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Cars 3: Driven To Win Review

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Lazy, uninspired, and utterly vapid – movie tie-in’s have hardly earned the brightest of reputations amongst the video gaming world. Often thrown together in a desperate attempt to capitalise on a popular brand, it’s through no fault but their own why these games lack in quality when they are either made on small budgets and short development cycles, or represent nothing more than shameless cash cows. Of course, not all of these titles have resulted in absolute tragedy over the years, nor have they all been born out of the same money-hungry motives, but for every Spider-Man 2 that hits our shelves and sets the world on fire, so too does a dozen more ET: The Extra Terrestrial’s that leave behind a sour taste and a crippling sense of buyer’s remorse.

Falling somewhere in between these two extremes, the latest movie tie-in to crash onto the home console shores of 2017 is Cars 3: Driven To Win, a moderately inoffensive romp that flutters along the very borderline of acceptable entertainment rather than making any concerted effort to be anything more. Providing a solid-enough basis for a somewhat fun driving experience, it’s the content surrounding this framework where the game’s significant flaws lie. Though boasting a large selection of the Cars cast to play as in addition to plenty of tracks, cups, and a handful of unique racing events to play through, there’s actually very little in the way of prolonged enjoyment to be found amidst the game’s repetition and over-familiar design. Unfortunately for fans of the franchise, the Cars 3 video game is more than likely to drive you to boredom rather than victory.

Fitting the mould of your most basic, run-of-the-mill competitive racer, Cars 3: Driven To Win is a title that ultimately suffers due to its distinct lack of new and interesting ideas. Taking a tried-and-tested kart-like formula and choosing to replicate it without much thought of its own, it’s disappointing to see an absence of imagination and charm running throughout the general gameplay – two qualities that are synonymous with the Cars brand as a whole. Though the game does deserve some praise for its mechanical implementation, particularly in the way of a semi-satisfactory driving model, it simply isn’t engaging enough to keep players coming back for more. Even the game’s sole attempt at straying from the path (albeit only slightly) isn’t enough to spice up the driving action, with its very own ‘turbo’ and stunt mechanics doing little to switch up the minute-to-minute gameplay. Playing a substantial role within each and every game mode on offer, players are encouraged to earn and build up the aforementioned turbo at every given opportunity to either gain a quick speed advantage or enter ‘In The Zone’, a lengthy active state that not only allows you to drive much faster for an extended period of time, but also allows you to become invulnerable to enemy damage.

Simply driving well enough is not enough to beat the game’s often challenging AI, forcing players to engage with the game’s ‘stunt’ mechanics in order to fill the game’s turbo meter. Easily executed with the flick of the right analog stick, players can execute the ability to drive backwards and on two wheels as well as a series of in-air flips and spins. Hitting the land-based tricks will contribute varying amounts of turbo when performed solo, but the game’s wealth of tracks include lanes that further reward players for performing specific stunts within their confines. On top of this, in an inclusion that’ll shock absolutely nobody familiar with similar titles, players can also drift around the tracks too, allowing for another method to contribute towards the meter, as well as providing a way to make sharper turns at higher speeds. Unfortunately, however, there really is no mastery required to effectively pull off a well-calculated stunt, resulting in a simplified (and tiresome) set of mechanics.

Without any trace of a learning-curve or interesting gameplay encounters to keep the experience feeling fresh, not even the game’s wealth of tracks offer much of a remedy to the simplistic gameplay. Containing 21 in total, each set across 13 locations from the film franchise, there’s a surprising amount of content available to race your way through. Designed to incorporate shortcuts, alternative routes, hazards and ramps, there’s an admirable level of depth to each track that is certainly welcome. That said, no matter how different the tracks attempt to be, it’s hard to shake the sense that they don’t actually feel overly different from one another. While some tracks are far more memorable and better than others, they all present very similar challenges without any substantial shake-up or unique ideas. Mixed with the bog-standard driving mechanics, the tracks soon lose their initial appeal after only a few playthroughs – a damning outcome for a game that repeats its tracks across all of its lacklustre game modes.

Aside from typical racing events, the game boasts a number of additional game modes that, aside from also being playable in local split-screen with a team-based or pick-up and play structure, supply differing amounts of mileage* and enjoyment. Beginning with the best of the bunch, Battle Race offers a classic racing setup complete with weapon pickups to inconvenience your opponents. Though it injects little of its own identity, there’s more than enough fun to be had thanks to the ensuing chaos of the game’s wide arsenal of pickups. Offering an increased challenge over the standard races, it’s easily the mode with the most appeal. Following on, Takedown is a combat focussed mode that tasks players to destroy as many waves of enemy vehicles as possible within a set time limit, earning score the more cars you eliminate. Adopting a fast-pace, this mode can be enjoyable in small doses, but regardless of which track you play this mode in; the experience really just melts into one and quickly grows incredibly repetitive.

