Pixar Animation turns its attention to automobiles in Disney's new CGI film and THQ joins the convoy with the sweetest little driving game around.
Forget The Fast and the Furious or Rocky, if ever there's been a movie made to become a videogame, it is Disney/Pixar's Cars. Not only is the majority of the movie about racing (perfect gaming fodder), but the combination of talking automobile characters in a world designed to accommodate four-wheeled inhabitants must be a game developer's dream come true.
With a game that designs itself, developer Buena Vista Games has had time to craft something that sits perfectly alongside the movie and which steals pole position from other silver screen stars such as The Warriors, Spider-Man 2 and The Godfather. It's not that Cars is a better game than those others - it's a by-the-numbers, free-roaming driving game that borrows heavily from the likes of GTA, Tony Hawk's Underground and Need for Speed: Most Wanted - but BVG has faultlessly translated the characters, settings and atmosphere of the big screen blockbuster into small screen fun for kids of all ages.
I like driving in my car
The game follows in the fumes of the movie, with red race car Lightning McQueen settled in Radiator Springs. As a 'sequel' to the movie, the game avoids giving away too many spoilers (apart from the bodywork variety) while still featuring the much-loved 'people' and places. It's Piston Cup season again (Cars' version of NASCAR) and as hotshot Lightning McQueen you're keen to compete and win. But to get there you'll need the help of your Radiator Springs pals such as Mater, Sally, Sarge and Ramone, and they are likely to ask for something in return.
What this means in reality is free-roam driving around the wonderfully realised Radiators Springs and surrounding Ornament Valley, stopping at various, flagged mission points such as Mater's yard or Luigi's tyre store and taking part in a road race, oval track Piston Cup race or a number of fun mini-games.
The road races are the most common and in some ways the most fun as they show off the wonderful cars characters - all voiced by their Hollywood counterparts such as Owen Wilson and Paul Newman - and introduce you to new areas of Ornament Valley. In the early part of the game, many of these home-grown races act as training grounds as Lightning learns a new ability such as Powersliding, Boosting and driving on two wheels. Success in these races unlocks new missions around town and completing enough of them will unlock the next Piston Cup heat.
Go Greased Lightning
Seeing as these NASCAR races are the driving passion (excuse the pun) of Lightning, it's a real pity that they are the least enjoyable part of the game. Driving in a circle for 12 laps is a difficult thing to make fun, and when all the thrilling stuff - forcing opponents into spins, scraping barriers, smoke, skids and crashes - is absent, the dozen circuits do begin to drag somewhat. That being said, the stadiums are beautifully realised and there's some fun mini-games to play when you enter the pits, so these races are far from bad, they're just not as enjoyable as the rest of the game.
As with the pit lane, you also get non-race challenges in town and these are mostly focussed on Lightning's co-stars. Luigi to the Rescue finds the little Fiat 125 buzzing around the streets trying to recover his beloved tyres and hubcaps before the time expires and Tractor Tipping casts Mater in a stealthy tale of sneaky Pick-up vs. angry Combine Harvester. There's also numerous collectibles dotted around the valley, some award points, some unlock extra content (such as clips from the movie) and some are mission related, but as with GTA, you're never stuck for things to discover when you go off road.
In addition to Story Mode, you can pick and choose your races and games in Arcade mode, or challenge a friend for some split screen fun.
Like the movie, Cars on PlayStation 2 expertly mixes excitement, action and humour and will appeal to the whole family; there's even an easier Compact version of the game for very young players. With subject-matter that is tailor-made to play as a videogame, Cars is easily the best Disney-to-game conversion to date and would make a highly-waxed addition to anyone's gaming garage.