. The story also takes a back seat. It’s there, but it’s so minimal that you’ll barely even recognize it or even care.

The majority of the missions have you running three laps trying to complete the necessary objective. As in most arcade racing games you get nitrous, or in Cars 2‘s case, turbo. Below your car are four bars that feel up when you do air tricks, jumps, drafting and drifting. Turbo is extremely useful in some races, and even more useful in the Survivor game mode. The location of the turbo bars is reminiscent of that of Split/Second, but that’s the only comparison you can make between the two. The turbo gives the cars a great sense of speed, but when not using it, things feel far too slow. There are some instances when your car seems to be crawling. Fortunately, obtaining turbo is rather easy, so you won‘t run across this problem too often.

In some races, specifically battle races, the AI can be a bit tough. Sometimes it just seems as though each weapon has your name on it. It’s unfortunate to see these sorts of shortcuts, but it does make the game bring a challenge.

Missions are split up into six levels, with six race modes included in each one. You earn spy points for winning each event, which in turn unlocks more tracks and game modes. To earn these, you need to finish in the top three of each event. The objectives vary depending on the type of mission. Race is simply you racing against other cars. Battle Race is racing against other cars but with weapons. Mario Kart-esque random weapons are on the track. Once you pick one up, you can then use it on your opponent. Attack has you trying to destroy other cars before time runs out. Each car you destroy adds on time to the clock. Survival sees you collecting batteries between each checkpoint while trying to finish as many laps as you can. There is also an enemy in this mode. If you manage to destroy it, it drops battery fragments, helping you last longer. The last mode, Hunter, presents you with five waves of enemies. Your goal is to destroy as many enemies as you can before time runs out.

Playing through the missions will take you about five or six hours. At the beginning they start out fun, but the repetitiveness definitely starts to kick in around the halfway mark. The game throws far too many Survival missions at you, sometimes three in one level, and there aren’t enough battle races.

Visually, Cars 2 has that James Bond espionage feel, but with a Disney/Pixar twist. Comparing its look to other well known racing games might be a bit too much. It does have its rough spots, with some texture pop-ins and even some textures that don’t load until pausing the game, but once the race starts the visuals are good and steady. John Turturro, Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Gordon and others lend their voice talents, with Owen Wilson being noticeably absent. Still, the game has little story, so the only time you hear the voice talent is one-liners during missions.

Cars 2 features a few local-only multiplayer options. Four players can play any mission together, and there are two special multiplayer modes: Arena and Disruptor. Arena is very similar to the hunter missions in the main game, except you’re trying to battle your friends instead of bots. Disruptor is a bit different: one bomb is planted in the middle of each map. Each team has a base, and the goal is to take the bomb and get it to the enemy base. On some maps, there are even decoy bombs and turrets guarding the bases. It would have been nice to play the Disruptor modes against CPU players, but that’s not an option.

Avalanche Software’s Toy Story 3 raised the bar for movie-based video games, and Cars 2 continues the tradition. If you’re a fan of the franchise, definitely check it out.

Pros: Solid gameplay, great atmosphere

Cons: Repetitive at times, A.I. can be a pain

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.