In a bid to throw an interesting diversion into the mix, the Thomasville Playground features a small-scale open environment that can be explored at will. Complete with bite-sized, time-based challenges, the concept sounds interesting on paper, but in practice it sadly isn’t. The activities spread across the map are extremely limited, offering only a few unique challenges, all of which are uninspired. Enlisting some new mechanics that allow for the ability to tow and throw track-side objects and even grind along rails, it’s a shame to see these features going severely underused throughout the rest of the game, especially given how lacking the core gameplay is to begin with. Feeling like a half-baked idea, this mode is unlikely to get much more than a second glance. Equally, the game’s Best Lap challenges are, while serviceable time-trial inclusions, just as unimpressive and lack the same excitement found in the game’s other (and better) offerings.

The final and worst mode of the lot is Stunt Showcase, a monotonous and frustrating contribution that attempts to build an entire mode out of the game’s already mundane stunt mechanics. Hitting ramps, pulling off mid-air flips/spins and hitting additional score balloons does not get any more pleasurable beyond the first attempt, and it’s never particularly fun to begin with, either. Facing off against your opponents and trying to earn as much score as possible just isn’t an exciting challenge here, and as such there’s nothing to gain from this mode at all. It’s hard to power through so many of these events, particularly in the case of the associated ‘Cups’, of which there are plenty that cover not just this mode, but all the others too in grouped event packages placed at varying difficulties.

Forming such a substantial share of the game’s content, these cups are likely where most time will be spent within this game, but unfortunately it will take determination to play through them all and earn high rankings. Take away the iconic visual design, bright colours, and the charismatic personalities of the game’s central cast, and what you’re left with is a bland selection of repetitive challenges to pour your time into. Providing the only reason to cling onto this experience and power through the drudgery, the game’s saving grace lies at the heart of its premise, a skill-based progression system that rewards players for all their efforts.

Though falling into place along the timeline of its associated motion picture, the Cars 3 video game doesn’t follow a true narrative of its own to really connect any of the racing events together. Instead, the game’s central goal is to simply beat the game’s racing legend’s by putting in time to earn these opportunities. Locked away behind the previously mentioned progression system, players can only hope to face-off against these opponents should they earn ever-increasing amounts of ‘Skill Checks’ – a series of unique achievements that are distributed across the game’s various challenges and mechanics. With 136 of these to earn in total and requirements spread evenly throughout, players are required to commit a large amount of their time to this task if they hope to progress and unlock everything the game has to offer.

Aside from securing more racing content, your efforts unlock a handful of bonus tracks (updated versions of circuits found in the Cars 2 video game), as well as new characters to play as and associated customisation options. Though playing as your favourite characters will initiate a thrill to those passionate about the movie franchise, that excitement is only short-lived. It’s a shame to find that no matter whom you play as, whether it’s Lightning McQueen, Mater, Miss Fritter or Mack -they all drive in an identical manner despite them all representing a variety of different vehicle types. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sports car or an ambulance, in the Cars 3 universe they all carry the same weight and hit the same speed limits. It’s a real disappointment that this is the case, and it deals a massive blow to the appeal of unlocking the 20+ character roster. The incredibly limp ‘customisation’ options that the game boasts add further salt to the wound, only providing different coloured lights, turbo flames, and unique sounding horns – sounds exciting, right?

Cars 3: Driven To Win is ultimately another disappointing movie-tie to add to the increasing pile. Though it reaches beyond the very lows that this genre subset has ever sunk, the game is still far from being a wholly worthwhile experience. At its very best the game is just okay, and at its worse it is tedious and boring. Tracks feel very similar despite how much they may attempt to separate themselves, the driving mechanics are ever-so basic, and the game modes are an overly-familiar, uninteresting, and unoriginal mixture. Despite boasting an admirable amount of bang for your buck, all of that means very little when the repetition kicks in. While its target audience of young, Cars-obsessed children will likely look past some of the game’s severe flaws, it’s hard to say how long it will hold their attention regardless. Without providing enough interesting content or even a hugely entertaining gameplay experience at the core of it all, the whole affair is unremarkable.

*pun intended

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Recently graduating from Staffordshire University with a First-Class Honours in Computer Game Design, I’m a 21 year-old with a passion for game design, writing, and eating cheesecake. I think of myself as being very critical of games and the industry, and I certainly have no issue with speaking my mind and saying things how they are. Essentially, I’m rather cynical – but I try to be funny about it at least. When not spending my time playing video games and writing about them, you’ll find me listening to music, singing loudly, knocking back shots of Sambuca, and dabbling in game development – but fortunately, not all at the same time! P.S. Grim Fandango is my favourite game of all time.

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