There’s something to be said about approaching franchised games with a level of minimal expectation; expect nothing and enjoy any potential surprises for what they are. After the original Cars film spawned a solid, unspectacular but nevertheless enjoyable game, a glimmer of hope glistened over the release of Cars 2. But hope is an emotional investment with no guaranteed return.
Cars 2 manages to cater itself to its primary audience in such a fundamentally deceptive way, it’s commendable. Disney have created a game that requires only a functional level of gaming skill to be successful at, yet becomes challenging from a sheer sense of helplessness it bestows upon the player (read: victim).
Players compete over seven tiers of difficulty, each featuring six events. These events are made up of standard races, battle races, survivor challenges, hunting challenges and arena battles, revolving routinely over a respectable number of circuits. Standard races require the player to beat the opponents by collecting Burnout-esque ‘boost’ from drifting, driving backwards and racing on two wheels (requiring a simple flick of the right stick) and using it tactically. It’s a simple premise that is a chore in the earlier stages and a victim of ill-balanced AI in the latter. Battle races share the same common denominators, with an added numerator of weapons to disrupt opponents. Whilst these should widen the scope of gaming ability required, there is no possible way to open up a commanding lead; overpowered weapons lasso the runaway car back into the pack, rendering every lap bar the final lap irrelevant.
Survivor challenges dominate the mid-section of the game. They require the player to maintain a consistently high speed, collecting shield energy to prevent the car being destroyed. AI cars act as targets, offering an extra boost if the player can hit them. The mode provides some welcome respite initially, but quickly become the most frustrating and unrewarding part of the game. Hunting races gives the player a set number of cars to destroy, with each ‘kill’ increasing the timer. These events are easily the most enjoyable as they are not encumbered by questionable AI and have a tactical element. Finally, the ‘end of series’ arena battles involve the player accumulating as many kills as possible in a closed arena. The premise is promising, but the driving physics are completely altered for these events, creating hyper-sensitive steering. Once again, Disney sacrifices the potential for an enjoyable gaming experience for player accessibility. Understandable, but not forgivable.
All events support local multiplayer for up to four players, meaning a somewhat-fortunate child can raise their profile by letting three friends compete. It’s a welcome feature that compensates for a complete lack of online play, though given the target demographic, it’s perhaps a wise decision both morally and economically. Sadly, Disney didn’t see fit to compensate for this with a more extensive single player mode; the only incentive to keep playing is achievement-based.
What Cars 2 lacks in functionality, it packs in polish. Each track has been thoroughly tested to iron out the bugs whilst on four wheels or flying through the air from one of the many ramps that litter the circuits. The graphics are faithful to the movie, though a lack of texture detail prevents it from impressing. Menus are swift, easy to navigate and in sync with the tone of the game. They avoid the common pitfalls of over-animated menu selections and patronising hierarchies.
Whilst Cars 2 is a respectable movie tie-in, it’s extremely difficult to recommend. The completely variable AI in the higher difficulties needlessly frustrate and it can often take several attempts to win a race, through no wrong-doing on the gamer’s part. Coupled with limited player options, a minimal amount of story-connection to the film itself and unrewarding gameplay, Cars 2 will be appreciated by one demographic only; those blissfully aware of the fundamental problems that will undoubtedly frustrate them.
A poor game shrouded in an illusion of mediocrity.