Cars 3: Driven to Win (Xbox One Review)
The day of the movie tie-in seem to be long in the past. There’s no longer such a rush to produce video games of questionable quality to go along with the big blockbuster releases. The genre isn’t completely dead, however, and it’s with that in mind that we arrive at the doorstep of Cars 3: Driven to Win.
Based on the third instalment in Disney/Pixar’s wildly popular Cars franchise, Cars 3: Driven to Win(DTW) is an arcade-style racer aimed, obviously, at children. Knowing that, I fully expected DTW to be a shallow tie-in, a cash cow with little substance or body to it.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Driven to Win starts off by following at least part of Cars 3‘s story. Series hero Lightning McQueen is experimenting with the new wave of racing simulation, his storied career behind him. He gets called out by modern, young hot shot Jackson Storm, and agrees to race the new prodigy to prove that experience and skill beats raw talent and tech.
Thankfully, the game doesn’t try to keep up the pretense of the film any further than this. The story is just a backdrop to play against, and the real body of the game comes, unsurprisingly, in the racing.
There are tournaments aplenty to win in DTW, starting off with a traditional 3-lap race. This classic race mode serves as a perfect introduction to the mechanics of the game, beyond the fairly basic tutorial. You can drift, boost and jump your way through venues from not just the third cars movie, but fan favourites like Tokyo and London from Cars 2, as well as Radiator Springs from the original. What’s more, the environments are faithfully recreated and actually quite beautiful. I didn’t expect that.
It’s not just the race tracks that feature fan favourites, as you can play as recurring characters Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, Sally and crew, or newcomers like the enigmatic Jackson Storm, though unlocking him takes a while. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any statistical differences between characters, so it’s a matter of preference really, but knowing that there were more to unlock keeps you going. That was something else I enjoyed about Driven to Win: through the Hall of Fame, there was always something to work towards.
The goals on the Hall of Fame start simple, like win your first race in one of the game’s four game modes, or spend a certain amount of time drifting (and if you’re wondering what is drifting, fear not – click the link and let the pros explain). They get more difficult, to include goals like hitting an enemy with a rocket weapon while driving backwards. Harder still are the tasks which ask you to complete the game’s Master Level events, which I’ll look at a bit later.
Cars 3: Driven to Win handles fantastically, which is the all-important core of any racing game. The controls are responsive, the mechanics fun to play around with. The most important aspect of racing is your Turbo meter, which you fill with fancy driving like drifting, performing air stunts and driving backwards or even on two wheels. On top of automatically filling your turbo meter, you’ll find special turbo pads placed around the race courses, each one triggered by a different style of stunt driving.
Stunts, specifically air stunts, are at the core of the second game mode, which sees speed and positioning take a backseat (does Lightning even have a backseat?) to performing as many crazy flips and twirls as you can in the air. Every successfully landed stunt earns you points. Stunt mode was the least interesting, and easiest game mode in my opinion. It’s really easy to wrack up points, as aerial stunts are performed by simply flicking the right analogue stick while in the air.
Then there’s Battle Mode, where Driven to Win plays less like a classic arcade racer and more like a Mario Kart clone. You’ll grab various weapons, including rockets, mines and machine guns, by driving through power up gems as you race, and use them to get the advantage over your opponents. It’s a formula that’s been proven to work time and time again, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The fourth, and most different, game mode is the Takedown mode. Rather than competing against other races with weapons, you work to destroy smaller bot-cars for points. Destroying each wave gets you a bunch of bonus points, and occasionally a car will spawn that glows gold. Destroying that within a short time limit gets you further bonus points, and you’ll need to wrack those up if you want to win.
Each of these race modes, on top of being part of the tournaments that make up the main bulk of the game, have their own Master level event, which are sort of the ‘boss fights’ of Cars 3: Driven to Win. These include characters like series veteran Chick Hicks, the Takedown Master, and the Evel Knievel-inspired Mater the Greater, who you’ll face in the Stunt Race event. And, of course, you’ll come face-to-face with Jackson Storm in the Master Event for the classic race.
That’s the hardest race in the game, and even with that one I didn’t have to repeat it. Driven to Win is a lot of fun, but it’s ultimately a racing game designed for the target audience of the franchise; children. That, to me, explains why there’s no statistical differences between the characters, as the developers wouldn’t have wanted any kids to struggle in the game if their favourite character wasn’t up to the same standard as the others.
One area where Driven to Win fails to perform is the Playground mode. Advertised as a free-roaming game mode where you can complete different missions and practice your skills, it becomes instantly obvious that the game was designed with racing in mind, not playing about in a sandpit environment. The cars just have too large of a turning circle, and the playground just feels sort of rammed into a game that functions just fine without it.
There’s a very fun, albeit rather simple, racing game here. The decent variety in game modes keeps you from getting bored, though variation between the characters’ stats would have been welcome. Some of the challenges in the Hall of Fame are actually quite difficult, so there’s content to move towards regardless of your skill with racing games. That said, this isn’t really a title for diehard fans of very realistic driving games, for obvious reasons.
But I was pleasantly surprised by just how much fun I had with Cars 3: Driven to Win. It’s an experience that I would honestly recommend.