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Cars 2: The Video Game

Cars 2 The video game. Racing cars

If you or a family member really loves Lightning McQueen and the movie's cast of characters, this simple but fun arcade racer won't disappoint.

Great-looking, highly expressive car/character models  
A solid number of races and minigames 
A well-told follow-up story to the film's universe  
Huge celebrity voice cast that's definitely up to snuff compared to the film's voice work

Cars 2 no doubt had an easier time making its way over to video game land than the majority of movie licences, but given how poor the majority of such games are it definitely wasn't a given that a racing game based on the Pixar movie would be good. Thankfully Cars 2 the video game is from the same stable as the excellent Toy Story 3 game from last year. While not nearly as ambitious as Woody and co's adventure, Cars 2 provides fun arcade-style racing action for all the family.

Cars, the newest addition to the ever-growing and consistently high-quality lexicon of Pixar animated films, comes the predictable video game tie-in. But there's something altogether unfamiliar about this version of Cars, something unexpected from the perspective of anyone who's ever played a lackluster Pixar-licensed movie game before. You see, Cars isn't just a middling cash-in on the license. It's a legitimately fun piece of work that combines driving game components with an open-ended gameworld and a host of goofy minigames that aren't broken, tacked-on, or otherwise unpleasant. It also manages to capture the heart and humor of the film pretty well, thanks in no small part to the great character animation and use of the entire celebrity voice cast from the movie.

Tying in with the plot of the new movie, Cars 2 features the fun characters fans will know and love (Lightning McQueen, Mater and the rest) but with a secret agent twist, with our heroes going up against the evil Professor Z. Think of Cars meets any James Bond movie and you'll be close to what's on offer here. The end result is an arcade racer that feels like a more explosive version of Mario Kart. You can powerslide around corners and use speed boosts, but also fire off numerous guns, perform tricks in the air, drive backwards and even lean onto just two wheels.

After a few training missions set inside virtual race courses you're thrown into the game proper, which consists of a mixture of straight up multiple lap events, battle events in which weapons can be used, arena-like challenges in which you have to take out as many enemy cars as possible and a number of other variations on these.

Leave it to Pixar to take big hunks of combustion-powered metal and rubber and turn them into endearing characters. Just in case you haven't seen the movie, Cars is about a world of, well, cars. These are cars with faces, unique personalities, and no human drivers to get in the way. The story focuses around an up-and-comer in stock car racing named Lightning McQueen.  Lightning is the next big thing in racing, but when he inadvertently wreaks havoc in the sleepy burg of Radiator Springs on his way to his next race, Lightning finds himself stuck with these country bumpkins, learning inevitable lessons of life and love

On the track gameplay definitely falls into Mario Kart territory. While each of the included cars has a different balance between speed and power, they all powerslide when you hold down the drift button, can jump, perform tricks and earn nitrous while doing so. A special boost, which also serves as a shield that turns your vehicle into a battering ram, can be activated when your nitrous bar is completely full, and comes in handy when trying to catch up on the last lap.

As with many racers of this type there are certain weapons that feel unfair, usually targeting the leading car and in turn letting everyone else catch up. Early on this doesn't really matter as the events are incredibly easy to win, but once you're past the half-way point frustration rears its head now and again. There's really very little enjoyment to be gained from having a string of weapon attacks hit you one after the other, causing you to drop from first to outside the top three when the finish line is almost in sight.

Cars' missions revolve around racing. These are cars, after all. The racing itself is largely pretty simplistic. There are some powersliding and boosting mechanics included, as well as a few goofy moves like making the car jump at will, and even driving backwards for point bonuses. The handling of the cars is pretty easy to get a handle on, though powersliding isn't always as effective as you might expect it to be. But you only use stuff like powersliding and boosting in the off-road races in Radiator Springs. When you're competing in the professional races, it's like a NASCAR cartoon. You drive to the left, occasionally bump up against other racers, and occasionally have to make a pit stop.  

One particularly ingenious thing that Cars does is that it actually splits itself into two games. One is designed for players of "all ages," and the other is a shorter, easier version for younger kids. Obviously plenty of games have multiple difficulty levels, but most games of this ilk just play it safe and dumb the experience down for the kids. That's not to say Cars isn't completely absolved of this crime, mind you. Even in the general audience version, the game is still fairly simple. Until the last stages of the game, it's pretty hard to lose races, especially since the opponent artificial intelligence rubber bands quite a bit in favor of the player. Get behind by a significant margin, and you'll actually see cars ahead of you slow down sometimes, giving you the boost you need. The later races are certainly more challenging, but a more even balance of difficulty would have helped the gameplay quite a bit. For what it's worth, the difference between the two versions is still pretty noticeable.
Cars also suffers a bit due to a few glitches and technical issues. It's all relatively minor stuff that just happens to become a bit infuriating in some areas. Most of the problems have to do with graphical bugs and physics issues. The game's environments are often set up with borders and sections you're not supposed to be able to traverse, but some of these borders are spotty with their barriers, and you can get stuck in certain pieces of the environment if you run into them the wrong way. The car physics also get wonky in some spots. Fall sideways off of a ledge, and you may find yourself driving on your left tires for a while until the game figures out a way to reset your car back to normal. You'll also see some occasional issues with cars clipping through one another. 

Obviously, one of the biggest selling points of Cars is the inclusion of the movie's voice cast. Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shaloub, Michael Keaton, Larry the Cable Guy (in a decidedly "Git 'er done!"-free performance), George Carlin, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty, Cheech Marin, and Paul Newman are all on hand. Yeah, Paul Newman in a video game. Kind of insane, no? All the actors are pretty much on point throughout the game. Wilson is just as endearing in the game as he was in the film, and pretty much every actor seems to be treating their game dialogue as importantly as the movie stuff. There's also a pretty good licensed soundtrack on hand with tracks from the Stray Cats, Lynryd Skynryd, the Edgar Winter Group, and the All American Rejects, among others. The only thing really worth complaining about in the audio department is the repetition of the aforementioned aspects. One-liners from the characters during races tend to repeat too often, as do most of the soundtrack songs. Again, it's all great stuff, so it makes the repetitious nature of it a little easier to swallow. It would just be nice if there were more variety.
Though Cars will almost certainly take you well under 10 hours to complete, there's two-player multiplayer to mess with, as well as some bonus materials to check out. Not to mention that the quality of Cars' content is enough to make up for its relatively short stature. It's hardly the next big thing in driving games, but it still manages to deliver the most authentic Pixar film experience to the video game medium of any previous attempt, and it's certainly one of the better kid-oriented games to come out this year.

Watch Cars 2: The Video Game trailer for more features.


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