Racing from the silver screen to your TV screen
Movie tie-in games often get mixed receptions, but it’s hard to fault developers: usually they’re given limited timelines and budgets. The constraints make perfect sense, too, since the games absolutely must release day and date with the film. That means little chance for the developers to rework games mid-cycle, and delays are out of the question. Thus no matter how the project is turning out, the show must go on, as they say.
With all that mind, imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered Cars 3: Driven to Win was a fun, competent racer. Avalanche Studio, the team behind Disney’s now-shuttered Disney Infinity, has done an excellent job capturing the essence of Pixar’s Cars. The game is colourful and cartoony, featuring more than 20 recognizable characters from Cars 3, and the previous two films. There’s also quite a bit of content included, especially for a movie tie-in (which typically have paired offerings.)
Does that make Cars 3 a Disney movie tie-in worthy of your time? Let’s take it for a test drive and find out!
Platform(s): PS4, Nintendo Switch
More racing, less story
While many movie-based games attempt to retell the story in video game form, Cars 3 isn’t one of them. Instead, it offers a handful of cutscenes, one introducing the game and the rest before facing the game’s four bosses. They’re generally short, amusing clips featuring characters like Miss Fritter, Chick Hicks, and Lightning McQueen’s ultimate rival, Jackson Storm.
What this means is if you want a good Cars story, you’re not likely to find much here. Driven to Win is all about racing, pure and simple. Although I’d like to have seen more effort building a stronger story, the racing is so excellent I hardly cared. Besides, this racing game is clearly intended as a complement to the Pixar film, which itself tells an entertaining story.
Drive with flair
Cars 3 is an arcade-style racer, meaning less emphasis on realistic driving and more on having crazy fun. Tracks are specifically designed for extreme (i.e. risky) high-speed tricks including 2-wheel driving, drifting, air tricks, and even backward driving. All characters can also perform vertical jumps at any time. Performing any of these moves will reward you with a small amount of turbo juice used for momentary speed bursts. As well, special turbo boost strips can fill a significant amount of your turbo meter, provided you perform the right trick on them.
In a sense then, the more reckless you drive the greater your rewards will be. The same goes for rival cars, so you’ll often see A.I. competitors hopping on two wheels or driving backward. I must admit, it’s pretty entertaining to watch, especially at such high speeds.
The tracks, too, are filled with hidden shortcuts that can shave off precious seconds from your time. Like Mario Kart, shortcuts typically add an element of danger — such as ramps through treacherous terrain — for you to navigate. It might take a few tries to master these tricky parts, but they’re well worth the effort. I had a lot of fun, overall, discovering new shortcuts, and was happy to see there’s so many to find.
Huge variety of racing courses
Racing in Cars 3 remains fresh and exciting over time thanks to its diverse lineup of racing courses. There’s a nice collection of tracks based on locations from all three films, including Fireball Beach, Radiator Springs, and Thunder Hallow. Each one has its own unique terrain and scenery, giving the game lots of visual appeal. From off-road dirt racing, to snow-capped mountains, to rural USA roads, Cars 3 has it all.
Rounding out the game’s 21 different race courses are some inclusions from the Cars 2 video game. These include real-world locations like Florida’s International Speedway, London’s Buckingham Sprint, Italy’s Grand Tour, and Go Go Tokyo. Sure that means a handful of the tracks are repurposed, but they’re well-designed and help round out the package.
On top of watching out for competitor cars, many tracks also feature other vehicles and hazards to watch out for. In the Airport Runway Rally, for example, a portion of the race has incoming airplanes that must be avoided. Likewise, the Thomasville Logging Camp track includes tree harvesters and logging trucks right in your path. Perhaps most challenging though is driving through the Thunder Hallow Destruction Derby, where a full-on second race happens concurrently. While these hazards add to the game’s challenge, with instant-respawning you’re never off road for more than a second or two.
Fans of the Cars franchise will find a sizeable roster of characters sure to contain many of your favourites. The cast of 23 includes fan-favourites like Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, Sally, and Chick Hicks. Joining them are new characters from Cars 3, like Cruz Ramirez, Miss Fritter, and Lightning’s arch-rival, Jackson Storm.
While the selection is large, don’t expect much difference in how each of them perform on the road. Cars aren’t given stats for speed, acceleration, or handling, and for the most part performance felt equal across the board.
There’s is one key differentiator though, and that’s vehicle size. Guido, the diminutive forklift is by far the smallest, while the school bus Miss Fritter is the biggest. Larger characters have the advantage of ramming cars easier, but at the expense of poor corner turning. Conversely, tiny characters can zip through traffic with ease, and are better suited at tackling hairpin turns.
Enter the Hall of Fame
Cars 3 contains an overarching achievement system across all modes in the game. There are 136 challenges in all, and the more you complete the more content unlocks in the game. Unlocks include new characters, new tracks, and even entirely new modes. By completing all challenges you’ll officially be entered into Cars 3’s in-game Hall of Fame.
I unlocked quite a few achievements early on, meaning a large portion of the game’s content unlocks relatively fast. Some of the tougher challenges may take a few days to complete, giving you incentive to keep coming back.
New modes you’ll gain access to include: Battle Race, Stunt Showcase, Takedown, Best Lap Challenge, Master-Level Events, and Thomasville Playground. Here’s a brief summary of each:
Battle Race – In Battle Race, weapons power-ups are placed on the track, such as heat-seeking rockets, oil slicks, and bombs. Your goal is to dodge attacks and come in first place.
Stunt Showcase – Here tracks will contain all-new ramps to jump off and perform tricks. The more complex your tricks are, the more points you get. Whoever has the highest score after time runs out wins.
Takedown – This is a wave challenge where you’ll need to blow up cars to progress to the next wave. Each wave contains 15 cars, and you goal is to complete as many waves as possible. All power-ups from Battle Race are included.
Best Lap Challenge – This is a single-player challenge to get the fastest lap time possible.
Master-Level Events – Master-Level Events are essentially the game’s boss battles. There are four in total, against the likes of Miss Fritter, Chick Hicks, and more.
Thomasville Playground – Thomasville Playground is an open-environment playground area where you can practice tricks and take part in a variety of challenges.
Cars 3: Driven to Win is a solid racing game and the best Disney movie tie-in game since 2010’s Toy Story 3. I enjoyed the variety of characters, tracks, and modes, which is enough content to please any serious Cars fan. Being a kids game, it is on the easier side, though there is a hard difficult for adults, too. These days there aren’t many new arcade racing games, and this title certainly fills the void nicely. If you’re looking for a fast, fun, arcade-style racing game, Cars 3 nabs the checkered flag.
+ Faithful to the Cars franchise
+ Big selection of characters and tracks
+ Nice variety of game modes
+ Accessible and fun gameplay
+ Hall of Fame challenges keep you coming back for more
– Lack of story
– Occasional framerate dips
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5