As far as animated movies go, I love Cars, which is why I was especially excited when the third instalment was revealed a good while back. Most major movie releases that are aimed at a wide age range, brings with it a tie-in game to pull in that extra cash, but that’s not always a good thing. There’s a long running curse that plagues movie-to-game adaptions, and vice-versa, game-to-movie adaptions, yes Ghostbusters and Assassin’s Creed, I’m looking right at you. Now whilst for the most part, this curse only seems to generate a sub-par experience at best, Cars 3: Driven to Win is surprisingly well rounded. I wont go so far as to say that this game breaks the aforementioned curse, but there’s much more to this game than I was expecting. You could say that it ironically goes that extra mile. It’s not a game that will be winning any awards, and I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll be seeing this in the bargain bin in the near future, but Driven to Win is certainly better than your average tie-in.
Developed by Avalanche Software, the same team behind the Cars 2 game, and more recently, Disney Infinity, Cars 3: Driven to Win is based shortly after the Cars 3 movie. The game clearly doesn’t want to give the movie too much attention, and maybe that’s to avoid spoilers for those yet to see it, but after a small introduction you’re given the basics of both the gameplay and the plot. Speaking of the storyline, if you’re hoping for a heavy in-depth serving, you wont find that here. Instead you’re dished up with the quick insight that Lightning McQueen will once again race to compete for the Piston Cup, only this time, he’ll be taking on Jackson Storm. McQueen needs to train hard and win big if he wants to beat Storm once and for all, and this (outside of a few cutscenes) is where you’re given the reigns to see the game, and McQueen, through to the end.
Mercifully the gameplay is tight and fun, offering up a great deal of excitement and white-knuckle moments. Turning corners can somewhat feel a bit stiff at first, which forces you towards drifting more so than simple steering, but everything from jumping over objects, boosting past other opponents and firing weaponry, all feels smooth and well designed. Driven to Win comes with a decent selection of game modes, including Race, Stunt Race, Battle Race, Takedown, and Master-Level Events. Race is pretty self explanatory, being that you simply just need to win. Stunt race on the other hand removes the ability to use weapons, and replaces them with stunt challenges that gifts you with points for utilising stunts and tricks. Battle race is the closest mode to the likes of Mario Kart of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, in which you participate in normal racing with the added implementation of weaponry.
Takedown sees you going head to head with hordes of opponents, to which you’ll need to destroy in return for points. Master-level events is (as expected) a tougher mode that enables you to race more characters. There’s a great selection of tracks to enjoy, and all of them have been well crafted to ensure that the gameplay sits inline with both the source material and that classic kart-racing feel. Obviously there are some tracks that are by far better than others, but sitting back and looking at the big picture here, I honestly couldn’t fault the development of the 21 tracks as a whole package. These are spread across 16 cup series and 23 cars, with the added kick of taking yourself to the Hall of Fame to earn more skills and unlock more items. This, is by far the toughest section of the game, or at least it was for me.
Generic tasks such as collectively drifting for 30 minutes is easy enough on its own, but driving a lap in reverse? That will take some time. What I will say is that I was constantly compelled to unlock the next challenge, so on that front, there’s a nice bit of replay value to be had. Another fantastic addition is the Playground, a place where you’re thrown into Thomasville and are given complete freedom to seek out collectables, take on a band of side-quests, and most importantly, test out your skills.
Unfortunately the game comes with some drawbacks. It’s a shame that after commending the decent track selection and character roster, I have to point out that the voice acting is shoddy and poorly implemented. As alluded to above, the game doesn’t come with much of a story, but Avalanche Software completely missed the mark by not injecting some strong dialogue and character engagement to make up for the aforementioned lack. Instead, fans will need to endure the same handful of phrases per-track, over and over again. That may seem like a silly thing to moan about, but believe me, it really begins to wear thin when you constantly hear the same dialogue on repeat.
Another downside to the game is that it doesn’t particularly look current-gen. Cars 3: Driven to Win has released on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, in addition to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which may explain the middle-ground visuals, but it’s just not a good enough reason to give the graphics a pass. Despite the fact that I’ve praised the track design, it’s overly noticeable (especially when you’re forced to slow down) that the environments are poor in terms of presentation. Although the cars look somewhat familiar to one another, I cant fully condemn the visuals here, because for the most part, these have been well crafted. It’s just a drag that they have poor voice work and dialogue tied to them.
My next point, and this is by no means a complaint but simply an observation, the game is quite tough to beat. Even on the easy difficulty, the AI opponents are almost always just a few seconds away. I found the game to be quite challenging, and although I’m not a seasoned racing fan, I thought that the younger audience may have a hard time keeping up with the difficulty curve. To combat the harsh AI, most of the tracks come with shortcuts that you can utilise, but even the AI tend to lean on these secret pathways when you get further into the game.
The ability to boost also helps, and this is something that will auto-fill as you race, or replenishes when you pick up fuel drops that are dotted around each track. In any case, it’s a good game that may well test your patience at times, but it does well at testing your skills too. Customisation plays a small role, being that you can unlock new horns and other cosmetic items, but it’s not something I would describe as necessarily in-depth. You can indeed pull a friend or relative into the game via local multiplayer, but if you were hoping for online multiplayer, you’re out of luck. When all is said and done and you weigh the pros to the cons and take into account that this could have been another movie tie-in cash-cow game, you can appreciate the overall package for what it is.
Cars 3: Driven to Win is hardly going to be taking home any awards, but when you look at the bigger picture and think about what this could have been instead of what it is, Avalanche Software have done a good job. Despite the poor voice acting, the shoddy visuals, and the lack of a story, there’s a decent kart-like racer to immerse yourselves into with well rounded gameplay and solid mechanics. With a nice band of modes and characters to enjoy, across a chunky selection of tracks and added extras such as playground and hall of fame, there’s easily enough content on offer here to keep you going for hours on end. Just be mindful that the game comes with a AAA price tag, yet doesn’t put forward AAA quality.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.