Avalanche Software have done another decent attempt at a Disney licensed video game. My DarkZero review.
The story is loosely related to the film and uses the film's general plotline, which involves Lightning McQueen travelling around the world to compete in the newly-announced racing series World Grand Prix. The film revolves around a spy plotline with C.H.R.O.M.E (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations & Motorized Espionage) investigating a devious plot to sabotage oil in cars during the races, so that Professor Zundapp can keep his oil monopoly. This doesn't really transfer into the game, there's barely a story, so instead the plot is used as a building block to create a Mario Kart inspired racing game.
There is a sufficient amount of game types, but the problem is that you can't play most of them unless you make your way through the game's main the C.H.R.O.M.E Mission Career. Missions are split across six groups, which contain multiple game types in them. Starting out, you are put into an awkwardly-produced training mode. Really the separate tutorials could have been squished into one tutorial race rather than being split over five or six scenarios that teach you a particular feature.
Thankfully the controls are simple to grasp, with acceleration and brake on trigger buttons. You can also collect power-ups on the track in little question mark boxes that spin around. Sometimes you can pick up boxes that tell you what weapon you will acquire. These help the player if there is one they need to use, for example, to defend themself from attacks. You can drift to take corners better, and also jump to hop over barriers and obstacles. Camera views cannot be changed, so if you usually play racing games in a first person view then you are out of luck here.
Drifts are one of the mechanics that are used to build up boost metre. Another is using tricks, which are enabled by pressing different directions on the right stick, for example, pressing up allows you to drive on two wheels, something that K.I.T.T did a lot in the Knight Rider TV series. Flicking left or right allows the car to bump into opposition to push them away, and down allows you to drive backwards for some style points. Tricks can also be performed off jumps, allowing you to flip or spin in the air.
Once you've played Mission Career enough to unlock everything, an assortment of entertaining modes will be available. Race and Battle Race are the two standard modes, with battle being the one that permits you to pick up weapons to attack opposition racers. Hunter mode is just as the title says, it puts the player in an arena venue and you have a time limit to blast enemy cars, meeting required target kills for first, second or third position. The last two are attack and survival. Attack requires the player to keep blow up lemons (enemy cars) to add seconds to the clock, trying to last as long as possible. Survival on the other hand has the player surrounded in a shield, and has to keep the shield charged for three laps by picking up batteries that appear on the track, or by blowing up other cars with weapons.
As with countless other kart style racers, the weapons are typical for genre. There are mini-guns, rocket launchers, homing mini cars, mines and oil spills. If you save up all four blocks of your turbo metre you can activate a super boost allowing the car to be invincible while boosting for a limited time. It's a good way to dodge 'blue shell' style weapons that home in on the first place person.
A great feature of the C.H.R.O.M.E Mission Career and all the events in it is that it can be played in multiplayer with up to three additional players. This is brilliant since playing Cars 2 in single player isn't a match compared to the amount of joy that seems to come from playing this game with a few buddies.
There are also two other game types, Arena and Disruptor, which are specifically made for multiplayer and only appear in the free play mode. Arena is 's version of Mario Kart's battle mode. Disrupter on the other hand is more fascinating, as it pits players on a two vs two team battle to see who can destroy the opposition's base first. To do this you have to find a hidden bomb in the level. The bomb is randomly spawned and isn't visible on the map until someone picks it up. The player with the bomb is then handicapped with a speed reduction as they try and plant it in the base without getting blown to pieces. Each time a bomb is dropped in the base, the base gets upgraded and becomes harder to penetrate. It's a solid and enjoyable mode to play with friends and is the multiplayer high-point.
Avalanche has put personality into the character models; little animations like how the cars try and lift their wheels away from walls when you get too close to them are nice touches. To top it off the eyes and mouths on the cars are always showing an expression, exactly like in the films, which you'll notice when you drive backwards or use the reverse camera. Just like they did with the characters in the Toy Story 3 videogame, putting that additional love into details adds authenticity that will make the kids happy.
Most of the characters are voiced by the film cast, apart from Lightning McQueen, who has a sound alike that's good enough. All of the race tracks in Cars 2 are also based off locations from the films, including real life locations like Tokyo, Italy and London. The tracks start basic and work their way up to be more complex, with plenty of shortcuts available. The challenge also slowly increases – the start the game is incredibly easy, but once you get to the fifth lot of events things start to pick up. I suddenly couldn't beat some of the events on my first try any more.
Unfortunately there isn't any online play available. The game plays much better when you have humans willing to join in the fun. It's hard to always get a group of four people together, so online would have addressed that hindrance. I'm taking a guess and assuming that because the game is mostly aimed at kids, Disney didn't want to risk having little boys and girls getting harassed online.
The game could have been faster. At points on some tracks it felt like the cars were going slow around corners. Even on straights the sense of speed just didn't feel quite right, certainly not when you are racing in spoof versions of Corvettes, Audis and F1 cars.
Overall Avalanche has made a decent licensed product again. Cars 2 is a solid game for the family. If you've got a young one who likes the franchise and you want to have some fun with your kid, then you can't do much wrong with picking this up. It's not up to Mario Kart standards, but for a family get together it's an entertaining alternative that sits well with all ages.