Calling All Cars! might not be the kind of game you were expecting from Sony game designer David Jaffe--the man behind God of War and Twisted Metal: Black. The cel-shaded racing/action game is big on loony Saturday-morning-cartoon antics and short on blood and gore. That said, it still shares a key component from Jaffe's earlier efforts: It's fun. We had a chance to check out the full version of the game, which will be available for download in May via the PlayStation 3's online service, to see how far the game has come since our last look at the 2007 Game Developers Conference.
Remember the old school-yard game, "Kill the Man With the Ball"? That's the easiest way to explain how the gameplay in Calling All Cars! works; except, in this case, the players come in the form of a variety of vehicles--everything from F1 cars to luxury rides to monster trucks--and the "ball" is an escaped con on the run from the local law authorities. Your job is to catch the elusive criminal by running him down, catching him with your car, and delivering him to the authorities. Bringing in your fugitive will earn you points, depending on where you drop him off, and the player with the most points at the end of the round wins.
The pace of Calling All Cars! is frenetic to the say the least. You're constantly battling your three opponents to keep control of your criminal and bring him to justice, while your foes are bashing into you (which often causes the criminal to bounce out of your car and into the air). There are also a number of weapons you can collect in the environments and use with the R1 button. These weapons include a giant rocket launcher that can be fired at any opponent; a magnet that, when aimed at an opposing car for a few seconds, will let you draw the criminal into your car; and a big, wooden hammer that will shake things up (and dislodge the criminal from any car in the surrounding area). You can also use a periodic nitro boost that will give you a quick burst of speed when you really need it.
Calling All Cars!' main challenge, it seems, is dealing with the interesting twists the different environments give you when bringing in your escaped convict. In the city level, for example, you have three increasingly difficult ways to score points at the police station: drive him into an open garage (worth one point), make a jump onto an open door on the second floor (two points), or drive up a ramp and deposit him on the top floor of the police station (three points). In the snowy Alpine level, the police station entrances periodically freeze over, which then requires you to seek out the ever-moving paddy wagon and deposit your convict in the back. There's even a police helicopter that shows up occasionally; drive beneath it long enough, and it will scoop up the criminal and land you four points to boot. With as much mayhem as CAC throws at you, the two- or three-point options are rarely easy to get, and the game becomes as much a matter of blind luck as it is biding your time and waiting for the right time to strike.
The game's cel-shaded environments are fun to look at, and there's plenty of Twisted Metal-esque destruction on hand, as the cars whip around the levels, crashing through buildings, busting through graveyard markers, and basically destroying everything in site. Well, almost everything. Some objects in the world are impervious to harm, which can be either a blessing or a curse. In the train-yard level, for example, the train engine can't be harmed (though you can drive through the box cars), which can be a pain if you're making a beeline to the police station. On the other hand, putting a train between you and your opponents can give you some much-needed breathing room to collect a weapon, find your on-the-lam convict, or try a riskier delivery option for some crucial extra points.
The game's wacky soundtrack fits well with the cartoon visuals. Honks, squeaks, crashes, and sirens abound, and the banjo-flavored music in the background adds an extra layer of momentum to the driving antics. There's even a jolly lieutenant--complete with Irish accent, naturally--who's keeping tabs on the clock for you, letting you know when you're running out of time on the course.
The game's single-player modes include single-level play and a tournament mode, where you run through a series of levels in a row. There's also offline (split screen) and online multiplayer for up to four players as well. In all, Calling All Cars! seems like an enjoyable party game that's best enjoyed in small, frantic doses. We'll have a full review of the game once it's released for download in May.