Written : Sunday, August 05, 2007
By: Jon Criner (GT: Jonny x360a)
Oftentimes, I find myself in the local game store pondering why someone would actually purchase a licensed title. Sure, we frequent theaters and enjoy their Hollywood counterparts, but do we really want to shell out more of our hard-earned dollars for another lackluster effort? It’s becoming more and more apparent that we’ll never see the end of licensed titles, partly since we, the consumers, are gobbling them up. My only worries are that the boundaries of what’s marketable and what the gamer wants, will eventually blur, and we’ll see more and more unremarkable choices. Fortunately for you and me, Cars isn’t the worst title out there, but it’s a long shot from the top.
Lightning couldn't hold it until the next rest stop...
I’ve heard it said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If that was the case, my 360’s eject button would have promptly been pressed the moment I saw this game in action. It was then and there that I began to feel bad for oblivious parents who purchased this game for their child, only to find that their $400 next-gen XBOX 360 was producing images worse than those I drew in third grade. Of course, Cars was ported from prior generation systems, but with limited upgrades in the graphics department, and that becomes very clear when you take your first look at the menu system.
My initial hands-on experience with Cars had me racing as the Owen Wilson voiced Lightning McQueen, against a group of my close friends, who are, well…cars. As the race started, tensions around turn one mounted and we began to rub furiously against one another. It was in that moment that I witnessed the most pitiful attempt at sparks flying off of scraping car bodies I’ve ever seen. Pacman had better sparks than the ones I had just seen, and Pacman didn’t even have sparks; that’s how bad these were.
Shaken, but not stirred, I continued my extended romp with Cars, only to find that like a fine wine or Dick Clark, it would get better with time. I was pleasantly surprised when I delved deep into its core, that Cars can provide not only an effortless 1,000 gamerscore boost, but a charming world that’s often free from regularity. One moment you’re competing in large-scale stock car racing, and the next, you’re barreling over dirt jumps in a monster truck. If variety is the spice of life, I’d have to say that Cars would be a mild black peppercorn…whatever that means.
Since Cars doesn’t don the dreaded "M for Mature" tag, the gameplay is that of which can be enjoyed by all ages, unless you enjoy nudity and gore. The vehicles don’t handle as good as you’d like (which wasn’t to be expected), but are simple enough for all ages to enjoy. Easier still is the wrecking component. Run off the road and the game will place you seemingly ahead of your error, and unlike Eddie Griffin, hitting the wall in turn three won’t total your Million dollar ride, rather bump you ahead of the pack.
C’mon sheriff, turn that frown upside down!
Of course Cars isn’t all about racing, and comes with a few charming distractions, as well as a few monotonous ones to boot. Some missions you’ll take control of the Sheriff and chase speeders into the night, where catching three will take you on to the next round. Also included is everyone’s favorite mode in gaming, the fetch quest, in which this game serves up two. The more simplistic challenge is to finding lost hubcaps scattered around a certain area, whereas the other is a more maddening approach at finding hidden postcards. One of my favorite aspects of Cars is the "Tractor Tipping" challenge, in the vein of "Cow Tipping" without the cow feces and incest. Just honk your horn at a sleeping tractor and down it’ll go. YEEHAW! You’ll also find the occasional floating icon which is a "currency" that can be used to unlock new paint jobs, movie clips, and playable characters. The paint jobs and characters are a welcome addition to the Cars lineup, since gameplay can be a bit tedious at times. Who cares about boring stock car races when your ride can set trends that only Milan could appreciate?
Speaking of appreciation, one that puts forth little time and effort will net one of the easiest thousand point gains to currently grace the Xbox 360. On second thought, it's safe to say that these 15 achievements (ranging from 50 to 100 points each) may be among THE simplest you'll ever acquire. Of all the points, 900 of the 1000 can all be nabbed in a few hours of playing the game's story mode. The final 100 can be a bit tricky, but with the proper guide, you'll find Lizzie's postcards in no time.
However, Cars isn’t free from poor mechanics, via the web of invisible walls it spins all over its world. What can be really frustrating is that each vehicle is given the ability to jump over obstacles, but most that appear jump-worthy will only provide your adventurous heart with a stop more sudden than Michael Jackson driving past a Kindergarten. What can be more annoying is that our four-wheeled friends can talk, and they’ll sure let you know it. Every time I slid into a corner or utilized my boost, my ride was constantly providing me feedback, and with every car I passed, I was greeted with a friendly hello or angry remark.
Another problem I had with Cars, which seems to be an ongoing issue in a lot of past-gen/current gen racers, is the lack of damage. Before you get all angry at my attempts to disfigure our beloved Lightning McQueen, hear me out. Boosting down drag strips at top speeds only to smack head on into traffic should warrant some sort of damage. I’m not asking for his windshield/eyes to explode in glass-filled glory, or for his bumper/mouth to crumble into oblivion, but It would be nice to see some dust, some smoke, some shards, something…
Cars can best be described as a Sunday drive; slow, satisfying, but overwhelmed by the Monday rush. While a quick relaxing session of Cars can expand your gaming horizons, you’ll soon grow weary of all the subtle flaws and yearn for a hearty helping of original properties. At the end of the day, I’m still not a fan of licensed games, but Cars delivers when most titles are only published for profit’s sake. Let’s just hope and pray that we don’t see other large companies jumping on the gaming bandwagon. I shudder to think of titles like "Kool-Aid Man’s Wall Bust-O-Rama" or "Little Debbie’s Shop of Horrors", and God forbid they ever make games based on the Burger King chain…Wait, they’ve already done that? Corporate America, you sly devil you…
From an effects standpoint, nothing made my ears bleed and the voice acting is spot on, mainly because the cast delivered lines for the game as well. Musically however I was driven to a state of mild insanity. Most tracks are poor in all regards, and the ones you don’t like seem to play the most. The exception is the quaint tune that plays during the tractor tipping session which even features a mandolin…a gaming first from my recollection.
You probably didn’t expect to find a graphical powerhouse here, but it would have been nice to feast our eyes on something better looking than Pong. Sure, this game was a port from last generation consoles, but a lighting fix, better texture mapping, or some kind of effort would have been appreciated. I don’t expect a visual once-over, but other titles have utilized our 360’s power to upgrade ports, why couldn’t Cars?
Essentially the only thing to do in this game is drive, since you are, after all, a car. The game will sometimes throw you a curve ball and instead of driving on asphalt you’ll drive on dirt. Sometimes you’ll drive slow, and other times you’ll drive fast. Every now and then your car will be red but sometimes it’ll be blue. Yep, not much going on here.
Like a dead-end, everywhere you go in this game yields the same results. The menus are sometimes hard to navigate, not to mention their incredibly dated look. The story is about as bland as one could hope involving racing, and winning, and racing more. The finished product, while bubbly and cute, won’t ever inspire others games to follow in it’s footsteps.
The high point of Cars is the ease of which it’s achievements are…achieved. If you stick to the story, as if there’s anything else you can do, you’ll be on your way to a very easy 1,000 points. Winning races generally will yield you upwards of 150 points, and the most difficult achievement is a postcard seeking adventure with only 25 to be found. This one is a must for all you score whores!
If you’re two years old, you’ll like this game. You will also not have a clue what the hell a video game is, so your opinion doesn’t count. If you’re like me, this game has it’s moments, but many of those moments turn quickly into stale pieces of average gaming. This game is well worth the look if you don’t mind your friends laughing at you, or you’re into a relatively easy 1,000 points.