The Cars franchise has been a winner for Disney/Pixar, at least from a marketing standpoint. Lightning McQueen and friends seem to have a permanent home on toy store shelves, and the characters have been featured in a number of video games. Hot on the bumper of Cars 3 is another product in the franchise, Cars 3: Driven to Win, an arcade racer released for numerous platforms, including the nearly abandoned PS3 and Xbox 360.
Despite a surprising amount of content, this game doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from other licensed racing games. In fact, its remarkable similarity to another Disney game left my 9-year old a bit disappointed.
Cars 3: Driven to Win offers few twists to the arcade formula. You can race in single events, linked cups, and lap trials, both against AI or local opponents; there isn’t any online multiplayer, which seems to be appropriate for a kid-focused game. Battle races echo Mario Kart wackiness, with various weapons and bumping keys to success. Timed stunt events reward aerial tricks, and a “takedown” mode challenges players to take out waves of spawning enemies. A series of boss battles stand in for any real single-player campaign or career mode, which is disappointing. I could really get behind an actual Piston Cup Series career mode complete with points, sponsors, etc.
Driving throughout is smooth enough, and controls feel tight and responsive for this type of racing game. The key to winning is collecting and spending turbo, which is typically done through drifting. Like the driving, drifting is fluid and easy, and can be put on automatic for the tiniest gamers.
You can earn turbo through other means as well, and this is where Cars 3: Driven to Win adds some unique elements and capitalizes on its license. Throughout the tracks, indicators ask you to perform a stunt during a segment of track. Executing the trick, whether it’s drifting, driving backward a la Mater, or riding on two wheels gives some extra turbo. Pull off the maneuver during the entire span of the track and your boost is doubled. These elements were neat and offered some mini challenges throughout the duration of an event. Additionally, collecting gas cans and jumping through banners can provide you with more power. All told, I found amassing turbo to be a key strategic aspect of Cars 3: Driven to Win.
Tracks are pretty varied, taken from locales throughout each of the Cars films. Some neat graphical elements make the tracks come to life: car spectators, planes flying overhead, or trains snaking throughout the track. Playing on a PS4, the graphical quality on each of these maps make racing through them pleasing enough — which isn’t always true of the game’s few cutscenes.
I was actually surprised at how long some of the tracks are; I am still finding shortcuts. One track cleverly allows you to forgo a section of turbo boosting track to cut through a corn field. It’s hard to see where you are going, but slicing through the vegetation and watching your car get covered in mud may be worth it. I like that this kind of shortcut saves seconds, but at the expense of more turbo. It’s a neat way to force drivers to make a quick decision.
I mentioned the six main modes above. Additionally, a specific multiplayer mode allows for team play, and playground offers free play. All of this is unlocked through an achievement system. Pulling off feats like driving backward for five seconds or winning a cup series unlocks various characters and adds points to a progression bar. Modes are gated based on performance, though it didn’t take very long to get enough points to unlock the majority of the game’s content.
There are a significant number of tracks, many more than I actually expected. Unfortunately, the number of characters is pretty slim, especially considering the source material available. Also, since there doesn’t seem to be any performance difference, having more skins wouldn’t seem to be a big deal (hopefully they aren’t saving them for DLC). Also, more customization would have been nice; as is, you are limited to changing horn sounds, undercarriage lighting color and turbo flames hue.
The biggest criticism my 9-year old leveled against the game was “This is just like Disney Infinity, only just Cars.” Avalanche Software developed both games, and the driving engine is nearly identical. This doesn’t take away from any of the content offered here, but if you or your child has invested in Disney Infinity, even as it occupies clearance racks, you get a much more dynamic experience. In that title, you can race Cars characters against Star Wars vehicles through a Marvel track. Seeing as how the racing felt nearly identical, my daughter preferred the ability to choose from a larger stable of characters — not to mention Disney Infinity allows you to create tracks limited only by your imagination.
So, if you or your children are coming into Cars 3: Driven to Win with no previous Disney arcade racing experience, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. It has a surprising amount of tracks and a large enough variety of modes to keep everyone interested. The team mode was a great way for my daughter and I to team up against the AI, while even the harder difficulty provides a nice challenge for us both — thanks to some significant AI rubber banding.
But at the end of the day, we’d both rather go back to racing on our own tracks or with other characters — considering that the gameplay is very much the same.