RC racing games are pretty few and far between in this day and age, primarily because the actual hobby of racing RC (radio controlled) cars has seen a pretty steep decline in overall popularity since its heyday back in the 1980s. Smash Cars is not the first RC racing game to make its way to the PlayStation 2, but thus far, it's easily the best, sporting some very solid RC gameplay, along with a well-designed presentation and a two-player multiplayer mode to boot.
Smash Cars allows you to choose from 13 different RC racers, though only four of them are available from the beginning of the game. In order to unlock new racers, you'll need to take on the single-player championship mode, which presents you with a series of races that become progressively harder as you move through the mode. There's a pretty decent array of race types in the game, including a standard race; stunt races, where your entire goal is to score more stunt points than your opponents; and dark horse races, where your purpose is to allow one specific car to win the race, which means you'll have to knock other cars out of the race using any means necessary. As you progress, you'll unlock multiple races with every couple of victories, and you'll have the option of completing whichever race you want in whatever order. Each race won in the game earns you cash, which you can use to pay the entrance fees for new races or to improve your car with upgradable tires, turbo, and engine categories. All of the game's races can be played outside of the championship mode as well, though not all can be played in the multiplayer mode.
One of Smash Cars' best aspects is simply how intuitively it plays and handles. Your basic controls involve an accelerator, brake, hand brake, jump button, and turbo button. The jump button is useful for jumping over various gaps and objects that you will frequently encounter in each level, while the turbo button, as you might expect, gives you a temporary speed burst while you hold it down. How long your turbo boost lasts depends on how often you use it, as a meter near your speedometer drops progressively the longer you hold down the button, and it recharges when you're not using turbo. The jump and turbo buttons are especially necessary in the stunt races, since launching off the various ramps and inclines is much easier after some turbo buildup, and this allows you to stay in the air longer. The game itself handles very well, and the car physics are surprisingly well done though not always terribly realistic.
Smash Cars' other most appealing aspect is its tracks. The tracks in the game are modeled after real-world environments, though not the sort of places where you'd typically race RC cars. You'll find yourself in a number of different locales, such as a Russian military base, a tropical beach in some sort of third-world country, and even Area 51. Every environment has its own roster of interactive elements that will attempt to screw you up as you race. For instance, both Area 51 and the Russian base have soldiers that wander around, guarding the facility. If you get too close, they'll start shooting at you, and if you're hit, you'll crash. You'll also encounter dogs that will try to eat you, beachgoers who will kick you, and even cars and trucks that you'll have to drive underneath and around to avoid being crushed.
Aside from the assorted interactive elements, all of the different tracks look pretty good too. They don't sport a ton of polygons or bump-mapped textures, but the art and design for each track properly capture the atmosphere of the representative environments. All of the different cars also look very nice, and there are a few different types of paint jobs to choose from for each one. The game runs consistently, with only minimal slowdown and few apparent clipping issues. The game does take a bit of a frame rate hit when you're playing in split-screen multiplayer mode, but it doesn't detract heavily from how the game normally looks.
The weakest part of the game is its audio--there just isn't a whole lot to it. Most of the game's soundtrack is composed of generic techno music that isn't all that bad but is fairly repetitive. In-game effects are all quite standard, with the buzzing sounds of the RC engines and the usual catalog of crash and smash effects. There are a few cool effects that present themselves from time to time, such as the retro-sounding gunshot effect and the comical-sounding honks of go-karts as they pass you by, but for the most part, the sound effects are pretty standard.
All in all, Smash Cars delivers one of the more solid RC gaming performances seen in recent years. Though the game is predominantly simplistic, Smash Cars' gameplay is tight and well put together, and the game's various modes and tracks are quite entertaining. Smash Cars isn't going to appeal to everyone, but its easy-to-pick-up style of play, often absurdly amusing level design, and budget price tag make it a worthwhile purchase or rental for any RC or kart racing fan.