RC games have always tended to have a natural appeal to gamers. Whether your fond memories stem from the ownership of an actual remote-controlled vehicle or those late nights you stayed up with RC Pro AM, there’s just something innately fun about driving small cars. Smash Cars for the PlayStation Network is the most recent RC driving game aimed to capitalize on the childhood passion still lurking in all of us.
At first glance Smash Cars might remind RC racing fans of the late great Re-Volt for the Dreamcast. At face value the games are a bit similar but Re-Volt placed a much heavier emphasis on dangerous shortcuts and Mario Kart style weapons and power-ups. Smash Cars actually has a lot more in common with the recent ATV offering, Pure. Both games rely heavily on boosting as often as possible and to do so you’ll be constantly tricking to refill your Nitro gauge. Tricking in Smash Cars is quite a bit simpler, allowing the player to only rotate the car while airborne in order to execute loops, rolls or twists. Depending on the difficulty of the tricks executed you’ll be awarded a star rating out of a possible five along with replenishing a section of your Nitro gauge. In addition to refilling your gauge, tricking acts as a nice break mid-race from the constant boosting but it feels a bit underwhelming and you’ll be landing five star tricks in no time at all. The other disappointment is your star ratings don’t actually serve any real purpose beyond a few trophies, it would have been nice to have some greater motivation for getting higher scores.
Just like many arcade racers, Smash Cars features a number of built-in shortcuts throughout its circuits. As you progress through the Championship it’ll be necessary to find them all to win races and improve your lap times, but they aren’t terribly exciting. In a game that is as reliant on boosting, jumping and tricking it seems the shortcuts should offer some heavier risks in hopes of shaving off valuable seconds. As it stands many are more appropriately simple alternate routes and many don’t even feel worthy of exploiting.
Despite the relatively lackluster shortcuts found in Smash Cars, the tracks themselves are generally well designed. There are a number of different surface types to drive on including sand, dirt, wooden planks and asphalt. Along the way you’ll encounter some fun obstacles to avoid as well, most notably beach goers who will pick up and toss your car if you’re stupid enough to run into them. Unfortunately the overall track selection is quite small. All of the tracks are located in the same Mediterranean area and many of the circuits utilize the same sections found in the other tracks. It will take you the entire Championship mode to see the entire island but by the end you’ll have seen every corner of it multiple times and you’ll desperately want another location with some fresh turns to explore.
Other than Championship the only other mode found in Smash Cars is the online multiplayer. During the Championship you’ll engage in normal CPU races along with Time Trials and Knockout races, which involves the last place racer being dropped at the end of each lap. All the events work fine and are good fun but inexplicably there is no free race mode to be found. If you want to race offline you have to go through Championship, which is a big nuisance if you just want to practice or work on lap times. You also have to go into Championship to look at your own personal records as well as see the online leaderboards. This isn’t a huge issue but it’s just another minor nuisance that holds Smash Cars back from being a great arcade racer.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is no splitscreen support in Smash Cars, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. Arcade style racing games are inherently fun with friends and this doesn’t seem to be taxing the PlayStation 3 to any great length so the omission is hard to justify. It does make up for it slightly with an easy to use online multiplayer component but just like everything else in the title it’s missing some notable features. Firstly, you can’t at this point change the race type from lap race when hosting a game, even though the game has Knockout races built in. You also can’t host a series of races, it’s always one race and you’re kicked back to the multiplayer menu. Lastly, the amount of online stat tracking is pitiful, Smash Cars records the amount of races you’ve participated in, wins and your rank. When playing other games online stat tracking usually doesn’t seem like a necessary feature but since it is largely missing, it feels quite glaring.
It’s obvious based on the menus within the game that Smash Cars will be further fleshed out with new DLC areas to race in, but at this point it feels paper thin. It’s hard to emphasize, but the racing and track design are actually quite good and there is some genuine fun to be had with Smash Cars. Unfortunately it fails to deliver a lot of the basic functionality many racing fans expect from a title, which holds the game back from being an essential RC title rather than just a decent one.